Image SEO for Photographers and Other Visual Artists

A female photographer looking into the camera with one eye and looking at us with the other.

Photographers and other visual artists have a magnificent tool to show off their work these days, the Internet.

Everybody loves great photos and artworks so they spread basically by themselves.

Still there is a big difference between being successful on the Web as a photographer or visual artist and having your images scattered randomly over the Web.


Owning your images online

Image SEO is a great tool to decide yourself how your work spreads on the Web.

Most good images get stolen and used without your permission

to generate ad revenue for the content thieves while you not only earn nothing financially but don’t getting any publicity either due to lack of proper credits. The best way to become successful is to

use your images as free advertising

for your name while earning money with professional services or premium products, selling your images for print purposes for instance.


Image optimization for search and social media

In this post I want to focus on the ways of promoting your work over the Web to get links and publicity while at the same time curbing image theft of your works.

Add your email address to your Flickr profile, the same applies to Deviant Art. I often want to seek permission for use of images but do not find a way to contact the photographer or artist.

Where there is no way to ask or buy people will just take images without permission or ignore you.

I do the latter and search for other images instead. Also add “more at” links below each of your images on Flickr.

Do not use LinkedIn as the only way to contact you, only premium members can send you images. People relying solely on LinkedIn to get messages will get just get a tiny part of them.

Unless you don’t care provide an email address or at least let strangers send you a direct message on Twitter.

Use Behance and similar portfolio community sites and make sure to use you real name plus, again, add your email and homepage address there.

Add your URL or name to images. Add a text layer in Photoshop or using another tool saying something like or copyright by People who steal images tend to add their web address.

In the best case scenario you make sure that people understand the image is yours by saying something like your name, photography.

Share your images on image bookmarking sites like Pinterest and socialize with like minded users there.

In case you don’t submit them others will, without your permission and proper credits at worst. Thus make sure you are the first and foremost who submits them with the proper source.

Cut out the middleman e.g. Getty Images. Why? I’ve contacted Getty Images a week ago to seek permission to publish an image and I didn’t get a response beyond an automated “we get back to you” reply.

Also their rates are so high that only mainstream media can afford them so by selling there you actually make sure that you don’t sell many images.

Retain ownership of your images and decide on a case to case basis how much to charge.

Use “Search by Image” to find out who uses and steals your images. TinEye is another “reverse image search engine” that allows you to search for an image just by uploading it or linking it. You don’t use keywords but only the image itself.

Use social media sites Tumblr, Google+ etc. to spread your images yourself, reprimand users who steal your images. Second rate social media sites Tumblr or Google+ are notorious for wide spread image theft.

Most people who submit your images don’t care for copyright on earn money by stealing them and showing them along their ads. Especially Pinterest, Tumblr and Google+ are full of stolen images to rip off photographers and artists.

Use a CC license to control the use of your images. Creative Commons licenses are not about giving away your copyrights, they are about deciding yourself what copyrights you grant others. This is far better than letting people steal your images.

Let the people use the images with your permission and you get plenty of links, especially with those licenses requiring attribution.

Build your own homepage and display your images there. While many photographers aren’t web designers or can not afford expensive web design there are many services where you can set up a homepage easily.

Some of them are even specialized on image content. Without a homepage you will always depend on third parties like

  • Flickr
  • 500px
  • Behance

Flickr might ban you or delete your images.

Many images simply get censored because they show parts of the human body. So Flickr etc. are good to spread the word but not to represent you.

Don’t let Google Images steal your images. Use a so called frame breaker script to ensure Google Image search users are routed to your site and do no stay on the Google page that frames you. Sadly this only works in Germany and France now as elsewhere Google embeds your images without framing.

Apply basic image SEO best practices on site to make people find your images on your website.

Update: Use image specific link building techniques.


Optimize for search no matter how you call it

These simple and often quite obvious measures will already provide you with plenty of links and publicity. It takes time to use all these tools.

Even adding your website address to your images can be quite tedious but you also can automate it. There are even WordPress plugins that do it by themselves.

Some people may not call these techniques image SEO at all but at the end of the day it is optimization for search.

In the age of social media it is about findability, digital asset optimization and visibility wherever your assets are and off site optimization does not mean only link building.

Last updated: April 25th, 2017.