Long-time readers of the blog know that one of the topics I return to every now and then is that of photography.
I recently started trying to organize my photo albums, which are stored across several external devices. (Trying to organize over 50,000 photos). I am not a professional photographer by any means. However, I am the “family/event” historian so to speak, so I love documenting and taking pictures of everything. I wanted to know your thoughts are current software out there? Lightroom 5, Photo Gallery (Windows), ACDSee, Picasa 3.9.
My main concern is that all these files will eventually be stored in 1 central location, and the family can access them at their own over the network. However, I want to make sure that all the tagging is accessible across platforms. i.e. No matter which hardware device, or which software, when a user looks at the picture, they can see the tags.
I remember in the earlier years (which is what caused me to stop for a bit) I would tag something in Windows Photo Gallery or in Picasa, but the tags wouldn’t transfer over appropriately. I am not so much concerned with actually editing the individual pictures (I am sure that will come later once I am organized)
The other requirement is that the metadata is stored in the actual file, and not in some random database. The last thing I need is for that external database to get corrupted and lose out all the information.
That sounds like a good opportunity to try and sum up what I might propose given the current state of things.
First, a recap of my groundrule for managing photo collections (which echoes what Michael has stated as a requirement):
I insist that any software used in the digital workflow (transfer from camera to computer, image selection, digital processing, cataloguing, publishing and asset management) will respect any Exif, IPTC and XMP metadata that may be stored in the image file itself.
I am not interested in asset management software that stores image metadata away in a proprietary format in the software itself. That way lies painting oneself into a corner down the road… However, I will accept asset management software that copies metadata from image files into its own database for performance reasons, so long as the database and the image files metadata content are kept in sync transparently (i.e. it takes little or no effort on my part).
The challenge is that different software treats image metadata in different ways, and interoperability can seem more of a goal than actuality. Not all image management applications will work together, and often, only a subset of all possible image metadata can be successfully exchanged between applications. Add to that the fact that many of the new photo editor applications for smartphones and tablets ignore image metadata altogether, or, even worse, strip it out. The same goes for many online social networks.
Over the last seven years, I’ve used a number of image management applications to organise and tag my photos. These include versions of:
- IDimager’s Photo Supreme
- Google’s Picasa
- Microsoft’s Windows Photo Gallery
- Adobe’s PhotoShop Elements (versions 3 and 4)
- Adobe’s Lightroom
- Microsoft’s ProPhoto Tools
I’ve also used tools that are no longer available. These include:
- Microsoft’s Expression Media and Digital Image Suite
- IDimager 5
My primary image management tool at the moment is Photo Supreme. That’s because (for me) it has the best support for handling metadata and for image management of all the tools that I’ve used. I use GeoSetter in conjunction with Photo Supreme for handling geotagging.
[Addendum: Version 2 of Photo Supreme now supports geotagging directly, and does it very well, so I no longer need to use GeoSetter in conjunction with Photo Supreme]
Adobe’s Lightroom would rate high with me if I used Raw format in my images, because it has better digital darkroom features for processing Raw images than those of Photo Supreme. However, as I don’t often use Raw format, I prefer Photo Supreme’s metadata handling, which I consider to be much superior to Lightroom’s. Photo Supreme’s features for image acquisition and selection/culling are also, for my purposes, as good as anything that Lightroom has to offer.
Since I use the ecosystem of Windows, I also have Windows Photo Gallery installed on our PCs. It’s an easy to use tool for browsing our photo collection, but I don’t use it as my primary tool for editing metadata or images. First, because while the metadata tools are usable, they are basic. However, more importantly for me, Windows Photo Gallery has a nasty habit of corrupting the Makernotes that our Canon cameras insert in the Exif section of images. This is a long standing issue that Microsoft has acknowledged and known about for some years, but clearly something that they won’t devote resources to for fixing. Microsoft seems to be using the same code in the Photos App of Windows 8, because it too will corrupt Canon Makernotes in any image that it edits. Now, I acknowledge that the majority of people either don’t know about the issue or wouldn’t bother themselves about it if they did. However, I would suggest that to a serious photographer, preservation of the original file is of paramount importance. This bug of Microsoft means that even adding a single piece of metadata to an image file will corrupt your Makernotes. That’s why I only ever use Windows Photo Gallery in a read-only mode. Anything else and it’s goodbye to your precious image data.
