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Making Metadata Fun

Making Metadata Fun
©Jay Ryser

OK, maybe “fun” isn’t the right adjective. How about “profitable”? I have gigabytes and gigabytes of images that I’ve accumulated over the years, ranging from the early days of digital captures through the images from this morning. And I wasn’t too careful about file naming, keywording, and file management in the early days. At first, that wasn’t a big deal; if I needed a specific image, I’d just scroll through the file manager until I found the image I needed. But the more images I created, the harder it was to find specific files. I needed a better way of tagging images so I could easily find specific images.

The solution? Metadata. What’s metadata? Looking at the root of the word (if you want to be nerdy), it means roughly “information about the information.” It includes EXIF information (camera, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, flash, etc.) and can also include my copyright and contact information. It also lets me store information about each image so that I can easily narrow down search parameters and find images easily.

If I’m looking for an image of a bull elk bugling, BINGO, there they are. I’ve got hundreds of those images. But let’s say I need one of a bull elk at RMNP bugling with its breath condensing as it bugles – again, BINGO. No scrolling through hundreds of bull elk images for the ones I want – there they are. Is it a big pain in the butt upfront? Yes, it is, but it’s worth it in the long run.

The really great thing is that it doesn’t just benefit me, directly, it benefits me indirectly too. If I upload images to a stock agency, it allows the potential client to quickly and effectively find the image they’re seeking very quickly. If they find MY images that are well keyworded instead of some other photographers images that are NOT well keyworded, I get the sale. The better I keyword, the more money I make.
Here’s what I do. First, I use a file naming system for my RAW files (and I only shoot in RAW), including:
1. My initials (JRR)
2. Date
3. Main Subject
I do this in Lightroom, so it’s easy to include all this information as I’m importing images for processing. My RAW files are saved and look like “JRR-04042010-redfox.dng” (I convert to Adobe’s DNG format as part of my workflow). I use a similar system in naming file folders in Windows.

Keywords are adjectives to describe the image that’s embedded in each file. I can add keywords to files as I import them into Lightroom. Then, as I process each file, I add specific data about the shot. If I have a pika yawning, that goes into the keywording, for instance. Doesn’t that take forever to do that with every image file, you ask? Not really; most of the information is added when I first import files. The more specific data is only entered for keepers.

Speaking of keepers, I notice that, despite the relatively cheap price of storage, I’m more picky about the images I save. Today, I took 497 RAW files, and after processing, whittled that down to 24 files that I actually processed and saved. Were the other 473 images too bad to save? Not really. I immediately delete the ones with obvious flaws – eyes closed, out of focus, foot or tail cut off, weird expression, distracting background (that makes up maybe 10% of the images), then I go through and evaluate similar images – some are almost identical, some have minor variances in expression (eye contact, direction of gaze, ears back or forward); no need to keep identical images, so I pick the best and delete the rest.

When I keyword, I like to imagine what an image buyer might be looking for when seeking images, and what kind of terms they might use to find appropriate images that fir their criteria. This is a “more is better” approach; it costs nothing (but a little time upfront). The more thorough I am in keywording images, the higher the hit ratio is when someone does a search.

I have a certain collection of keywords that I like to apply to images as I work. Many are abbreviations.

Keyword Options
1. Species (common name-“red fox” & Latin binomial-“vulpes vulpes”)
2. Location (Rocky Mountain National Park-“RMNP”, Crown Hill Park-“CHP”, Roxborough State Park-“Rox”, etc.)
3. Behavior (yawn, yawning, eat, eating, rutting, mating, display, fight, fighting, bugle, bugling, run, running, hide, hiding)
4. Weather (snow, rain, sunshine, overcast, fog, etc.)
5. Season (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter)
6. Orientation (landscape “L”, portrait-“P”)
7. Interaction/Relationship (mother-child, mother-baby, father-baby, father-babies, mate, mates, baby, babies, young)
8. Conservation status (endangered-“E”, climate change, global warming, etc.)
9. Miscellaneous (wild-“W”, captive-“C”, zoo-“Z”, domestic-“D”, “no people”, “no HOM”, “no hand of man”, “man made”)

Get in the habit of using metadata to your benefit, and your image management will be worlds simpler, for you and for your clients. A little effort pays big dividends.

Making Metadata Fun

Jay Ryser

Lakewood, United States

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