This article is a pre-release chapter in Jeff Carlson’s upcoming “Take Control of Your Digital Photos,” scheduled for public release in August 2013. Apart from the introduction , these chapters are available only to TidBITS members ; see “Streamed Advice for Managing Your Digital Photos ” for details.
Assign Keywords and Other Data
When my wife and I moved into our house, we repainted most of the interior walls. It was a time-consuming task, but not because of how much wall space needed covering. Splashing color on the wall was the easy part. Taping around windows, preparing the room, and then touching up the edges and corners took much more time.
In Best Practices for Importing Photos I talked a lot about adding metadata during the import process because, to me, that’s the easiest way to apply it. Assigning keywords and other information during that initial stage takes some prep time, but when you click the Import button, the metadata is applied with a broad brush across all your incoming photos. (It’s like handing a paint roller to a capable assistant while you supervise, preferably with a beverage in hand.)
After import, though, you still have some touch-up work to do. To make your photos easily searchable later—the ultimate goal in our organization project—you also need to apply more-specific metadata to individual photos. This might include identifying people and landmarks, or describing shots.
In this chapter, I look at how to choose good keywords and how to apply them smartly. I also discuss how to fix incorrect dates and times, how to apply geolocation information, and why it may not be worth investing the time in your program’s facial-recognition tools.
Your camera embeds all sorts of metadata into photos, such as the shutter speed, aperture, and focal length. You’ll rarely search for photos based on those criteria, though. What your photos really need is a sense of context—and only you can provide that.
Although you can add descriptive information in several ways—including image titles and captions—I’m focusing on keywords in this section to streamline the process. Writing a title and caption for every image would slow your progress—and increase the chance that you’d abandon the effort altogether—because you end up writing original content for each photo.
By focusing on keywords at this stage, you can refine the metadata in batches as you work, so you save time. Think of it as building a pyramid of image information (Figure 1):
Figure 1: Build up metadata in stages for efficiency.
Figure 1: Build up metadata in stages for efficiency." />
- During the import stage, assign keywords that apply to every photo in a set, laying down a foundation of metadata.
- In another pass, assign common keywords to smaller batches of images; for example, maybe all of the imported photos were taken at Disneyland, but only a couple dozen were snapped in the Tomorrowland section. You can add a
tomorrowland keyword to all of those those images in one step, versus tagging each shot as you encounter it.
- Lastly, customize select photos individually by writing titles and captions and applying any additional keywords. I tend to add this level of metadata only to images I rate highly or I plan to share online.
Choose Good Keywords
Keywords add searchable context to your shots—but which keywords should you use? Unfortunately, there’s no universal list of accepted terms. You have to anticipate what you or someone else will be searching for in the future. Generally, that falls into two categories:
- Keywords that describe the contents of a photo. For example, the photo in Figure 2 could include
shilshole marina (the name of the setting). You may also want to add further information such as
dock, and others.
- Keywords that describe the type of photo. That could include
landscape (describing both the category and the orientation) in this case. Other images could include
black and white (as well as variations such as
blackandwhite) that describe those characteristics of the photo independently from its contents. (Since nearly everything is shot in color, I wouldn’t tag something with
black-and-white is its own photographic category.)
Figure 2: A sunset at Seattle’s Shilshole Bay Marina." />
Figure 2: A sunset at Seattle’s Shilshole Bay Marina.
Feel free to be generous with your application of keywords. There’s no downside to applying multiple keywords to an image—so long as you have the time—and you can later use that data to pull results from simple text queries. Typing “marina” in a Search field, for example, narrows the selection of photos to those that contain the word in any metadata field—including keywords (Figure 3). Those keywords also travel with the photo when it’s uploaded to an online service such as Flickr, so anyone searching for that term will bring up your image.
Figure 3: Searching for the term “marina” in Lightroom.
