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Research Data Management

Image Metadata Basics

When you take a picture, your camera will automatically generate some metadata. As we saw for other file types, that can help documenting it. But you can also add more metadata to your image files to make them easier to use, share, and search for.

Technical metadata embedded by your camera can include:

  • Camera information (brand and model)
  • Aperture, shutter speed, ISO number, focal depth
  • Dots per inch (DPI)
  • Date, time, and GPS location if available

Descriptive and administrative metadata can be included using most picture management software:

  • Title
  • Keywords, captions, comments, etc.
  • Author
  • Contact information
  • Licensing rights

The last items are of course particularly helpful if you prepare your photographic collection for sharing as research data.

Image Metadata Standards

Different image metadata formats coexist within most image file formats (JPEG, TIFF, PSD, Raw, etc.). The most widely used are:

  • EXIF Exchangeable Image File
  • IPTC Information Interchange Model
  • DCMI Dublin Core Metadata Initiative
  • PLUS Picture Licensing Universal System
  • XMP Extensible Metadata Platform

The advantage of EXIF metadata is that it is searchable and writable directly from your Windows Explorer interface using right-click > Properties > Details.

Note: Do not use GIF or PNG

The PNG file format, while interesting for web publication (compression, transparency), does not accept EXIF metadata. Neither does GIF, but that is not a file format you should use for anything beyond memes.

Using Metadata in Adobe Bridge

Adobe Bridge is a free application from the Adobe Creative Suite which allows you to edit advanced metadata (EXIF & IPTC) for many file types.

You can also create "smart collections" that display only files that contain specific information in their metadata. This means that after enough metadata preparation, you could identify all pictures of red houses taken in Afghanistan between 01.03.2017 and 03.03.2017, or pictures of memos between Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford dated June 1972 from the hundreds of documents you scanned in the US National archives. Searching your photographic archives then becomes much faster.

For more information on using Adobe Bridge metadata (and image metadata management in general), check out PhotoMetadata.org or this short video tutorial on renaming image files and applying metadata with Adobe Bridge:

Other Software of Note

Other applications allow you to add metadata to image files and manage them in batches, such as FastPhotoTagger, ExifTool, ExifPro, etc. We did not get to use them and therefore cannot recommend any of them in particular. Comments are of course welcome if you have any experience with them.

Also of note: Tropy, a solution developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University specifically to manage the collections of researchers in history.