And don’t think that Picasa is any better in this respect. Picasa will strip out Makernotes from your image files entirely.
The bottom line: if you’re serious about photography, avoid using either Windows Photo Gallery or Picasa to do metadata work on your images. You can certainly use them to edit the images of copies of your original files, just don’t ever let them get near to your originals.
The other tools in my first list above also offer metadata handling features, but they are pretty basic, and only cover the bare minimum of the Exif and IPTC metadata standards.
One area where Photo Supreme (and Lightroom for that matter) is lagging is that of being able to handle automatic face recognition used to add metadata relating to people. Both Picasa and Windows Photo Gallery now offer this. Unfortunately, they do not use the same standard for storing people tags, so they do not interoperate. Photo Gallery uses a standard defined by Microsoft itself, whilst Picasa (in the latest version) uses a standard defined by a cross-industry consortium – the Metadata Working Group. Ironically, both Microsoft and Adobe are founder members of this consortium, yet Windows Photo Gallery and Lightroom do not yet use the consortium’s metadata standard for people tags.
The Microsoft and MWG standards allow for metadata to be applied to specific regions in the image, that is, individual faces can be marked up with the names of the people depicted in the image. There is a third competing standard used for people tags, and that is contained in the IPTC Extension standard, which contains an element used to define persons shown in an image. However, this metadata element refers to the image as a whole, so for a group photograph, for example, you can list the names of all the people shown in the photo, but not explicitly identify who is who in the image. I am aware of just one application that implements this IPTC standard for people tags: Daminion, but there may be others. Correction: I completely forgot that since Photo Supreme implements all the IPTC standards fully (Core, Extension and Plus), then it too also implements the IPTC people tag.
Photo Supreme also has its own proprietary standard for manually tagging regions in images for face tags, but I don’t use it. Photo Supreme now supports the MWG Region metadata, which means that it can identify face regions that have been tagged in Picasa. It also recognises the Microsoft People Tag, but any face regions that are defined in Photo Supreme will be written out using the MWG standard, rather than the proprietary Microsoft standard.
So, to sum up at this stage: it’s possible to use a small number of different tools that will interoperate using a minimum subset of metadata standards – a basic set of Exif and IPTC Core metadata standards. That will give you a starter set of metadata elements. See this blog post for the list of IPTC elements that I use. The Exif elements are the technical data provided by the cameras I use (e.g. camera model, shutter speed, ISO, lens, date taken) plus optional GPS latitude/longitude/altitude data.
Anything beyond this, e.g. People Tags, and you are likely to run into interoperability issues.
Even with this subset, there can be bumps in the road. For example, Picasa uses the “Description” metadata field from the IPTC Core standard to display the caption for a photo, while Windows Photo Gallery uses the “Title” metadata field from the IPTC Core standard to display the caption. Even more bizarre, Windows itself (in Windows Explorer)uses “Title” according to the IPTC Core definition, and uses “Subject” to align with the IPTC Core definition of “Description”. So Windows is better aligned with the IPTC standard for photo metadata than Windows Photo Gallery…
And the icing on the cake is that both Windows Photo Gallery and Picasa will damage your files if you use either of them to edit images. Bottom line: if you use either of these tools use them in read-only mode, or use copies of your original files.
Right, you’ve now got your tools to hand, and you’ve used them to add your metadata to your images. You’ve also used your tools to tweak the original images and produced copies that have all your improvements applied: cropping, colour balance and so on. Now you want to share them with other people. What are your options?
Assuming that at least some of the people you want to share with are physically located outside of your home, then you are looking at either using one of the online Social Networks or exposing your photo collection held on your home network to (selected) people via the internet.