Figure 3: Searching for the term “marina” in Lightroom." />
You don’t need to go crazy and describe every last detail, however. For example, here are the keywords assigned to a photo of Apple CEO Tim Cook and me that’s available for licensing by Getty Images (Figure 4):
Event, History, Business, Finance, Technology, Horizontal, Waist Up, USA,
New, California, Apple Computers, San Jose - California,
Merchandise, Digital Tablet, iPad, Corporate Business,
Tim Cook - Business Executive, iPad Mini
Figure 4: Customers of photo collections such as Getty Images use keywords to locate images
Figure 4: Customers of photo collections such as Getty Images use keywords to locate images" />
With a handful of keywords, the photographer (or editor) hit the important terms that customers, in this case primarily news outlets, would be searching for (though I’m a little put out that my name isn’t among them). If professional photo companies don’t need to append an extensive list of keywords to their images, the same applies for anyone’s personal library.
It’s easy enough to add keywords or other metadata to an individual photo: type it into the associated fields in the software’s Info or Metadata pane. But a better approach is to add the data to several photos simultaneously.
- In the Library module, select the photos you wish to edit.
- Click the Keywording disclosure triangle to reveal the Keyword Tags field.
- Type the words you want to add in the field labeled “Click here to add keywords,” and then press Return (Figure 5). You can also click any of the terms in the Keyword Suggestions and Keyword Set areas.
Figure 5: Adding keywords to a selected batch of images in Lightroom." />
Figure 5: Adding keywords to a selected batch of images in Lightroom.
- Select the photos you wish to edit.
- Choose Metadata > Batch Change (or press Command-Shift-B).
- In the Add Metadata From section, choose one of your presets or the Basic Info option.
- Choose whether to append the new information to existing metadata or replace it by clicking the Append or Replace radio buttons.
- Enter new terms in any of the fields (Figure 6). Make sure the checkbox to the left of the fields you’re changing is marked.
- Click OK to make the change.
Figure 6: Appending keywords to a batch of images in Aperture." />
Figure 6: Appending keywords to a batch of images in Aperture.
- In the Elements Organizer, select the images you wish to edit.
- Click the Tags/Info button to reveal the Information pane.
- In the Image Tags area, type keywords in the Add Custom Keywords field, separating the terms with commas (Figure 7).
- Press Return or click the Add button.
If you want to edit other metadata, click the Add IPTC Information button that appears in the Information pane when multiple images are selected. Enter the data you want in the Edit IPTC Information dialog that appears and then click Save.
Figure 7: Adding keywords to a batch of images in the Elements Organizer.
Figure 7: Adding keywords to a batch of images in the Elements Organizer." />
- Select the photos you want to edit.
- Click the Info button in the toolbar to reveal the Info pane.
- In the Keywords field, type the terms you want to add, separating each by commas (Figure 8).
- If you want to change the description or title of the images, choose Photos > Batch Change (or press Command-Shift-B), choose the corresponding field name from the pop-up menu, and then click OK.
Figure 8: Adding keywords in iPhoto." />
Figure 8: Adding keywords in iPhoto.
Fix Incorrect Dates
In Chapter 2, Shoot Smarter, I stressed the importance of making sure your camera’s clock is set to the correct time. If it’s offset—often because the Daylight Saving Time setting wasn’t set properly—you can end up with photos out of order in your library.
This inconvenience is common enough that photo-management programs include features for dealing with it. Running through the applications, here’s how to wield a little control over time.
- Select the photos you want to fix.
- Choose Metadata > Edit Capture Time.
- In the dialog that appears, choose a method of time-shifting: Adjust to a Specific Date and Time, Shift by Set Number of Hours (Time Zone Adjust), or Change to File Creation Date for Each Image (Figure 9).
When you use the first or second options, note that the shots still retain their relative times. For example, if one photo has a capture time of 10:00 and the next photo was captured 1 minute later at 10:01, changing the first shot’s time to 9:50 would give the second photo the time of 9:51.
The third option—changing to the file creation date—reads the original timestamp from the file on disk.
- In the bottom area, set the time you want. Click Change All.
