Tagging Digital Photos

Somebody asked me today: “what is the best application for tagging digital photos?” Once I had given my reply, it struck me that it might make a suitable entry in the blog. So, for what it’s worth, here it is. Note that I can only speak for myself. Other folks almost certainly have different strokes.
The first groundrule I have is that tags and other metadata should conform to open standards. For me, that means that EXIF is the basis for technical metadata and the IPTC Metadata for XMP (the “IPTC Core” schema) is the basis for image content metadata in my photos.
At the moment, I have four utilities/library applications installed on my PC. These are:
I’m finding that I ‘m using PixVue for tagging almost all the time. The reasons are:
  • PixVue adds tags to files using both IPTC/IIM and the IPTC Core schema simultaneously, so the files get tagged automatically with both legacy (IPTC/IIM) and emerging (XMP/Core) formats in sync.
  • PixVue can work on batches of files at once, which is a great time saver. Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 4.0 only works with files individually. Worse still, while version 3.0 of Photoshop Elements was able to add metadata to a file without rewriting the image data, version 4.0 does a destructive write of all data in the file (Adobe programmers can be such idiots at times!).
  • PicaJet in the current version only reads and writes IPTC/IIM. It can read XMP, but not write it. This is planned for the next version, but no news yet on when that’s going to be available. The IPTC editor is also a bit more clunky than PixVue.
  • While Picassa apparently searches on all IPTC fields (but I’m not entirely sure whether this includes XMP Core, or just IPTC/IIM), it is useless at tagging. A) it only exposes some fields for tagging and b) the resulting tags only end up in the Picasa database and search index; they are not reflected through to the image file metadata.
There is only one drawback to PixVue that I can see. The editor is based on the old IPTC/IIM fields. So the new IPTC Core fields (e.g. Creator’s Contact Info fields, Location, Subject code, etc.) are not accessible via PixVue. There’s an excellent table showing the mapping between the old and the new IPTC fields, together with some application software, in appendix section 3 of the Custom Panels User Guide for IPTC Core (go here and download the PDF of the User Guidelines Documentation – the link’s on the right hand side of the page).
It would be great if Eamonn Coleman (the author of PixVue) would upgrade PixVue to give full support to IPTC Core. But, PixVue is only a hobby for him. I’ve given him a nudge in the past via email, perhaps if others (hint!) add their voices, he might be persuaded to improve it.
There are other IPTC editors around, either freeware or for $$. Irfanview is probably one of the better-known freeware ones. But, a) it looks to me as though it only supports IPTC/IIM and b) it’s yet another example of a program that’s having more bells and whistles thrown at it than I can bear. Some developers don’t seem to understand that less is more.
It will be interesting to take a look at the new Adobe Lightroom, once they release a beta for Windows (Mac only today). Currently, there is no support for IPTC, but the developers have said that they are “actively working on better metadata support”. Worryingly though, the developer who made that statement (in the Lightroom Beta General Discussion forum) also said: “I see a lot of people asking for ‘IPTC’ support – but it isn’t entirely clear to me exactly what they mean by that”.
Oh dear, that sounds really ominous to me. It’s as though the IPTC Core specifications and the legacy IPTC/IIM specifications are unknown to him. Welcome to planet Zogg. I see that Lightroom is coming from the Macromedia stable. One would like to think that the Macromedia developers would have at least talked to their Adobe colleagues to find out a little about what Adobe has been saying about XMP. My answer (via email) to the Lightroom developer was:
“Nothing less than a full implementation of the IPTC Core specification for XMP is acceptable, in my opinion. Anything less, and Lightroom runs the risk of breaking the digital workflow. If there were to be additional, parallel support for the legacy IPTC/IIM specifications, then that would be icing on the cake”.
But even if Macromedia get their act together, and Lightroom has full support for IPTC Core, it looks as though it’s going to carry a “professional” price-tag, one that will place it beyond my reach. There’s currently a real gap in the market here for a cheap IPTC Core metadata editor that is capable of doing lossless batch and individual metadata work on JPG/TIFF/RAW files… Is there anything out there that I don’t know about?
See Also:
Update: I’m afraid that as of January 2007, PixVue was no longer being developed, and the web site has been taken down.
Update 2: Since January 2007, I’ve been using IDimager to tag my photos. I must get around to posting an entry about it on my blog. Watch this space.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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2 Responses to Tagging Digital Photos

  1. Pingback: Managing Photo Libraries – Part 5 | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  2. Pingback: Managing Photo Libraries – Part 6 | Geoff Coupe's Blog

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