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A Guide to Image Metadata

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Blog header image: A Guide to Image Metadata article.


Impactful visual imagery — from logos to mascots — is crucial to today’s brands. What would Nike be without the swoosh or Frosted Flakes without Tony the Tiger? Well, they wouldn’t be the brands we know and love. Marketers need to have easy, secure, and reliable access to these assets. And this is possible by using image metadata. But what exactly is image metadata?

In this guide, we explore what image metadata is, why it’s so important, and how to manage it. Let’s get started.


What is image metadata?

Image metadata is information about a visual file or resource. This data describes what the file is, details about it, and how it should be used. 

Image metadata is commonly used within image libraries to easily search and retrieve content on demand. This metadata can be fairly general or very specific based on the flexibility and functionality available in your image storage software. While the exact metadata values will vary, there are typically three types of metadata used to create metadata fields: technical, descriptive, and administrative. 

Types of image metadata

The decision to use one type of metadata over another will be informed by factors like your creative workflow, company vocabulary/terms, and system integrations. Let’s dig into each type. 

Technical metadata

Technical metadata is likely to be automatically generated either by a camera or file source. This includes information like file type, file size, camera settings, date created, and uploader credentials.

Descriptive metadata

Descriptive metadata will be more subjective based on specific needs. Descriptive metadata fields will allow you to input metadata values that include things like image descriptions, keywords, product line or collection, and the photographer’s name. Descriptive metadata will usually be tailored to people who are searching an image library and will use terms most common to those users. 

Administrative metadata

Administrative metadata is also more subjective based on the information needed to keep images compliant and approved for use. This typically includes rights management information, restrictions on use, licensing rights, and expiration date. 


There will be different ways to come up with these three types of metadata, and it is likely to evolve over time as your image library grows, but a common starting place is to ask your users what metadata they’d like to see on your site. 

Why is metadata for images so important?

Metadata matters because it allows assets to be easily found and retrieved. And in the context of a large collection of photos and images, metadata is truly as important as the image itself — because if it can’t be found, it can’t be used!

While metadata alone is important, the right metadata is what makes it valuable. Yes, metadata powers your search functionality, allowing results to be browsed and files found, but any old metadata just won’t do. It requires a mix of the three types. 

Technical metadata will only get you so far, for instance, when you consider that there are likely to be thousands of images that have the same file type or date added. And administrative metadata will ensure that your images are used properly, but users are unlikely to search by usage rights. Descriptive metadata will definitely be the bulk of your metadata and the key to narrowing down any search, but it needs to be maintained and managed to be truly effective. 

How to manage image metadata

When it comes to metadata management, there are few best practices to keep in mind.

  1. Develop processes. Every organization should have policies to define who’s responsible for creating image metadata and when. It’s common for assets to be tagged when they’re uploaded to a digital repository, such as a digital asset management (DAM) system. This tagging can be done by the individual uploading the files, the system administrator, or another team member. Regardless, a thoughtful approach to metadata creation and administration will make sure content is organized, findable, and shareable throughout its lifecycle.

  2. Be relevant. Metadata fields and values are only helpful if they make sense to the user. When determining your metadata, review key terminology that’s commonly used and depended on throughout your organization. Also, take into consideration your global users to ensure they can easily find what they’re looking for. Interviewing your users and reviewing taxonomy schemas already in place will give you a good head start without reinventing the wheel.

  3. Make it complete. If an asset has 10 assigned metadata fields but only two have been populated with values, the search tools won’t have enough information to help you find it. Insufficient metadata can even have legal ramifications. If an asset’s licensing information is incomplete, your company might be at risk of using it without permission, which can be especially true when managing the metadata for stock photography. Most DAM systems have features that support thorough metadata entry, such as the ability to make values in certain fields required upon upload.

  4. Ensure it’s accurate and consistent. High-quality and effective photo metadata hinges on accuracy and consistency across all assets in the repository. For example, if one photo of a cat is tagged with just the word “kitten,” another with just “feline,” and a third with “kat,” none of these images would be returned in a simple search for “cat.” By limiting metadata entry of certain fields to options from a predetermined list — called a controlled vocabulary — you help ensure that metadata language is the same across assets. 

If you’re thinking that metadata entry sounds like it could be a time-consuming endeavor...you’re correct. Fortunately, DAM systems often have tools to help ease the burden of metadata creation. Upload profiles can automate part of the process by placing files into the appropriate groups. Batch editing tools allow users to make changes to metadata across multiple assets, while metadata mapping can add automation to your tagging workflow. And in some cases, artificial intelligence (AI) and image recognition technology can be used to help tag images, too.

Tips for viewing image metadata

When it comes to viewing or reviewing your metadata, it depends on where your images are housed. If you’re looking at an image on your camera, you’ll see the information in your camera settings. If you’ve imported your photo into photography software like Adobe Lightroom, you can either see the metadata when you’re viewing the image. In cloud storage tools or a DAM system, you’ll see the metadata when viewing the image as well. While it might seem like all is equal when viewing metadata, the difference comes in when you want to add or edit your metadata.

How to add/edit metadata

Camera settings are fairly fixed once a shot is taken, which makes it next to impossible to change its metadata from your camera unless you move the image to editing software. From within editing software, metadata is easier to add and edit, but these systems aren’t necessarily set up for thousands of images from multiple photographers; they tend to be useful for a single artist managing their own photos. If search and findability of images from multiple sources for multiple users is the goal, you’re looking at managing your images in a cloud-storage tool or a DAM solution. 

Within these tools, the process of adding and editing metadata will depend on a system’s capabilities. Basic cloud storage tools have limitations on the number of fields, values, and field types (e.g., dropdown, checkbox, and open text fields) that you can use, making the possibilities for adding and editing metadata somewhat fixed. A robust solution like a DAM platform offers more configurable options to create company- and use-case specific metadata. 

Adding, editing, and organizing metadata in a DAM system does take work, but dedicating the time and effort will allow you to get more out of your images in the long run. Using configurable permission structures, metadata capabilities, and content analytics tools, you can see what’s being searched and how before using the flexible metadata structure to adjust and optimize for your users. Having a dedicated DAM admin will also ensure that your system is consistently attended to and in optimal working condition. 

Take control of your metadata

There’s no doubt about it — marketing is a visual industry. And keeping image assets organized and findable is essential. Consistent creation of high-quality image metadata will have a dramatic impact on your ability to keep the right assets at everyone’s fingertips. 

If your image library has reached its metadata limits and you’re in need of something more powerful, take a look at how Widen DAM’s robust metadata capabilities are helping hundreds of customers around the world keep their images organized and findable. Watch an on-demand demo or get in touch with our Advisor team today to see it in action.

 

Topics: Photography, DAM

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