Although the dialog ominously states that “This operation cannot be undone,” that’s not exactly true; it simply means that the Edit > Undo command won’t work. Choose Metadata > Revert Capture Time to Original to go back.
Figure 9: Correcting the capture time in Lightroom.
Figure 9: Correcting the capture time in Lightroom." />
- Select the photos you want to change.
- Choose Metadata > Adjust Date and Time.
- Change the date or time in the Adjusted field (Figure 10). The new time is what Aperture tracks in its database for the images; if you’re positive the time was wrong you can also mark the checkbox labeled Also Change Original Files.
- Click Adjust to make the change.
Figure 10: Correcting the capture time in Aperture." />
Figure 10: Correcting the capture time in Aperture.
- Select the photos you want to change.
- Choose Edit > Adjust Date and Time.
- In the dialog that appears, pick a method: Change to a Specified Date and Time; Change to Match File’s Date and Time; or Shift by Set Number of Hours (Time Zone Adjust).
- Click OK.
- In the next dialog (which varies depending on which option you chose), enter a new time, date, or hour adjustment (Figure 11). If you opted to match the file’s date and time, there is no second dialog because the Organizer reads the information from the file on disk.
- Click OK to finish.
Figure 11: The Elements Organizer’s two-step dialog dance." />
Figure 11: The Elements Organizer’s two-step dialog dance.
- Select the photos you want to change.
- Choose Photos > Adjust Date and Time.
- In the dialog that appears, make a change in the Adjusted field (Figure 12). If you want to make the change permanent (versus being tracked in iPhoto’s database), select the Modify Original Files checkbox.
- Click Adjust to make the change.
Figure 12: Changing the time in iPhoto." />
Figure 12: Changing the time in iPhoto.
In Chapter 2, Shoot Smarter, I discussed capturing geolocation data to keep track of where your photos were taken. If you have a device that writes that information to the photos when they’re shot, such as a geo-capable camera like the iPhone or an accessory that attaches directly to your DSLR, the data is imported with the images. In most cases, though, you need to record the data separately from the camera and then add it to the images later.
Use a Geotagged Reference Photo
An easy way to save location information is to shoot a reference photo using a GPS-capable device like a smartphone and then apply the geolocation information to all the photos captured in the same area. You don’t get step-by-step location detail with this method, but in most cases you don’t need that level of granularity. Here’s how to copy location data to your images in each of the programs I’ve discussed:
Aperture offers two ways to apply geolocation data using a reference image: directly from an iPhone or by copying and pasting the data to other shots.
If you own an iPhone, do the following:
- Connect an iPhone to your computer via cable.
- In Aperture, click the Places button (the globe) in the toolbar to switch to the Places mode.
- From the GPS menu that appears below the map, choose Import GPS from iPhone Photos. A sheet containing the iPhone’s images appears (Figure 13).
Figure 13: Aperture displays photos on the iPhone that have embedded GPS data." />
Figure 13: Aperture displays photos on the iPhone that have embedded GPS data.
- Select a photo taken in the same location that you want to capture and click OK. That location appears on the map as a waypoint marker. This feature imports just the GPS data, not the image itself.
- In the filmstrip below the map, select the photos you want to tag with that waypoint.
- Drag the selected photos onto the waypoint.
If you don’t have an iPhone, you can also “lift” (copy) the information from one photo that contains geolocation data and “stamp” (paste) it onto others. Unlike the connected iPhone solution, the reference photo must already have been imported into your library.
- In Aperture’s Browser view, select the photo that contains the GPS information you want.
- Choose Metadata > Lift Metadata to copy all of that image’s metadata. The Lift & Stamp HUD (heads-up display) appears.
- Select the photos to which you want to apply the data.
- In the Lift & Stamp HUD, select the GPS Coordinates checkbox and click the Stamp Selected Images button (Figure 14).
Figure 14: Apply the GPS data by “stamping” it to selected images." />
Figure 14: Apply the GPS data by “stamping” it to selected images.
Lightroom can also pull the location data from a reference photo:
- Select the photos you wish to tag, as well as the reference photo.
- Click the reference photo to make it the target image; doing so identifies the photo as the source of the GPS data.
- Click the Sync Metadata button or choose Metadata > Sync Metadata.
- In the dialog that appears (Figure 15), locate the Camera Info section and select the checkbox for GPS (and Altitude, if a value is present). I usually click the Check None button first so I don’t inadvertently copy other metadata.
- Click the Synchronize button to tag the other selected photos with the GPS data.
Figure 15: Lightroom synchronizes selected metadata between photos." />
Figure 15: Lightroom synchronizes selected metadata between photos.
Photoshop Elements 11 doesn’t offer an easy way to copy and paste location data, but it is possible to tag photos using the Organizer—it’s just a little more work.
- In the Organizer’s Media view, select your reference photo, as well as the images that will share its GPS data.
- Click the Add Places button in the toolbar to bring up the Add Places window. A pin for the reference photo appears on the map.
- Select the photos you wish to tag, and then drag them to the pin (Figure 16).
- In the small dialog that appears above the pin, click the Apply button (the check mark) to place the media at that spot.
- Click Done.
Figure 16: Drag and drop photos to a location pin in Photoshop Elements." />
Figure 16: Drag and drop photos to a location pin in Photoshop Elements.
iPhoto’s Places feature is predictably more limited than the similar features in Aperture and Lightroom, but it’s still easy to copy and paste location information from a reference photo to other shots:
- Select your reference photo in iPhoto’s library.
- Choose Edit > Copy.
- Select the photos you wish to tag with the location data.
- Choose Edit > Paste Location.
Merge Tracking Data
Reference photos are an easy way to capture GPS data—if you remember to take the shots. Another option is to use a standalone GPS device or an app that tracks location using a smartphone’s GPS circuitry. The advantage with this approach is that you don’t have to remember to take out your phone and record a new photo at each new location—just turn on the device or app at the beginning of your outing, and then apply the data to the imported photos later.
Lightroom and Aperture can import tracklogs (recorded location data) in the GPX (GPS Exchange) format generated by devices and apps such as MotionX-GPS and Geotag Photos Pro. Consult the instructions for each to learn how to import the GPX files onto your computer; often it’s a matter of copying files from the device via USB, or emailing them to yourself from an iPhone app.
iPhoto and Photoshop Elements don’t offer tracklog support, so you need to assign the location information with the help of additional software before importing the images (as I discuss shortly).
Lightroom boasts a straightforward method of marrying photos to GPS data:
- In Lightroom, select the photos you shot during the time you were tracking your location.
- Switch to the Maps module.
- Choose Map > Tracklog > Load Tracklog and locate the GPX file you recorded. An orange trail appears on the map showing the locations you visited.
- Choose Map > Tracklog > Auto-Tag Photos. Lightroom positions the photos on the track and saves the GPS data to each (Figure 17).
Figure 17: Photos gain location information from the tracklog in Lightroom." />
Figure 17: Photos gain location information from the tracklog in Lightroom.
Aperture also imports GPX files, but assigning photos to positions in the tracklog requires a bit more work:
- Switch to the Places view.
- Click the GPS menu below the map and choose Import Track File.
- Locate the GPX file and click Choose Track File to bring it into Aperture. It appears on the map as a purple line.
- From the filmstrip, drag one of the photos you shot during that session onto the track. As you drag, a tooltip indicates the time difference between the image’s timestamp and the time represented on the track (Figure 18). Drop the image when the tooltip reads 0 hours 0 minutes.
Figure 18: A tooltip tells you when the times of the track and the photo match." />
Figure 18: A tooltip tells you when the times of the track and the photo match.
- When asked if you want to automatically assign photo locations, click the Assign Location button (Figure 19). Photos that fall in the track’s time span appear at their locations.
Figure 19: With one photo placed, Aperture can figure out the locations of the others." />
Figure 19: With one photo placed, Aperture can figure out the locations of the others.
