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Photo management

Finding photo metadata: A guide for the rest of us

by Casey Schmidt  |  June 29, 2021

5 min. read
Two people walking in the park with data around them.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then metadata of that picture is worth millions. The extensive metadata attached to digital photos gives users a chance to sort, store and understand the files in their photo library.

It’s important then to be able to locate and access this information. This article explains everything you need to know about photo metadata, including the reasons why it’s so important to learn about.

What is photo metadata?

Photo metadata is the information and specific details concerning a particular image file. This information often includes date created, author, file name, content, themes and more. Photo metadata offers users a better way to organize, sort and maintain image files within a system.

Without metadata, there’s only so much information we can gather from just looking at a photo. Let’s look at an example:

A picture of a dog wearing a sweater.

We could say that this picture is a photograph of a small dog wearing a Champion brand yellow shirt in front of a blue background. Metadata adds to that, with elements such as: Date created, geographical location, author (photographer), image title, pixels, camera type, file type and more. It may seem minor, but if the title of the picture is “The King’s Dog”, the metadata is crucial in understanding it.

Now let’s discover how to view all the metadata within a picture file.

How to access and view photo metadata

Photo metadata is accessible for all users and doesn’t take any kind of special software such as Adobe Lightroom Classic. The pathways to locating photo metadata are different on both Windows and Mac. I’ve listed both methods below.

For Windows users

  1. Locate and right-click the intended digital image file
  2. Select ‘Properties’
  3. Click the ‘Details’ tab at the top of the popup window
  4. Now simply scroll down through the resulting window until you find the metadata section you require

The details tab of a properties window.Depending on the type of image file, you’ll be given different metadata for each file. Generally though, things like type, name and date will all be available. Now let’s look at how to see photo metadata on a Mac.

For Mac users

  1. Using ‘Finder’, locate and open the intended digital image file
  2. Highlight the file using your mouse or keyboard
  3. Press Command I (⌘I)
  4. This will result in a new window with relevant details. Cycle through the different tabs at the top until you find the information needed

The Apple Finder tool.

Now that you have some clear paths to locating metadata in your photos, here’s a look at how to go about editing this information when necessary.

Can I edit photo metadata? Should I?

There are many reasons people want to edit the metadata of their digital photos. Some do so because of an error when the metadata was processed, leaving files with the wrong name, author or date. Others may just need to remove metadata from photos.

Sometimes a user needs to edit metadata because of missing fields or unsatisfied parameters. For example, the data doesn’t include things like a title (which may be known only to the user). There are also users who wish to hide key details of images before uploading them to a social media platform. Whatever the reason, chances are there will be a time when you need to switch up or add a few key data details. When this occurs, you’ll need to know how.

A digital shredder.

Fortunately, images are one of the easiest file types to change metadata in, because they are accessible for editing without any outside software systems.

To edit the metadata of a digital photo, follow this sequence:

  • Navigate to the file you want to edit
  • As we did above, right-click it and select ‘Properties’
  • Click the ‘Details’ tab at the top of the popup window
  • Locate the category that needs editing (name, date, author, etc.)
  • Underneath the ‘Value’ tab, you’ll be able to input the new information (click and type)

Of course, there may be plenty of reasons that manually editing in this manner isn’t ideal. Users in need of large number of edits implement a metadata editor. Make sure that the software you use is suitable for the types of image files you work with, and can deal with the extensive editing tasks required. Let’s make sure you understand the value of this information within a photo.

Why is metadata so valuable for photos?

Those who work extensively with metadata understand how fortunate they are that it exists in such large quantities. When it comes to photos, this is especially true. Pictures are now almost exclusively digital, and even print images tend to be copied into a digital format at some point. One way metadata proves itself valuable is as a connection between different systems that are exchanging large quantities of image files. Imagine hundreds of thousands of image files being transferred from one computer to another. Without metadata, the only way to organize and understand the new files would be by manually opening these pictures.

Digital people sharing a file.

Without metadata, sorting and organizing images would be difficult. Even a small number of image files can become cluttered without a bit of organizational efforts. When the amount of images is multiplied, there’s potential for disaster. Metadata gives users the power to quickly organize photos using specific data categories like topic, size, date or author. This in turn makes the images more retrievable, sorting them into more specific groups. This might not be as important for someone sorting birthday photos, but a large company keeping branded images will be very grateful.

Closing ideas

Hopefully this article has motivated you to make the most out of your own metadata. Photo metadata is one of the most helpful ways to take control of your images. Stay ahead of the curve by understanding how and why to use it.