Metadata is data about data. In the case of a digital photograph, metadata is descriptive information about the image which 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.
This Flickr photo page shows you how one platform takes advantage of the image’s metadata. In the sidebar, Flickr displays metadata collected from the photo file as well as additional information added by the photos owner and comments from site visitors. As you can see, this photo was taken with an iPhone in Micanopy, Florida, on May 22, 2013. Just below the comments box, you see three icons. The Information icon is currently selected and it displays the information you see below it. Click the middle icon and the panel will display other photos from this set and this user’s photostream. The icon on the right will display a panel of tags added to describe this photograph.
There are a number of apps – desktop and mobile – which make it easy to upload your photos. Most offer tools to quickly add titles, descriptions, tags and other metadata to the photos. This is one of a group of photos from a day trip to Micanopy last year. Using the Photos app on my iPhone, I can select them all and add tags (keywords) in one operation. When I use Photos – or iPhoto on my desktop – to add titles, descriptions and other metadata before I upload, they are embedded into the photo files. Yes, they will be forwarded on to Flickr when those photos are uploaded, but that metadata will also go with them to my desktop or anywhere else I send them.
Once that metadata is added to the photo files, wherever those photos go, that information goes with them. Now, anyone who runs into one of these digital photos – today, tomorrow or ten years from now – will find a significant amount of information with it.
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.