If you use iPhoto, you’ll need a third party utility to combine tracklog coordinates and photos. I recommend HoudahGeo ($29), which reads and assigns locations and then exports the data in a variety of ways.
HoudahGeo can peek directly into your iPhoto library and apply the location data to photos you’ve already imported:
- In HoudahGeo, click the expansion triangle next to iPhoto and locate the event or photos you want to tag.
- Drag the photos into the Drag Images Here pane.
- Click the Import Track Logs button in the toolbar and locate the GPX file containing the location information. The application automatically associates the images with their locations.
- Click the Process button to view the track and the photo locations on a map (Figure 20).
Figure 20: HoudahGeo associates the tracklog data with the photos’ timestamps." />
Figure 20: HoudahGeo associates the tracklog data with the photos’ timestamps.
- Click the Output button.
- On the toolbar, click the Notify iPhoto/Aperture button.
- In the sheet that appears, select the checkboxes for the data you want to transfer (such as Coordinates and Altitude), and then click OK. The photos are updated in iPhoto.
The Map feature in Photoshop Elements 11 is pretty bare-bones, so you won’t find the capability to import tracklogs. (In fact, the Map vanished entirely in version 10, to be rewritten and replaced in version 11.) HoudahGeo can help here as well. The trick is to alter your workflow slightly so the geotagging occurs _before _the photos are imported into the Elements Organizer.
- Instead of using the Organizer’s Photo Downloader to import images, copy photos from a camera or memory card using the Image Capture utility found in your Mac OS X Utilities folder. From the Import To pull-down menu, select the directory you use for your Elements library; that way you won’t have to worry about creating duplicates or moving the files.
- After import, use HoudahGeo to associate the images with the location data from a corresponding GPX file, as laid out in the iPhoto section earlier.
- During the Output stage, click the EXIF/XMP Export button (instead of the Notify iPhoto/Aperture button).
- In the dialog that appears, deselect the Create Copies checkbox (Figure 21).
Figure 21: The EXIF/XMP Export options in HoudahGeo." />
Figure 21: The EXIF/XMP Export options in HoudahGeo.
- Click OK. The image files are updated with the location data.
- Open the Elements Organizer and choose File > Get Photos and Videos > From Files and Folders (or click the Import button and choose the same item).
- Navigate to the folder containing the images and import them. (See Chapter 4, Best Practices for Importing Photos.) The photos are added to your library with the location data applied.
Skip Facial Recognition
Facial recognition seems like something out of science fiction, even though it’s been in use for years. The process works the same in most programs: the software detects shapes that are “face-like” (oval, flesh-colored, with similar areas for eyes, noses, and mouths) and then compares the shapes with other faces already in the library to guess at people’s identities. Facial recognition does a surprisingly good job at matching faces, and falls into a category of workflow that I typically love: the computer is doing the work.
So you may be surprised to hear that I don’t use this feature at all. Here are a few reasons:
- Facial recognition requires a lot of processing power, and I find that it slows the software down noticeably. iPhoto in particular is poor about its implementation, spinning up my computer’s fans and devoting resources to finding faces. Aperture offers a preference setting to disable the Faces feature entirely—requested by its professional customers shortly after the feature was added. (Lightroom doesn’t include the feature.)
- It turns out that facial recognition still involves a significant amount of your time, because you have to sort through the software’s suggestions, especially at first when it’s learning who’s who.
- I really only need to identify a handful of people in my photos (family and a couple of close friends who seem to frequently wander in front of my lens). I don’t need or want to identify every face that comes up.
- If I want to move my photos to another piece of software, that facial data probably won’t carry over.
Because of these drawbacks, I don’t recommend turning on facial recognition as it’s currently implemented in most programs. It’s far easier—and quicker—to apply the names of important people in a shot with a keyword. Instead of selecting a person in iPhoto’s Faces feature to locate pictures of her, you can simply type her name in the Search field.