Let’s look at the Social Networks route first. As I’ve already said, Social Networks are not the best at preserving the metadata that you’ve spent blood, sweat and tears adding to your photos. There are also quirks involved. I use both Flickr and Microsoft’s SkyDrive, so I’ll use those to illustrate some of the oddities.
Flickr has the advantage that when you upload your photos from your local storage, the metadata in your photos gets read by Flickr. So you can search your (and other people’s) collection of photos using keywords held in metadata. Even better, if you download the original size of a photo held on Flickr, then the metadata contained within it is preserved. However, if you select to download a different-sized copy of the original photo, then Flickr will strip out the metadata. It used to be the case that even different-sized copies of the original would have the metadata of the original preserved within them. But somewhere along the line, Flickr changed the rules of their playground and made their service the poorer as a result.
Microsoft’s SkyDrive also has its faults. It does preserve metadata in downloaded copies of the originals held on its service. However, the metadata is neither exposed in the user interface, nor searchable with one exception – that of Microsoft’s proprietary People Tags. Frankly, this is abysmal. It makes sharing of photo collections with other people needlessly difficult.
There are many other Social Networks available, e.g. FaceBook, Google+, but I don’t use them, so I can’t document the inevitable issues that they will have. I leave that as an exercise for the reader.
There is also the route of exposing your photo collection held on your home network to (selected) people via the internet. I use Microsoft’s Windows Home Server 2011 on our home network to store all our media for sharing to a variety of networked devices, and to back up our attached PCs. It is very good at that. It is also possible to use WHS 2011 to allow selected people to access its media collection via the internet. At least, that’s the theory. In practice, the software is riddled with problems. I cannot use it, and Microsoft has no intention of fixing it.
I see that Michael has a Synology device that he will use as a centralised nework attached storage device. It also has the feature of being able to give access to selected people over the internet. It runs a media application called Photo Station. I have no working knowledge of Synology devices or Photo Station, but I’ll just add a couple of comments. First, I noticed from the Synology documentation that Photo Station claims to:
- Search photos with keywords, time slots, or tags
- Supports people tags from Windows Live Photo Gallery
- Supports IPTC tags of photos
Nice to see IPTC tags explicitly mentioned, but I hope that these are at least the XMP-based IPTC Core set of tags, and not the legacy IPTC-IIM tags. If it is only the latter, then interoperability issues will arise sooner or later.
As I’ve already written, the People tags in Windows (Live) Photo Gallery are Microsoft-proprietary. Also, if you make a conscious decision to use them, be aware that you can kiss goodbye to your Makernotes if you use Canon cameras (and possibly other makes of cameras as well).
Secondly, Microsoft has also set a snake in the grass for Networked Attached Storage devices. The Windows indexing service is designed to collate results from network-attached Windows devices. It won’t collate results from NAS devices that don’t run a Windows operating system.
The new generation of Microsoft Apps for Windows 8 (e.g. Xbox Music, Photos, Videos) cannot access media stored on non-Windows NAS devices, even if the media locations are stored in your Windows Libraries on the accessing PC.
This is just something to be aware of going forward. The current generation of Desktop Applications (both Microsoft and third party) are generally OK. However, the new generation of Windows 8 Metro Apps, especially those from Microsoft itself, may present problems. Check them out before buying.
I’ve already said that I have been unimpressed by the first wave of photo editors designed for Metro. The situation is not improving. In the process of writing this blog entry, I thought I’d check the Windows Store to see if there were Metro Apps available for editing photo metadata. I tried two that I found:
Now, admittedly I have over 50,000 photos in my photo library collection. However, neither of them could open the collection without crashing. I sent an email to Photo TagEd’s support. Their response:
Sorry, we didn’t test for thousands photos by our environment.
And we can’t recommend to this App to your problem.
We have no plans to continue support for this App, because technical difficulties by Windows 8 App SDK.
Once again, We’re sorry. You can find out other apps for your Tablet PC in Windows Store.
From IV Type Team.
Addendum: Prompted by a discussion in the comments on this post, I’ve put up a new post that documents the corruption of Makernotes by Windows Photo Gallery: