The principal of Carl Seibert Solutions and the owner of this site, Carl Seibert has become a metadata crusader. From clients who need to bring order to their assets collections, to website owners, to Creative Commons activists, the digital world needs to take advantage of better metadata. Carl has made it a mission to spread the [meta]word.
For most US-based photographers, Sunday, November 1 marked the time to readjust camera clocks at the end of Daylight Saving Time. In most of Europe, the fateful date was last Sunday, October 25. And in most of Asia, countries don’t take part in the twice-yearly festival of clock-changing.
But whether your country does or doesn’t have Daylight Saving Time, it’s a good time to take a look at the date and time settings in all your cameras to make sure everything is on the up and up.
Camera clocks aren’t the greatest timekeepers. I was tempted to compare them unfavorably to Swiss chronometers, but hey, even chronometer-certified timepieces drift over half a year’s time.
My cameras were all a little fast this time, but only by a couple minutes or so. We’ve come a long way from the early digital era, when camera clocks could be super wildly off. But still.
Have I checked my IPTC Create Date lately?
Most of us – and I’m speaking for myself here – never so much as notice whether the times in our Exif metadata are tracking with reality or not. I set Photo Mechanic to set the IPTC Create Date time to the Exif capture time in my files and that’s that. Heck, I don’t even check to make sure the setting hasn’t been bumped in the last, well, since the last time I did one of these posts.
How fine a point you want to put on timekeeping varies with what you shoot, how your workflow is structured, and how you find images in your collection.
At one end of the spectrum, some time last Thursday is close enough. At the other, you might want frames shot on different cameras to sort in minute-by-minute chronological order. If you’re in the latter group, some camera manufacturers offer software that will let you perfectly synchronize cameras. (Sometimes for free and sometimes at fairly outrageous prices, I might add.) Or, if you use Photo Mechanic, you could use the method I describe in this post.
So there you have it. Check those camera clocks. Check the metadata on a picture to make sure the IPTC time and the Exif time are as you want them to be. Then there will be one little annoyance not to worry about for another half a year or so.
Hey. While you’re at it, check those batteries on your smoke detectors, computer UPSes and security gizmos around the house. It couldn’t hurt. Stay safe out there.
Camera Bits has released Photo Mechanic Plus, the company’s new digital asset management product for photographers. Photo Mechanic Plus combines a full-featured instance of Photo Mechanic 6 with new photo cataloging capabilities.
Photographers have very different digital asset management needs than the usual customers of DAM systems, like marketing departments, for example.
Google Images Licensable feature allows photographers to place clickable contact information on images
The IPTC announced today that Google’s new Licensable feature is now live on Google Images. The new feature allows photographers to trigger a badge that identifies photos as “Licensable” by filling in the correct fields in their photo’s IPTC metadata.
I reported that the new feature was coming, here, in February. An update on Photo Mechanic adding support for Licensable can be found here. Several videos on my YouTube channel describe preparing images for Licensable in various photo editing software. See this playlist on MetadataMatters.blog/youtube
The feature has been in beta since then. Google had announced an intent to make the feature live by “summer 2020” but it pushed the date back at least once. Given that the search company has had to contend with the coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest and an election under threat of foreign interference in the US, I think Google did pretty well rolling out the feature with three weeks of summer left.
So, how does the feature look in real life?
The Licensable badge appears on thumbnails as a small icon that looks like it represents a photo of mountains. It resembles the one that indicated focus at infinity on generations of point-and-shoot film cameras. Recently posted pictures’ badges have a time element, like “1 day ago”. If you hover your mouse over the thumbnail, the icon pops out to say “Licensable” and looks like the badge as we’ve seen it in Google’s handout picture.
On the image preview, if a Licensor URL has been specified in that IPTC Extended specification field, a link for “Get this image on:” appears above the image’s Creator field. “Get this image on:” uses the domain name from the link for text. The link clicks through to whatever URL is specified in Licensor URL.
If the Copyright URL/Web Statement of rights field is filled, a “License details” link appears to the right of “Get this image on:”. “License details” clicks through, as would be expected, to the page specified in Copyright URL.
