This is What You Need to Know About Metadata


Every image you take has a secret life, an unseen alto ego that defines it. When you look at an image on screen, you see a representation of the photograph you took, yet hidden within the 0s and 1s of that digital image is a whole other world of further information. It’s metadata.

Today we are going to take a look at some of the information you can find in your images and indeed the information you can add to it in post production. Most image editing software contains ways to access the metadata, for example in Photoshop it can be found under File – File Info

Many of us know about captioning and keywording our photos. It is a vital part of cataloguing our collections and important for those of us that submit to stock libraries, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Lets start by looking at what information your camera embeds to an image when you take it.

What is In Metadata?

The metadata that is saved at the time of taking is stored in a section called the Exif. Within this is stored the technical details of the image such its pixel dimensions, camera model and make, exposure, white balance and color space details and date of capture. If your camera has a GPS, the location detail is also embedded. As well as this, there will be a jpg thumbnail, used to preview the image on the camera’s LCD and in your computer’s OS. Other information stored includes lens details and settings and flash mode.

Most software does not allow editing of the Exif data but should you need to do so, for example you have the wrong date set, there are Exif editors available.
What the Camera Embeds by Jason Row Photography, on Flickr

The second main section of metadata is the IPTC Core and Extensions. IPTC stands for International Press and Telecommunications Council and it they that are responsible for defining which information you can can embed into your images. At its basic level,  information that can be added includes:

  • Name, job title and contact details of the image creator
  • An editable image creation date and intellectual genre
  • Image location details by city, state and country
  • The Headline, this is what why might consider the caption, a very brief description of the image
  • The Description, expands the Headline into a more detailed summary of what is in the image
  • The Keywords are a series of words or phrases that define exactly what can be seen in the image as well as defining it’s mood or style
  • The Subject Code, allows you to define what genre the image falls into.

As well as this, you also have the IPTC Status, this is a very useful section that allows you, among other things, to embed copyright details, usage credit lines and right’s usage. These are very important to anyone that sells their images.
Photoshop description field by Jason Row Photography, on Flickr

Beyond the basic IPTC data, the IPTC extensions allow you to add more detailed information useful for administration purposes such as the Image Supplier's name and contact, model release details as well as more detailed location information.

For most of use the important information is in the Exif and basic IPTC sections. Most software these days allows you to create metadata templates and apply them on import. These can be an extremely efficient way of adding standard metadata to your images. Such templates can include your name and contact details, copyright and right’s usage details as well location details if your batch of images is shot in the same place. You can then add the further details such as the Headline, Description and Keywords at a later stage in the post production.
Metadata options in Apple Aperture by Jason Row Photography, on Flickr

Metadata is a highly complex and to some difficult subject, yet with a little time and effort it can add a wealth of useful and important information to you images, making them not only easier to find but better protected online. There is one caveat to metadata, many sites today, especially social media sites like Facebook, completely strip out metadata when you upload, meaning none of the information you have diligently added, will be in the image. With that said, many, more photographer orientated sites do keep the metadata embedded.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

Good information – answered some questions I have been having about metadata. So, thanks!

FYI – your tweet button from the site is not working correctly – not posting a link from the article.. thought you should know. I will copy and paste into a tweet..

Thanks @Trace – looks like there was some problem with the URL shortener – have reverted to normal URL for the time being.

There is a freeware basic photo editing software that allows good access to the EXIF data called Irfanview (see It allows the IPTC data to be easily edited. I have used it for years for simple cropping and color/contrast adjustments.

Another way I use metadata or exif info: when I’m browsing images in Flickr and wonder how an image was captured, I check out the exif info which is accessible for most photos (unless the user blocks it). It is helpful to see what settings, what lenses, and what software was used. Thanks for the article.

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