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Photoshop Lightroom Reference Guide

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Working with Metadata in Lightroom

Last updated Apr 25, 2008.

NOTE: This text is adapted from Martin Evening’s book The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Book: The Complete Guide for Photographers.

With a folder-based organizational system, your ability to search for files depends on your ability to memorize the folder structure of the hard drive and know where everything is stored. Anyone who’s responsible for maintaining a large image archive knows that this method of file management soon becomes unwieldy. What you need is a cataloging program that can keep track of everything. Therefore, the trend these days is to use file management by metadata, a strategy in which you search for a file by searching its attributes, rather than trying to remember the name of the folder where you put something.

As your image library grows, you’ll come to rely on Lightroom’s Library module panels, such as the Find, Keyword Tags, and Metadata Browser panels, to narrow the selections of images in Lightroom. The real power of Lightroom is its database engine, which enables you to carry out specific searches and find the images you need more quickly. Lightroom is able to search the database quickly by using the metadata information that’s linked or embedded in images.

The metadata used in Lightroom falls into several types (see Figure 1):

  • Informational metadata such as the EXIF metadata tells you such things as which camera was used to take a photograph, along with other technical information such as the lens settings and image file type.
  • Custom metadata is used to enter information about who shot the photograph, how to contact the creator of the photograph, and the rights usages allowed.
  • Another type of metadata is the custom information you enter to categorize your images.
Figure 1

Figure 1 The Metadata panel.

Lightroom uses this metadata by a method fairly similar to the way in which a program like iTunes categorizes your music collection. For example, when you search for a music track on an MP3 player such as an iPod, instead of searching for tracks by folders, you search using the metadata information embedded in the individual music files. Most MP3 files have the necessary metadata information already embedded when you buy the music track. You can also use iTunes software to locate the metadata information automatically via an online database.

In Lightroom, the catalog information usually has to be added manually by the person who took the photographs. This process requires you to spend time entering this information, but the time invested in cataloging your images in the early stages reaps rewards in time saved when retrieving your files later. In most cases, you only need to configure essential metadata once to create a custom metadata template, and then you can specify that Lightroom apply this bulk metadata automatically to a set of imported photos. Of course, you can take metadata cataloging further and assign custom metadata information to individual images.

How you decide to catalog your images’ metadata depends on whether this information is important for the type of work you do. However, the effort spent manually adding metadata must be proportional to how useful that information will be later.

The Metadata Panel

Let’s look more closely at the Metadata panel. Figure 2 shows the default Metadata panel view, which displays a condensed list of file and camera information. At the top is a Preset menu with the same options as those found on the File > Import menu; click New to create a custom metadata preset setting. (I’ll discuss this option shortly.) Below are fields containing basic information about the file, such as the filename and folder.

Figure 2

Figure 2 The default view of the Metadata panel information shows just the basic file info metadata.

The Title, Caption, Copyright, Creator, and Location fields are editable. When you click in a blank field, you can enter custom metadata, such as the image title and copyright information. Below these fields are the image rating and label information, followed by basic EXIF data items. This data is informational only, indicating details such as file size dimensions, the camera used to take the photograph, camera settings, lens, and so forth.

Click the arrow button in the upper-left corner to access the Metadata panel view options (see Figure 3). You can select various panel views, such as the All view to show all information (see Figure 4).

Figure 3

Figure 3 The Metadata panel view options let you select different metadata information display modes.

Figure 4

Figure 4 The All view shows all available information about the image.

Metadata Presets

You certainly don’t want to spend too much of your time repetitively entering the same metadata. This is where Lightroom’s metadata presets (which I also like to refer to as templates) are useful, because you can add all at once the metadata information that is (or needs to be) applied on a regular basis. To create a new metadata template, click Preset in the upper-left corner of the Metadata panel and choose Save as New Preset to open the New Metadata Preset dialog box (see Figure 5). If the Metadata Preset is set to None, the dialog box opens with blank fields ready to edit. Figure 6 shows a sample preset that I created; the text fields contain instructions for the user.

Figure 5

Figure 5 Click the Preset menu in the Metadata panel to open or create a metadata preset.

Figure 6

Figure 6 The New Metadata Preset dialog box, showing a sample preset.

To edit an existing preset, select that preset and click Preset > Save as New Preset. You can save the revised preset using the previous name (to overwrite the old preset), or save it using a new name. After you’ve saved a preset, you can select an image or a group of images, click Preset, select the saved preset, and apply that preset to the selected images.