Google Images Licensable feature is online. The new feature is now available worldwide. Licensable provides photographers who fill out their IPTC metadata appropriately a badge on Google Images thumbnails and a clickable link that takes viewers right to the photographer.
There is another link in this row that goes to a search-by-image search for the displayed image.
Fields that don’t have values aren’t displayed. So, for example, if there’s no value in Licensor URL, no “Get this image on:” link appears. Likewise, the Creator, Credit, and Copyright fields behave the same way.
(Tip: Use the pulldown on a Google Images returns page that allows you to filter by license type. Filter by “Commercial and other license types” to see a page full of Licensable badges.)
Props to Getty
On the first day, most of the Licensable badged images I found appear to be from Getty Images. That’s no surprise, as Getty Images has worked with the IPTC on the development of Google’s support for metadata.
All the Getty pictures I examined had Licensor URLs that took visitors straight to Getty’s e-commerce page for that particular picture. I did not find any images with a value in the Licensor Name field, from Getty or anybody else. My impression from the early documentation was that a value in this field would be used as the label for the “Get this image on:” link. Since I didn’t find an example, I can’t yet report on whether or not that is true. My advice is still to put a value in that field. It can’t hurt.
Getty Images’ Copyright URL points to a generic “Getty Images Content License Agreement” page on gettyimages.com. Not even Getty Images knows in advance exactly what license might be under discussion for a particular image. I found images from independent photographers where the URL in Copyright URL points to their homepage. I still advise pointing visitors/prospective customers to a landing page on your site that tells prospective licensees that they can contact you about licensing. Clearly, anything that puts the visitor in touch with the photographer works.
Independent photographers get badges, too
A Google Images search for “portland” (Portland Oregon is in the news today) returned a photo from Portland, Maine, by Michael Eric Berube, of Maine Virtual Home Tours.
Berube had not yet heard of the Licensable feature. He didn’t feel it would be of direct benefit to a real estate photographer, but thought it would help others. “So, if I were a stock photographer, that would come in super handy”, he said. “I’m glad Google stepped up to do that”, he added.
He programs his cameras to record copyright information in Exif metadata. When he exports his RAW image files from Lightroom, it writes the information to the exported files’ IPTC metadata. His Copyright URL points to his homepage.
Berube includes brief contact information in his Copyright field, which reads, “(c) Michael Eric Berube, MaineVirtualHomeTours.com” on the Google Images preview page. Note that the contents of the Copyright field appear only as text. A URL in this field should not include “https://www….”. I have long recommended including a simple URL or phone number in the copyright field.
Make sure your site honors metadata
The new Google features can only work when websites preserve embedded metadata on images. While we see some encouraging momentum in the numbers of sites that do honor metadata, there is a lot of work to be done on that score. I’ve written many posts here on making sure that your website properly preserves metadata. Here is a recent example that includes step-by-step instructions on how to check to be sure your site is working properly.
The Licensable badge can also be invoked by using structured markup on a webpage, rather than embedded metadata. I did see some examples on Google Images of that being done. But I don’t think that technique is relevant for most photographers. And I stress that it’s not a substitute for proper metadata on images.
I found impressive the number of Licensable badges I found so soon. This is another banner day for photographers in a time when good news is hard to come by.
Are you marking up your images to be Licensable friendly? How is it working out for you? Jump in the comments and let us know.
Which of Photo Mechanic’s two IPTC editors should you use and when?
Photo Mechanic has two, count ‘en two, big fancy metadata editor dialogs – Metadata (IPTC) Info and Metadata (IPTC) Template. What’s the difference? When should we use one or the other? Let’s look at both editors in some depth to see when – and how – to use each.
Photo Mechanic used to call the Metadata (IPTC) Template dialog the “Stationery Pad”. “Stationery Pad” may not have been the best ever name. Users wondered what it heck it was. With the release of Photo Mechanic 6, the name was changed. “Metadata (IPTC) Template” may not be exactly an ideal name, either. While it sounds clear enough, it’s not really terribly descriptive. It’s not the only way to edit templates. And it is the way to do a whole bunch of other stuff.
