I have just had a long conversation with an IPTC member about photographic metadata and the free software community. The starting point for the conversation was what could be done to get industry standards better embedded into free photography software.
The great news: there is the possibility for our community to engage with the photographic metadata standards community so that (1) we can learn from their considerable expertise and experience and (2) they might learn how to better communicate what they do to people in our community.
My goal in all of this is very simple: to have free photography software be fully compliant with industry standards.
Whether you are a user or a developer, this is why you should care:
- Your images are found by someone on Google image search. If your photo contains industry standard metadata, Google displays your contact information and the photo’s copyright information so the person who found it knows how to contact you because they want to include your photo on their blog or wherever.
- You upload your images to a service like Flickr and you like it that the keywords and location info automatically appear.
- You decide 10 years from now you’d no longer like to use software XYZ but something else instead and you don’t want to lose any (or even all!) of the descriptive metadata you’ve entered. You want it to seamlessly transfer, without losing any data. Think location information, keywords, copyright, description, etc.
- Thirty years from now someone comes across your digital image somewhere and wants to know who the photographer was, where it was taken, etc. It might be a stranger online, or your own family member. They can’t read the back of the photo, right? They need access to metadata.
To do any of this you need your software to follow industry standards — standards that reflect decades of experience by industry veterans from photography, information science, news organizations, etc. For these things to work seamlessly, software on your desktop or in the cloud must follow standards. Otherwise you lose some or all of your metadata. You might not even notice you’ve lost it — badly written programs can silently remove photo metadata fields they’re unaware of when photos are modified by them (ouch!).
Sometimes it is tempting for users to not follow the standards because they don’t understand how to use them, or why. Developers may not understand why things are done in a certain way and not others, perhaps because the documentation is opaque or uses terms that once made perfect sense to their audience but no longer do (e.g. the distinction between headline and title).
We are very fortunate in the photography community that the industry standard was not first initiated by a proprietary software company, but by people who need to use the metadata to be able to work effectively with each other. The same cannot be said in the video industry, whose metadata standards are a vendor-driven mess compared to photography.
Fortunately for the entire industry, Adobe, Microsoft, Apple and other software companies big and small collaborated and hashed standards out. They made their software work with each other instead of against each other. There is consequently no problem of vendor lock-in. Thank goodness!
That doesn’t mean all software from these companies from the last 10 years or so always does the right thing all the time. They don’t, especially older software. But things are better now than they’ve ever been. And regarding FOSS tools, we have splendid support from ExifTool and Exiv2.
You’ve seen the terms XMP, IPTC etc.
- XMP is the contemporary standard for storing metadata
- IPTC governs what metadata is actually stored, e.g. location, keywords, copyright info, etc.
A very handy Japanese bento box diagram how it all fits in with other things like Exif: Types of Metadata | Photometadata.org
An example of a proprietary software program that takes a nonstandard approach to photo metadata and consequently is really a bit of a self-inflicted mess: Corel Aftershot.
By contrast, an example of a proprietary software program that works really well with industry standards: Photo Mechanic. This is not by accident. Photo Mechanic developers have a history of engaging with and improving industry standards.
With respect to photography metadata, our goal should be to be more like Photo Mechanic, and absolutely not like Corel Aftershot (which I would classify these days as a failed application that no one should invest any time or money in).
Realistically speaking, when it comes to photo metadata, let’s be honest, some important programs in our community are most definitely not like Photo Mechanic, and are more like Aftershot.
On the other hand some FOSS programs have done great work to be compliant: Photo Metadata Software Support - IPTC
If you are interesting in engaging with the photographic metadata standards community please share your interest and/or thoughts below. You don’t have to be a developer. If the developer of your favorite software program is not interested in following the industry standards, but you are, you can educate and pressure them to do the right thing.
If you have a specific technical or aesthetic problem the XMP and IPTC standards, then share your thoughts too. That’s useful to know. Or link to them if you have already expressed your thoughts online in some manner.
Thanks for reading and apologies for the length.