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IPTC is pleased to release a new version of its widely used Photo Metadata Standard, version 2019.1. This version introduces the exciting new feature to mark regions within an image using embedded metadata, directly in the image file.

Any existing or future IPTC Photo Metadata field can now be attached either to the image as a whole, or to an IPTC Image Region defined within the image.

“IPTC has received many requests from photographers and photo businesses for enabling them to set a region inside an image and to apply specific metadata to it, with the new version of the standard this can be done,” said Michael Steidl, Lead of the IPTC Photo Metadata Working Group. “We hope IPTC Image Regions will be supported by imaging software soon.”

What can IPTC Image Regions be used for?

IPTC Image Regions can be used for many purposes:

  • An IPTC Image Region can be used to recommending an area of particular interest in an image to be retained after cropping.
  • A photographer or picture editor can use IPTC Image Regions to specify the area to be used if a crop of a different shape is required, such as a square cropping in a landscape shot.
  • An IPTC Image Region can frame people in an image, using associated metadata from other fields in the standard attached to only that region, such as Person Shown. This opens up the possibility of news stories avoiding tired “from left to right: Jo Smith, Bill Jones, Susan Bloggs…” image captions. Now we have the ability to embed the names and details of people directly on the region relating to that person, so tools could display people’s names when a user’s pointer hovers over their faces.
  • IPTC Image Regions can be used to highlight products, artworks, or locations depicted within an image.
  • Another attractive feature of image regions is to identify the copyright owners of multiple photos integrated into a single composite image.
  • AI systems identifying objects, text, products and people in images no longer have to include the region information in sidecar files distributed with images. Using IPTC Image Regions, the information can be embedded within the image file itself.

There are many more possible use cases. We are looking forward to seeing applications of IPTC Image Regions that we haven’t even thought of!

What shapes are supported?

According to the Specification, an IPTC Image Region can take the shape of a rectangle, a circle or for more complicated shapes, a polygon with any number of vertices may be used.

Dimensions of image regions can be specified in absolute (pixels) or relative (percentage) formats, and the Specification describes how software should retain IPTC Image Region information so that it is still meaningful after the image is cropped or transformed.

Image types and roles

To help with depicting different types of information using IPTC Image Regions, we have created two fields: Image Region Type and Image Region Role.

  • Image Region Type asserts the type of content of the region, denoting whether the image region shows a person, animal, bar code, product etc.
  • Image Region Role asserts what the region is used for. Examples might be to specify a recommended cropping area, a sub-image inside a composite image, the main subject to be used for cropping and focus purposes, or a region with special copyright information.

We have created controlled vocabularies that can optionally be used to populate both of these fields and we maintain them as part of the IPTC NewsCodes: Image Region Type and Image Region Role. The IPTC NewsCodes Working Group and Photo Metadata Working Groups may add terms to these vocabularies over time.

What metadata can be added to an IPTC Image Region?

In addition to Image Region Type and Role, any of the existing IPTC Photo Metadata fields can be used to describe an IPTC Image Region. Examples of fields that may be useful to attach to a region are:

This well organised structure of information about a region in an image can also help software makers to show the boundary of regions and associated metadata at the click of a button.

Help for users and for implementers

Users interested in exploring how IPTC Image Regions can be used can find more in a section about it in the IPTC Photo Metadata User Guide. Some examples are already available showing how an image with regions looks and how they can depict different types of information.

For implementers wanting to support IPTC Image Regions in their software tools, all definitions of the Image Region can be found in the IPTC Photo Metadata Standard specification document. The Specification includes detailed information show to express an image boundary correctly and how to include deliberately used metadata fields describing the content of a region.

Software support

Thanks to Phil Harvey, exiftool has supported IPTC Image Regions since version 11.74. The full source plus Windows and Mac OS packages can be downloaded from https://exiftool.org/.The CPAN version of exiftool does not yet support IPTC Image Regions.

We will link to other software supporting IPTC Image Regions as they become available.

Interested in more information?

Questions, comments, ideas?

We welcome your ideas, thoughts and especially implementations!

Please get in touch via the contact form on this site.