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Kimberly Powell

Labeling Photos with IPTC

By November 12, 2007

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Photo organization software programs such as Adobe Photoshop Elements, Picasa and IPhoto make it fairly easy to add image captions and descriptions - think of this as the digital equivalent to labelling the back of a paper photo. In addition, most such programs allow you to add keywords or "tags" to your digital photos to identify and organize them. I have tags, for example, for the general keyword "cemetery," and also tags for each individual cemetery. These keyword tags allow me to easily click a button and bring up all of the photos out of my thousands of digital photos that relate to a cemetery, or bring up all photos from a particular cemetery - even if the photos came from different sources or were taken at different times. I also have tags for each of my family surnames and locations where my families lived. Most photos are tagged with multiple terms - a cemetery photo might be tagged with the keyword "cemetery," as well as the name of the cemetery, the location and the last name of the individual.

While tags and captions are great, they are often saved in a proprietary format in your photo software, meaning that they won't easily carry from one program to the next. I learned that the hard way after my Adobe Photoshop Album catalog was lost after a hard drive crash a few years ago. I didn't lose any of the photos, but because I lost the catalog file created in that program, I did lose all of the hours and hours of work I had spent labeling photos. To ensure that your hard work spent labeling photos will pay off, it is important to use a method that will be fully supported by various programs in the future. This is where IPTC (which stands for International Press Telecommunications Council) steps in. This metadata standard allows you to embed information - photographer name, a caption, keywords, etc. - right into the digital photo file. This is similar to the EXIF data which is automatically created by your digital camera to preserve information about the camera model, the date the photo was shot, and your camera settings such as aperture, shutter speed, and whether the flash was used. IPTC is similar, except that you will need to manually add any IPTC information you want saved with the photo.

Some photo programs automatically store image captions that you enter as IPTC metadata, but many don't. If you use Adobe Photoshop Elements, for example, the tags and other information you add to your photos can be saved as IPTC metadata, but it will take you an extra step. Look for an option under the File Menu for "Write Keyword Tags and Properties Info to Photos." Alternatively, the IPTC info is automatically written to the files when you export them, when you edit them, or when you email them to someone directly from the Photoshop Elements software. Adobe uses an XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform) that fully incorporates the IPTC standard.

As JL points out in his JLog blog, IPTC generally only works consistently with files saved in the jpg or tiff format. Sometimes the IPTC metadata may even be stripped from those file types if you resize, edit or email them. To ensure your metadata is preserved with the photos, always make a copy of the photo for editing or email purposes and leave the original alone. And always take the time to make sure this data is being saved directly with your photos through IPTC, rather than relying solely on the tagging and caption options in your photo software.

November 12, 2007 at 9:19 pm
(1) Stephen Davis says:

Doing this is critical. You will lose all your hard work in setting up the keywords if you change cataloging programs, or just copy the photos from one computer to a new one. It was very frustrating for me when Microsoft discontinued their photo catalog and touchup program and I had to switch to Adobe.

November 12, 2007 at 9:42 pm
(2) Charles Monroe says:

This is good info. I never gave it a thought until now but will start using it henceforth.

November 12, 2007 at 10:48 pm
(3) JLB says:

The best cataloguing software I’ve seen using IPTC is Mediadex. It’s a free-form setup so it’s a little trickier to use than most, although it also gives the most options for doing things your own way. I wrote a summary review of it at

November 12, 2007 at 10:50 pm
(4) JLB says:

Sorry, html didn’t work on the address. Try http://www3.telus.net/Jgen/2007-09-09-mediadex.shtml

November 18, 2007 at 2:21 pm
(5) George Geder says:

I haven’t really tagged or captioned most of my photos because I haven’t settled down on a particular cataloging program.

Since Photoshop CS3 is my editing program, will I be safe in adding the IPTC metadata AFTER all editing – and not have to worry if I upload the pic to my blog?

“Guided by the Ancestors”

November 18, 2007 at 10:33 pm
(6) JLB says:

I don’t think it matters which cataloging program you use, as IPTC is embedded information. The question is whether you will be able to view and further edit the IPTC info in your choice of catalog. Not all programs are created equal in this respect.

Uploading your pictures to your blog should not affect the IPTC info either.

August 1, 2011 at 10:18 am
(7) Huub says:

You can use the smart photo album iPad app to find your photos and images by keyword or tag.

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