What Happens to Your Photos After You’re Gone?

A reader recently wrote me, asking: “What is the possible editorial worth of my collection of offshore Atlantic ocean fishing; high school sports from the 1950’s – 1980’s; and aerials of the Pittsburgh, PA, skyline?”

My response: “In any marketing endeavor, the successful route to follow is to determine who needs your product.”

Another question you could ask yourself: What will happen to all your photos when you’re gone?

A Library Donation Used to be the Only Answer

Back in the day (the 1970s), I’d give them the only answer I had, to “donate” their images to the local city or state historical library, museum or university photo archives. Over the years, I’ve learned that such donated collections are usually relegated to basement vaults, rarely to be seen by the public because the institution doesn’t have the funds to exhibit, catalog or preserve them.

Now my advice has changed. Why?

Because the internet has made it possible for you to connect your photos with potential buyers – now and long into the future, after you’re gone. You have the opportunity to give mileage to the many images you’ve passionately acquired over the years while at the same time benefiting your family and giving pleasure and/or insight to the public at large.

Keyword-Rich Captions Can Turn Your Collection Into an Asset

Here’s what I tell photographers now: Things have changed, and the savior is the internet.  If you build a database of your photos and write good key phrases (sometimes called long-tail keywords) in the captions, you are in an excellent position to market those images.

We’ve observed that in the editorial field, photo researchers look first for a SOURCE for a highly specialized photo (like a vintage aerial view of Pittsburgh). Once they find the source (the photographer), they start looking at a selection of that photographer’s available pictures.

You can create your own personal database on your website, but the trick then is to generate enough traffic to your site to make the process work and get sales. One way to do that is to index your photos in a place where buyers might go to search for them. Here’s one we created at PhotoSource International. It’s a massive data center where photographers list their own descriptions (keywords). The site is well-known to photo buyers searching for photos and gets more than 14,000 hits per day.

Be Specific in Captions

In writing keyword captions, it’s important to be as specific as you can. List things like actual names of buildings, landscapes, trees, streets, events, animals, boulevards, parade names, etc. Think of what you type in a search engine when you’re looking for something. You don’t type “bridge.” You type “Golden Gate Bridge” or “bridge and San Francisco.”

Use the right keywords and you’ll get hits from all over the world.

So do yourself and your family a favor. When you retire, don’t leave an un-categorized, un-keyworded database of images to a museum or university, where they will likely just collect dust packed away on a shelf, or to a family member, who is unfamiliar with the keywording process, and in any case would not be able to keyword your photos accurately and thoroughly.

Instead, roll up your sleeves and keyword your collection, beginning tomorrow. In this way, you’d be leaving a valuable legacy (even an annuity) to your descendents. Yes, it’s a chore. But it’s a good feeling, too, to know you are leaving a fine legacy to them.

2 Responses to “What Happens to Your Photos After You’re Gone?”

  1. I don't know if I really care too much, I'll be in a better place!

  2. All of my photos and stock portfolios will be bequeathed to my daughter through a specific will addendum.

    That way she can continue to seek revenue if she wishes.

Leave a Reply