Now, you can live a happy life using only Metadata (IPTC) Info. I did. For years. (Let’s call it here the “IPTC Editor”.)
For a deep dive, try the video version of this post:
So, let’s take a look at it first. Then, we can look at Metadata (IPTC) Template to understand the differences. (We’ll call that one the “Template Editor”)
The top-line differences between the editors are pretty straight-forward. IPTC Info can read metadata from a picture. Metadata Template can’t (directly). The template editor can easily broadcast metadata to multiple images, while the IPTC editor can’t.
Need a general-purpose How-To on working with metadata in Photo Mechanic? This post and this video might help.
The Metadata Info editor
If we have just created an image, let’s say we edited in Photoshop and did a save-as, and we want to caption it, the IPTC Editor provides a pretty straightforward workflow.
We click the “i” button for our image, or we press the “i” key on the keyboard, and the Editor opens. We can do this from the thumbnail or the preview. There is a small preview of the image in the corner of the editor. If we click on it and hold, a reasonably-sized preview opens. So, we can see what we’re working on.
We now load our standing template by clicking the Snapshot button (lightning bolt icon) and choosing our template from the list. Next, we fill in the caption, maybe add some keywords, do whatever else we need to do, and click “OK”. Simple enough.
(We could also load a template by clicking the “Apply Metadata Template” button. That button loads whatever is active in the template editor. Or we could import or export templates in .XMP file format with the “Load” and “Save” buttons. Choices. Choices. We’ll circle back to this.)
But, over years, we’re going to have to do this a few tens of thousands of times. We’d like to shave a few seconds off the time we spend on each image’s metadata. This is Photo Mechanic, after all. There’s some powerful stuff here we should know about.
Reading what’s there
The first difference between the two editors is that the IPTC editor can read existing metadata. So, we can use it to read or edit metadata to a photo that already has some – as long as we’re careful. We need to understand its core behavior: Exactly what we see in the editor is what gets saved. OK. Good to know.
To that end, we find a bunch of step-saving tools in the right rail of the dialog. You can assign ratings or color labels to the image. (Handy if you want to denote that you have captioned the picture for a certain client, for example.) You can save your caption (or not) and jump ahead to the next picture. You can copy your metadata to the clipboard to paste on whatever image you want.
By the way, Photo Mechanic is clever enough to read the Exif Capture Time or the file’s modification time and insert it into the IPTC metadata. Or you can automatically set today’s date. Or whatever date you like. (I’ll add here that the IPTC editor reads Exif Artist and Copyright information, if your camera writes it, and puts it in the appropriate IPTC fields. You can save it as written or change it or overwrite it with your template. Up to you.)
You can listen to voice notes, if your camera makes them. (Only a few high-end cameras do. But hey, if that’s the way you roll…)
A semi-secret keystroke
For news photographers and other deadline workers, there’s a wonderful and mysterious button called “Save, Upload, & ->”. Wonderful because it does just what it promises. You can caption a picture, turn it in on the spot without losing your focus, and move on to the next one. Mysterious because this is one of a few very instances in Photo Mechanic where, to make it work, you have to use something that isn’t obviously displayed.
One of the things I love about Photo Mechanic is that, unlike, say, the computer operating system I’m using at the moment, I don’t have to be one of the cool kids and know a bunch of secret-handshake keystrokes to be productive. Not that there aren’t lots of labor-saving keystrokes. There are. But there’s a menu item or a button for darn near every last one of them.
That said, right here in the IPTC editor there are two way-cool functions that require a modifier key. This is one of them.
Before you can blast your pictures to your client in real-time using “Save, Upload, & ->”, you need to tell Photo Mechanic which client you’re rocketing the image to.
Press the ALT/OPTION key. “Save, Upload, & ->” turns into “Upload Options”. Click it.
Set your destination
The File Uploader will open. Now you can select one of the dozen and a half uploaders built into Photo Mechanic. (There are three flavors of FTP, plus most of the popular cloud storage/photo sharing/delivery sites like Box, Dropbox, Photo Shelter, Zenfolio, SmugMug, Flickr, and many others.) Choose your service, destination, and path. Close the Uploader. Photo Mechanic now knows where you are sending the missile. Fire when ready.
And the data is…
Look at the IPTC fields themselves. First off, you can arrange the fields in any order you want, show or not show whichever ones you want, make the big ones deeper or shallower, and even (as I recommend) make the type in the Caption bigger. (I have customized this dialog in my Photo Mechanic. Yours won’t look the way mine does in the screenshots.)
For each field, there is a flyout for choosing values from a controlled vocabulary. I highly recommend this, too. Especially for stuff like countries, states/provinces, and cities. Get them spelled right once and never type them again. You can also choose how auto-complete will work. For keywords, for example. I have mine set to fill values that I cribbed from my Structured Keywords vocabulary whenever I type the first three letters.
What about templates?
Well, the first thing I should say is that templates are shared between the two editors. You can edit templates just fine right here in the IPTC editor and use them in either place. There’s a bunch of shared stuff, actually. The controlled vocabulary flyouts and anything to do with variables, both “normal” variables and the specialized client and user ones, work in both places, as well.
But, how templates behave is different between the two editors. The IPTC editor overwrites whatever it might find already in the file. (Except the time element) It mows down anything in its path. For example, if your copyright notice in your template is different from the one your camera wrote in the Exif, the one in the template overwrites the Exif one. If you have a blank field in your template, you will delete anything that might already be in that field.
If you are captioning a single picture from scratch, this behavior is no problem. In fact, you probably want to do exactly what the IPTC editor does. Blank slate. Go from there.
On the other hand
But what if you are editing a caption you already saved? Well, most of the time, it’s OK. The IPTC editor reads what’s already in your metadata and saves it back on the file with whatever you add.
On the other hand, you might want to copy and paste metadata between, say, half a dozen portraits of some executive. I mean, come on, what more can you say after “….photographed in her London office on April 34th, 1970.” (And yeah, I know. Google doesn’t like repetitive captions. But what can you do….) Well, we could use the copy and paste buttons to apply that caption to our portraits. But what if each of those frames already has some unique information?
A Title/Object Name might already be applied. Or, in my case, I have Photo Mechanic write every frame’s original filename in the Transref field. (So I can easily find my way back to “_DCS-something-something” from the descriptively-named version I sent the client.)
If I use copy and paste, It’ll slap down the filename of the first picture over the correct filenames of the subsequent ones. Oh dear. We have to be mindful – and clever – about this sort of thing, lest we get stuck and have to re-do a bunch of work.
Or what if I have a folder full of pictures and I need to apply a template to groups of a dozen or so at a time? All of them, perhaps. Maybe I need to just add something to the end of the caption on each picture.
We need another tool
Now we need the Template editor. It can handle situations like this. Like I said, if you never have situations like this, you may never need it. But as I go on and try to balance the need to learn to do a better job with ever-increasing laziness, I find I use the Template Editor more and more.
If we want to go to the template editor and load it with the data we have before us, we’ll hold down ALT/OPTION again and the “Apply Metadata Template” button becomes the “Copy to Template” button. Click it and whatever is showing in the IPTC editor will be loaded into the template editor, replacing whatever might already be there.
To recap thus far: If we’re in a save it-caption it-send it, one-at-a-time, workflow, the IPTC editor is the tool we’ll use. If we have to work around existing information or if we have to apply information cleverly to groups of pictures, well then, the template editor takes us where we want to be.
The template editor
We can call the template editor with “CTL/CMD + i” or from “Image> Metadata (IPTC) Template…” from the main menu.
When it opens, we’ll see our IPTC fields, arranged in a two-column dialog box this time. If we opened it from scratch, the fields will be empty. If we got here via the “Copy to Template” button in the IPTC editor, we’ll see whatever values we had in the fields in that editor.
So, this is another rare case of a keystroke unlocking something we need to do. And it’s how we can read existing metadata with the template editor, which otherwise can’t do such a thing.