To remove a metadata preset, go to the appropriate folder and delete the preset. Go here for the Mac:

Username/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom/Metadata Presets

Go to this folder on a PC:

local disk (C:)\Username\Application Data\Adobe\Lightroom\Metadata Presets

Lightroom metadata templates are listed with the .lrtemplate suffix.

The metadata presets are also available and editable via the Import Photos dialog box, so you can apply the items in a metadata preset as needed, via the Metadata panel, or at the import stage. The editable items in the Metadata Preset dialog box are not as comprehensive as those found in Photoshop, Bridge, or iView MediaPro, but they conform to the latest International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) standard file information specifications, used worldwide by the stock library and publishing industries. Therefore, the metadata information you input via Lightroom will be recognizable when you export a file and use any of these other programs to inspect it. However, Lightroom is able to display only metadata information it knows about; it can’t display all the data that might have been embedded via Bridge or iView. Should this be a cause for concern? For those who regard this as a shortcoming, it may well prove to be a deal-breaker. For others, the available Lightroom metadata options should be ample.

The sample preset in Figure 6 provides some suggestions on how to complete the Basic and IPTC fields. It’s not mandatory that you complete all the listed fields; just fill in as many as you find useful. Most of the fields in this panel are fairly self-explanatory. How you complete the main IPTC sections will vary from shoot to shoot, although many of the fields will remain the same, such as the Provider, Country, and Rights Usage Terms fields. The IPTC Creator section allows you to enter information specific to the image, such as who provided the photograph. But note the distinction between this and the Description Writer field, which refers to the person who entered the information—perhaps a picture library editor, your assistant, or a work colleague. The remaining fields can be used to describe when and where the photograph was shot, job reference (such as a client art order), and so on.

The IPTC Creator section normally contains your contact details, and these will most likely remain the same until you move or change your email address. It’s a good idea to begin by creating a metadata preset that lists your copyright information under Basic Info and appropriate IPTC sections. Save this as a basic metadata preset (see Figure 7), and apply this template to each set of new images that you import into the library. With this approach, you can ensure that after every new import, all the images carry complete copyright and contact information.

Figure 7

Figure 7 A saved basic preset.

The arrow buttons in the Metadata panel views provide useful quick links:

  • Clicking the File Path arrow button takes you directly to the system folder containing the current selected image.
  • The Date Time arrow button opens the Edit Capture Time dialog box.
  • If you click the Creator arrow button, all the library images in the content area will be filtered to reveal all images that share the same creator name.
  • Click the Location arrow button to filter out images sharing the same location.

In other Metadata panel views, such as the All view, many more arrow buttons are displayed; like those I’ve discussed here, these buttons act as filters to display images that match the same criteria.

Synchronizing Metadata Settings

You probably will want to apply or synchronize metadata settings from one image to other images in the library. Follow these steps:

  1. Make a selection of photos and click the Sync Metadata button (see Figure 8) to open the Synchronize Metadata dialog box (see Figure 9).
    Figure 8

    Figure 8 Make your selection and then click the Sync Metadata button.

    Figure 9

    Figure 9 The Synchronize Metadata dialog box.

  2. Use the options in the dialog box to select which items you want to synchronize.
  3. Click the Synchronize button to synchronize the metadata information in the selected image with all the others in the selection. You can also select an image and press Command-Alt-Shift-C (Mac) or Ctrl-Alt-Shift-C (PC) to copy the metadata settings and then use Command-Alt-Shift-V (Mac) or Ctrl-Alt-Shift-V (PC) to paste metadata settings to another selected image or group of images.

Synchronizing Metadata with External Programs

It’s also important to keep the metadata information synchronized between Lightroom and external programs such as Bridge. In the File Management preferences is an option to write all changes into the XMP metadata automatically. This feature writes to the XMP block header in the original file; or, in the case of proprietary raw files, writes changes to .xmp sidecar files. If you need to export the metadata explicitly, click the Metadata menu and choose XMP > Export XMP Metadata to File. If changes have been made to a file’s metadata outside of Lightroom, you can import the metadata by selecting Metadata > XMP > Import XMP Metadata from File.

An exclamation mark in the upper-right corner of a grid cell (see Figure 10) indicates a mismatch in the associated image file metadata. This isn’t as serious as it sounds. It just means that the metadata has probably been changed or updated by an external program. Click the exclamation mark button to open the dialog box shown in Figure 11. Then select Retry Metadata Export to update with the Lightroom metadata settings used most recently, or select Import Settings from Disk to update the settings using the externally modified settings information.

Figure 10

Figure 10 This warning indicator points out a mismatch in the associated image file metadata.

Figure 11

Figure 11 Specify whether you want to use the updated internal metadata, or import externally modified settings.