Image Management Breakthrough

   Some photo experts may know this already, but this is a seriously big deal for me, liable to save countless hours and also make my work more secure. Here's what's up:

   I'm now beginning to load my photo libraries onto Zenfolio, but massive numbers of images are almost useless to anyone except me if they're not searchable. I've thought about building a database in FileMaker or some other program, but it would be massive, and any proprietary database would have other problems, too. Recently, while working on the Original Green Blog, I've been learning about Tags, and how to make a "tag cloud." This afternoon, it occurred to me: what would happen if I could just tag my photos on Zenfolio? I did some checking, and sure enough, they have a feature called Keywords that allows you to apply tags, or keywords, to each photo.

   Great progress, but there were problems. First, I could be tagging for years... and what if Zenfolio goes out of business? All my work would go with it. Too big a risk. And then it occurred to me... when you click Get Info on an image file on a Mac, there's several pieces of info that come up concerning the photo (image size, date shot, exposure time, focal length, etc.) And then I got to wondering if there might be a place in all this data to store keywords? So I started Googling... and hit the jackpot! There's an organization called the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) that developed the standard for all that photo data... and yes, they do have a field for Keywords! An a lot of other really cool stuff, too. So that solved the problem of where to put the data... just attach it to the photo itself, rather than using any type of proprietary database software.

   But there were other problems... how do you attach all that info in an efficient manner? Keying it all in one image at a time would take just short of forever... which means it would be too daunting to ever tackle. So I started Googling again. At first, I ran across a lot of blog posts saying that there was no good IPTC metadata editor for the Mac. But I kept digging and finally found Photo Mechanic. I've downloaded a trial version, but from what I can tell in the past hour of playing with it, it gives you access to the full range of IPTC metadata for each image... and it allows batch processing! That means I can just click on the thumbnails of the photos I want, then apply the keywords to all of the selected images. HUGE time-saver.

   One last piece of the puzzle: getting that info on the web. I also looked at Flickr (once I knew what I was looking for) and from what I could find, it appears that Flickr doesn't have a good way of extracting the IPTC keywords. But Zenfolio (who I'm already hosting with) appears to do it automatically!

   I can't describe how exciting this is... I've worked for years to figure out a way to make the image information easily accessible and durable... and the method was embedded in the images all along! Makes me wonder how many other cool things are sitting right under our noses…

PS: Check out Image Keywords for how this story progressed a few months later. Also, check out how I name and file my images.

© 2012 The Guild Foundation Press