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Metadata: Use It!

Entering descriptive metadata and keywords into Photoshop.

Each digital image generated by a digital camera contains file information known as metadata. Whatever use the image will ultimately have, whether it's being published on the Web, emailed, or just stored in a database, metadata helps photographers and anyone working with images in a variety of ways:

  • It provides specific camera data about how the image was taken, by what kind of camera, and how it was exposed.
  • It can be customized to add an image-specific title, copyright information, and who took the photo.
  • It can include certain keywords that help to identify and search for images.
  • Originally developed by the newspaper industry to track digital-file information and easily access the thousands of photos the media stocks, Photoshop began using the standard created by the Newspaper Association of America and International Press Telecommunications Council. Stock photo agencies, such as Corbis and Getty Images, require metadata on images to be able to search and identify them.

    Metadata includes a variety of types of information: image description, author, copyrights/credits, image origin, and keywords. Some metadata is alterable; some is not. For example, you cannot alter the information related to what type of camera took the photo, the exposure details, or whether or not the flash was fired. You can change information such as the author of the photo, the date, when and where it was shot, keywords, and copyright information.

    Crossing applications

    Each image-management program and most image-editing packages allow you to view image metadata and customize it, at least to a degree. Further, the better packages also allow you to attach common metadata to batches of images, create your own keywords, and sort images accordingly.

    Photoshop provides the most robust metadata manipulation and appending options, and I tend to use it the most frequently when working with batches of files. Photoshop segments image metadata into several pages of information, such as "Camera Data 1," one of the less technical metadata information categories.

    You can even add a URL for a copyright"?for example, I add www.fencingphotos.com to many of my fencing images. In Adobe Photoshop, you create a metadata template that contains the specifics you've added, and this can then be batchappended to groups of files in the Photoshop File Browser. Photoshop uses what's called XMP, or the extensible metadata platform, which allows you to carry information among various Adobe applications (for example, Illustrator) and what they call publishing workflows. The information you append to a file's metadata, such as copyright information or document name, then appears as metadata in other applications as well.

    Some information is proprietary to the application and won't cross applications. I find it frustrating, for example, that you can add a keyword into an image's metadata in Photoshop, but it won't appear in ACDSee, from ACD Systems; it does, however, appear in iView MediaPro from iView MultiMedia Ltd. So, this is something to check before you begin applying metadata keywords and then opening or working with images in multiple applications.

    An expanding field

    Metadata is an area of image management that will continue to grow in importance and automation. Most digital files carry far more digital information than anyone really knows what to do with today. This is only sure to grow over time to be manipulated in a variety of archival, review, and management techniques for digital images as applications add metadata capabilities.

    For example, it would be great if applications could evaluate a series of images and compile a report showing information and statistics about how the images were shot overall, including percentage of flash images; average focal lengths, and exposures. These types of analytical data would help in teaching and understanding photography.

    Serge Timacheff is a professional photographer who recently made the switch to a fully digital operation. David Karlins teaches graphic design at San Francisco State University. This information is excerpted from their new book, Total Digital Photography: The Shoot To Print Workflow Handbook (Wiley Publishing, www.wiley.com/combooks).

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