Solving the Metadata Problem 101
Metadata! You know, the information stored in your photos that is about your photos. Your camera creates EXIF metadata, with the technical info about your picture. Included in that is the image capture date, the colorspace (sRGB or Adobe RGB), the camera orientation and, possibly, GPS data. It’s all very useful and it’s easy – your camera just does it for you.
Things are harder with the metadata you should put in each image. As a minimum, you should put copyright information and a contact email address in the metadata. Then potential customers know who to contact and search engines can credit you for your image.
But the XMP metadata, as user metadata is called these days, can contain so much more. In fact, it is infinite. XMP stands for Extensible Metadata Platform, with the emphasis on ‘extensible’. Anyone can extend the XMP specification and put their own data into an image. Of course, it requires a degree of technical know how to do that. But Adobe and my own software company, AB Photo Tools, have added extensions and I doubt we are alone.
But this leads to what I call the Metadata problem, or more accurately, problems. Here’s a list of them:
- When should you add the data?
- How can you do this quickly?
- How do you change a metadata item on many, or even all, your images?
- How do I use metadata to find my images?
This article addresses these questions and suggests some solutions.
AB Photo Tools‘ products are NOT image editors or RAW converters. I wrote them to integrate with editors and RAW converters, not to replace them. Instead, they bridge the gap between you and your image collection, letting you organise your images, enter metadata as easily as possible and find your images quickly and simply.
Why not give them a try?
When to add metadata
There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question. The most obvious time is when you import your images from camera to computer. This is the ideal time to add your copyright and contact details, which are likely to be the same for every image.
Even this, however, presents a problem because different tools offer different metadata options. I’m not an Adobe user and most of my blog posts feature tools that are genuine alternatives to Adobe. So, here’s a few options some offer…
This is a decent image catalogue tool, although it falls short of being a true Digital Asset Manager. This screenshot shows what it offers metadata-wise during image import:
It’s not bad, but it’s still very limited. XMP offers much more, even for copyright details. Keywords might be useful here, but maybe not. There is no provision for image location nor reverse Geocoding to get the image location from the GPS data (if present).
It’s a great RAW converter and it has an image catalogue of sorts. But it has NO support for metadata at all nor can you import your images from camera/memory card to PC using it. If you use Luminar you have to use another tool to add/edit metadata. Even worse, Luminar does not save XMP metadata to any image it processes. I’m a big fan of Luminar for RAW conversion, but it is NOT a professional tool when it comes to image management. It actually makes the metadata problem worse…
In my opinion, DXO Photo Lab is the best RAW converter. It’s Photo Library module, however, does not feature image import or metadata editing. In edit mode, you can add keywords to your image one at a time. No other metadata is supported. At least DXO retains whatever metadata is in an image when it process it.
Digital Photo Guardian (DPG)
Disclaimer: I own AB Photo Tools and Digital Photo Guardian is my product. So I may be biased towards it.
We designed DPG from the ground up to be a Digital Asset Manager for photographers. Therefore, it features a large set of XMP metadata and the ability to set it during photo import from camera/card and afterwards. Here’s what DPG offers on import:
DPG offers on import: a full set of owner/copyright data plus Image Title, Description , Headline and Keywords or the ability to apply a metadata template on import. A metadata template contains all the metadata supported by DPG, which is a lot, and the Professional version offers reverse geocoding on image import. If this is used and your photos contain GPS coordinates, then DPG will get the details of the image location from a Geocoding server and enter these into the metadata. It’s very, very powerful.
But import is not always the right time to enter the metadata
Metadata items, such as Location (unless you reverse geocode), Keywords, Image Title and Description are unlikely to be the same for every image, even if they come from the same photo shoot. As a photographer, you are eager to get the pictures onto your computer and to start working on them, and so these important fields are often never entered. You might do so later on, image by image, but only on the images you are working on.
Does this matter?
It really matters. Why? Because a full set of metadata makes your images much easier to find later on. Provided, of course, that your Digital Asset Manager can search on all the metadata items. I’ll come back that later…
So, how do you make entering metadata easy, or at least easier?
The best way to enter metadata is to identify images where it will be the same for most fields, and enter it in one hit. To do that, after images are imported, it’s really important to further organise them. How? It depends on what your subject and photography style is. For example, a landscape photographer might choose to to organise their images by: Location, Year, Date, Sublocation. Something like this:
This is, of course, just a suggestion. But it is far, far better than just storing images by date of shot.
Using whatever Digital Asset Management tool you have you then drag and drop the images from the import into the correct folders. Now they are better organised it is likely that images in the same folders will share the same metadata for things such as location, sublocation, keywords and so forth. Organised properly, even model and property release details are likely to be the same per folder.
Now, all you need is to apply the same metadata to all the images in a folder.
That might be easier said than done!
It depends what your tools support. In Digital Photo Guardian it is a breeze:
- Create a metadata template containing only the data to add to those images, such as keywords, release ids and locations
- Apply it to all the images in that folder
DPG is smart – it combines the metadata in a template with the metadata already in your images. In that way, DPG can apply layer after layer of metadata to the appropriate images.
With other tools it may not be so simple.
Metadata items, such as Title, may need to be added individually. But the bulk of the metadata can be added in bulk using the techniques and tools described above…
But my tools can’t do this!
Hmmm. That’s a problem. And you are probably happy with your current tools and don’t want to shell out a ton of £££/$$$ to gain this ability. The good news is you don’t have to. Hopefully, your tools do allow you to reorganise your images into folders. If they don’t then you should get another tool. But if it’s only the metadata that’s the problem…
To solve this problem, AB Photo Tools have created Metadata Wizard. This is a low cost (think the price of a couple of coffees) solution. It’s not a subscription – it’s a one-off price for a perpetual license. And it provides the simplest way to add metadata to your images in bulk. It uses the same tech as DPG – metadata templates and introduces copyright templates. The only thing it cannot do is reverse geocoding. That requires DPG Professional (or another tool that supports it).
Metadata Wizard lets you create unlimited metadata templates and copyright templates. Then, you use Windows Explorer or your favourite image browser to drag images/folders to the Metadata Wizard screen, select the template to apply and Metadata Wizard does the rest.
Change just one item
One major headache with metadata happens when you move house or change email address or website address. You want to change just that data in your images but leave everything else alone. How? One image at a time would take ages. Metadata Wizard has no problems here: just create a template with only the changed fields in it. Drag the root folder of your image collection to Metadata Wizard and select that template and select Combine. Metadata Wizard cycles through all your images and just changes the fields that have been defined in the template. Voila! Everything done, and in minutes, not days of hours.
The Search problem…
We’ve all been there. Someone asks if you have a photo of location X or person Y. You know you do, but where is that photo? If you’ve been diligent, you will have entered metadata to describe the image, the place, the person. But how do you find it?
You are now at the mercy of the tools you use! Do they support searching on the metadata field that contains the information you are looking for? What if you entered it in the wrong field? Are the tools you use even up to date with the current metadata in every image? The sad answer is that you almost certainly don’t know… And an image that should be easy to find is now hidden by the limitations of the tools you use.
DPG is NOT like that. It can search on any metadata item, even the ones that is doesn’t specifically know about, such as new extensions by software vendors.
Say, for example, that Lightroom adds a new metadata field called ‘Famous person’ and you’ve taken a picture of Peter Capaldi (Who? Only the best ever Doctor Who, that’s who, lol), and so you enter Peter Capaldi in the Famous Person field. Later, maybe years later, you want to find that picture. How? You might find that none of your tools search on this field and now you’re in for a long, manual task.
Not so with Digital Photo Guardian. When it reads your images it indexes every metadata item in your pictures, even the ones it can’t edit in its UI. It keeps itself up to date, updating itself whenever you make a change to any image. And so, in DPG’s search screen, you just enter Peter Capaldi in the metadata search field and DPG will find it. Instantly.
Metadata – Conclusion
Metadata is your friend. It helps you to organise your photos, assert your copyright, lets customers find you, helps you find cherished images and much more. The problem with metadata is that the tools you use may not be taking it seriously enough.
One of the reasons I developed the AB Photo Tools range of products was to meet the actual needs of photographers. We need to manage our image collection but we don’t want to spend hours and hours doing so. Most tools I’ve tested and used just reflect the disorganised state of my image collection and make no real effort to help me fix it. Too often I’ve gone to a folder and found an image is missing, somehow deleted (maybe months or years ago). Or, I’ve spent time painstakingly entering detailed metadata, only to find that my current tools won’t search on that data or are not up to date.
AB Photo Tools’ products are NOT image editors or RAW converters. I wrote them to integrate with editors and RAW converters, not to replace them. Instead, they bridge the gap between you and your image collection, letting you organise your images, enter metadata as easily as possible and find your images quickly and simply. It even warns you if an image or a backup is missing…