Metadata is data about data. In the case of a digital photograph, metadata is the descriptive information about the image that is embedded in the file along with the image. A lot of that information is put there by your digital camera. It will include the date and time the photo was taken, camera settings used for that photo and the kind of camera used. If your camera includes geo-tagging capabilities, it will include the location of the photo too.
Metadata doesn’t stop with the camera. Many of the photo-editing and even storage platforms have the ability to add even more information to the image file. Why should you be interested? Because this is the digital equivalent of penciled notes on the back of an old family photo. Only difference is these descriptions won’t fade with time and are copied along with the image when it’s being shared.
In this photo displayed on a Flickr photo page you can see how one system takes advantage of the image’s metadata. At the top of the right sidebar is information on when and where – in map form – the photo was taken and the type of camera. Flickr got that information from the photo file. No, the image file doesn’t include a map, but the Flickr platform includes programming that reads the geocode from the image and generates a map view for us.
Flickr’s bulk uploader app not only lets you upload more than a couple of images at a time, it lets you add additional information about each image quickly and easily. This group of photos all come from a trip to Savannah last year so I can select them all and add tags (keywords) in one operation. I can choose to add individual titles and descriptions in the uploader app or on the photo page once it’s been uploaded. I usually do it in the uploader because it’s faster to move around the app than from page to page in Flickr.
Once done, I’ve got a set of images stored in a rather unique archive with details about each photo digitally attached to them. Now, anyone who runs into this photo – today, tomorrow or ten years from now – will have a significant amount of information about the image.
In this example, you’re looking at the File Info pane in the Pixelmator photo editor app [Mac $14.99]. Most image editors include this capability, but it may have a different name. Look for “file info” or “file properties”. Some of it – like the camera information shown here – is not editable, but much of it is.
Photoshop Elements [Win & Mac - $79.99] has an extensive photo information pane. As with Pixelmator, not all the information is editable, but as you can see from the number of tabs included here, there’s plenty of room to add all the information you want. Although I haven’t played with it in recent versions, the Organizer component that has always been a part of the Windows version but just now added to the Mac version, includes tools to batch edit metadata information.
While a lot of information is automatically added to digital images these days, it’s still up to you to add the details. And, don’t forget to include metadata as you scan historical photos either. Learn to use the tools included with your photo organizer/editor and put them to work. Not only will this information remain with the image file (and copies of it too), much of it is searchable. Think of what that means for finding “lost” family images uploaded by distant cousins.
Metadata is your friend. It’s time to get to know him better – much better.