What Is Photo Metadata?

Definition, Types, and Relevance

Photo metadata is a set of data describing and providing information about rights and administration of an image.

It allows information to be transported with an image file, in a way that can be understood by other software and human users.

The pixels of image files are created 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, DNG, PNG, TIFF …
  • Externally – outside the image file in a digital asset management system (DAM) or in a “sidecar” file (such as for XMP data) or an external news exchange format document as specified by the IPTC.

There are 3 main categories of data:

Descriptive – information about the visual content. This may include headline, caption, keywords. Further persons, locations, companies, artwork or products shown in the image . This can be done using free text or codes from a controlled vocabulary or other identifiers.

Rights – identification of the creator, copyright information, credits and underlying rights in the visual content including model and property rights. Further rights usage terms and other data for licensing the use of the image.

Administrative – creation date and location, instructions for the users, job identifiers, and other details.

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.