What Is Photo Metadata?

Definition, Types, and Relevance

Metadata is a set of data that describes and gives information about other data.

Photo metadata allows information to be transported with an image file, in a way that can be understood by other software, hardware, and end users, regardless of the format.

Data and information is entered into the image file by users, or by automated capture from cameras or scanners. Metadata is stored in two main places:

  • Internally – embedded in the image file, in formats such as JPEG or TIFF.
  • Externally – outside the image file in a digital asset management system (DAM) or by a “sidecar” file, such as XMP, or an external XML-based news exchange format file as specified by the IPTC.

There are 3 main categories of data:

Administrative – identification of the creator, creation date and location, contact information for licensors of the image, and other technical details.

Descriptive – information about the visual content. This may include headline, title, captions and keywords. This can be done using free text or codes from a controlled vocabulary.

Rights – copyright information and underlying rights in the visual content including model and property rights, and rights usage terms.

It’s important that the metadata stored in an image file stays with the image. Metadata is essential for identification and copyright protection. Metadata are also key to smoothing workflow, easily finding digital images via search – online or offline – and tracking image usage.