Wednesday, June 4, 2008

IPTC Metadata

Interesting topic, huh? It turns out that metadata is one of things that is quietly in the background making things more efficient and productive without you ever knowing it. Every time you take a digital photograph, information is stored in an EXIF header that includes the camera settings (shutter speed, exposure time, flash, etc.) and the time and date of the photo. This makes it very easy to find when photos were taken without you needing to manually record the date, time, and camera settings the way photographers used to do SLR film cameras. This information is considered metadata because it is a small snippet of the file that is separate from the digital representation of the photo that is the bulk of the file.

Now, don't you wish that there was other information associated with each photograph, like location, who is in the photo, the photographers name, and a description? Lots of different software applications are attempting to deal with this by allowing you to "tag" photos or by including a description, and this definitely is a step in the right direction that will allow you to search for photos more easily in the future. But what if you stop using Windows Vista, .Mac, or Flicker? What happens to those descriptions and tags? They disappear! That's because they aren't part of the photo and they aren't based on an industry accepted standard. This is where IPTC headers come in. IPTC stands for the International Press and Telecommunications Council. This group recognized that photos needed metadata attached to them with descriptions, photographer, etc. so that they could be easily passed from one news organization to another. The reason this matters to us is that it provides a standard format for this metadata that will remain largely accepted throughout the world for the forseeable future.

Now the question becomes, how can IPTC be used to actually make my digital photography experience better? First off, you need to be able to add IPTC headers to existing photographs. I'm sure there are dozens of ways to do this, but I will just mention a few here. Originally, I used a free application called PixVue to edit and view IPTC data for photographs from within MS Window Explorer, but it has come and gone and come again, so I can't guarantee its availability. IrfanView is a popular, free image editing software that can also be used to view and edit IPTC data, but I found the process to be somewhat cumbersome. Most recently, I found that Microsoft has released a tool called Pro Photo Tools (previously called Photo Info) that is very similar in functionality to PixVue for editing and viewing metadata for groups of photos with the additional added benefits of being able to correct camera date/timestamps and geotag photos. I think this type of tool should be included in the Windows and Mac operating systems since it is such a basic task. I'm not going to go into the details of editing this data, but basically, you just need to select a group of photos and right-click on them to be presented with a dialogue box that lets you edit their values. The toughest part of this editing process is remembering to actually do it! However, once that information has been entered once, there will be no need to re-enter it again in the future.

Once you have populated your IPTC header data, you can then take advantage of its presence. There are 3 ways that I currently used this information and I'm sure it will only expand in the future. The first way the data is useful is when searching for photographs. If you use a search tool on your local machine, you can now search for terms inside the photos instead of just browsing through your own personal heiarchy to find photos. For example, it would be much easier to do a search for "Pat" within all the photos in My Pictures than it would be to browse through thumbnails of all those photos to find pictures of me in them. Second, I use JAlbum to create online photo albums of my photographs and once the IPTC is populated, the album software is able to simply extract the description and location information and post in on the web pages without me doing a thing! Similarly, when I use RoboGeo this data is also used to create descriptions of photos within Google Earth.

That's all for now!

Update, 3/6/2011:

After a recent round of computer updates, I found myself needing to edit some photo metadata. Initially, I used the PixVue installation that was referenced above, but Windows Explorer (the file browser, not the web browser) kept crashing under Windows 7. So I moved on to using MS Pro Photo Tools, but it interspersed the metadata somewhat haphazardly between the IPTC and EXIF headers. Finally, I discovered that Irfanview can be used in batch mode to edit IPTC data and I’m happy with this new method.

No comments: