The last couple of entries we've gone over naming all the digital photos we take and organizing them on our computer systems. This is all done in preparation of creating a database or library of our images. Anytime you have a collection of data on a computer, as our image files are, they are refereed to as a database or library. If you are familiar with iTunes, you have an idea of what a library of music looks like. Photo files are the same as any other media files like music or videos.
To be able to organize and search my library beyond the dates I took them as that is part of the name I use for each photo, I add information to them called metadata. When a picture is taken with a digital camera, the camera adds or embeds information beyond the image you see. That information is the Exif (Exchangeable Image File Format) data which includes the technical data like date, time, camera make and model, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, EV, white balance used, and lots of other things. Very important but what it doesn't have is a description of the photo, why it was taken, who or what is in the photo, where was it taken, and who took it to name a few questions that come to mind when I see a photograph.
This is where metadata comes in and over the years a standard has been developed by the International Press Telecommunications Council, or IPTC for short, called the Information Interchange Model (IIM) which has allowed software publishers to write programs where you and I can add information to our photos and it will be able to be read by the software we use today and in the future. This information can also be used by online photo sites like flickr so when you upload your images, metadata information will go with them.
So, what kind of information do you put in metadata? The entire IPTC standard has way more fields then you or I will ever use. The most important ones for me are captions, keywords, and copyright. When I load my photos onto my computer, I have the software I use do several things. It renames the files the way I want them, puts them in the monthly folder and adds the metadata I enter into the caption, keyword and copyright fields. The captions I use when loading are very simple. I give the basic Who or What, Where, and When of the day's photos. I can later add and or edit the captions to give more or less information. The copyright is very important as this stamps the photo as created by me, the photographer.
Keywords are used by photo software programs to find photos quickly. Google uses keywords people embed in their web pages for fast searching and it works the same way with our photos. Here's an example, every photo I take at Epcot in Walt Disney World has the keywords: Walt Disney World and Epcot. This makes it easy for me to find all my photos taken at Epcot. The more keywords used, the easier it is to find a particular set of photos or even an individual photo in a library of thousands of images.
Here is an example of one of my photographs taken at Walt Disney World. Below I will list the metadata I have added to it to give you an idea of how useful it is.
Liberty Bell replica across from the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom.
Nikon D70/18-70G, 1/13s, f/4.5, 1600 ISO, EV +0.3, 50mm Focal length
Caption: A replica of the Liberty Bell illuminated after dark in Liberty Square across from the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida.
Keywords: america, bell, florida, hall of presidents, liberty, liberty bell, magic kingdom, night, orlando, walt disney world
Copyright: ¬© Scott Thomas Photography
To find this photo in my library of photographs, all I'd need to do is search on any of the keywords listed. The more specific the search, the faster I'll find it.
Today, libraries, museums and public institutions all over the world are in the process of digitizing their important archives of papers, letters, books and photographs in their collections. Metadata will be how we find and access all these newly digitized documents as they are made available online for all of us to use.