Share and share alike
Most of the tools for actually manipulating data in the template editor are shared with the IPTC editor. The controlled vocabulary flyouts are here. As well as the templates Snapshot (and our templates) and all the variables tools. Not to mention the Reverse Geocoding buttons. This dialog is completely configurable, just like its sibling. (So, yours won’t look like mine.)
This video features the template editor. (It was called the Stationery Pad then.)
To use this editor, we’ll fill it with metadata (by hand or from a template) and apply that metadata either to selected images or via one of many places in the Photo Mechanic interface where we have the option to apply it. For example, we can apply a template to images we FTP, on their way out the door. That would be handy if we need to change something in the metadata for a certain client. In my case, linking a template to the ingest process is how I put my original filenames in the Transref field.
(We can also apply information from the template editor to selected images via the right-click context menu in the Contact Sheet (thumbnail) view. Or from Image > Apply Metadata (IPTC) Template to Photos in the main menu.)
A different way
But here we have some very different – and useful – behavior, compared to the mow-down-everything-in-its-path IPTC editor. Look to the left of each field in the template editor. You’ll see a tickbox.
If the tickbox is ticked “on”, a field is active and it will act just like it would in the IPTC editor. It will write, or overwrite, its contents, no matter what might already be in the field. If we turn on a blank field, it will delete what it finds and leave the field empty in the target.
Turn the tickbox “Off” and the field is turned off. Now it won’t write to the target field. If there’s information in the target field, it will be left alone.
Let’s stop and think about how we could use this power. Let’s say I have those six portraits. If I use the template editor to caption them, I can turn the Transref field off, select the pictures and apply the same metadata to all six, without messing up my original filenames. (Or datestamps, for that matter.)
Of course, I could simply use this editor to apply my base template to a whole folder of images in one go.
Or maybe we want to add an embargo to Special Instructions in a bunch of photos that have already been captioned. Turn off all the other fields, enter our Special Instructions text and apply to selected and our embargo is added and no other fields are touched. Voila! Done.
(You can use the “clear” button to clear all the fields and all fields will be turned off. Then type in a given field and the one you just filled will automatically turn on. Double-check first, of course. But this is handy.)
The Caption, Description Writers and Keywords fields have some additional options.
Caption sports a pulldown that lets us choose to replace (overwrite) whatever might be in the Caption or Prefix or Append it with whatever we put in Caption here in the template editor.
Want to put an inline byline after the caption on some pictures or add some housekeeping information before the captions? This will do the trick.
The Description Writer and Keywords fields have an additional tickbox, with a “+” symbol. Turning on this tickbox will append the values we add here to whatever already exists in the fields.
Obviously, we’ll use this feature all the time with keywords. Need to add “headshots” to groups of pictures that are, well, headshots? Boom. Done.
Why the heck do we have this appending feature on Description Writer? This a feature aimed straight at wire services and photo agencies. (Core markets for Photo Mechanic.) An editor at a wire service might translate a caption. Or correct something. Or add some housekeeping data. The original caption writer still wrote the caption. But the editor is accountable for whatever changes he or she made. Air traffic controllers say their initials over and over for the sake of the audio log tapes. Wire service editors append their initials to the description Writer field. Same principle.
We use the Template editor whenever we have to work around existing data or if we need to apply data to multiple images, either manually or automatically when we use some file management function.
We use the IPTC editor if we are working from scratch, on more or less a one-photo-at-a-time basis.
The two editors give us the ability to work with metadata deftly, cleverly, and quickly. They also give us the ability to screw things up on a grand scale if we don’t look before we leap.
Think carefully about your workflow and what you want to accomplish, especially if you are tempted to use the IPTC editor in a way that isn’t a straight-forward case of working from scratch on a new file. Once we decide on the right path, choosing the right IPTC editor dialog lets us power our way through a bunch of work in a hurry.
I have quite a few posts and videos on various aspects of using Photo Mechanic here and on my YouTube channel ( metadatamatters.blog/youtube ). If the search function on this site doesn’t find what you’re looking for, by all means, jump in the comments and ask.
Google and a persistent photographer each provide a victory for artists’ rights
Beginning today, May 27, 2020, Google Images will display image rights metadata just under an image’s preview rather than hiding it behind a link. And in a separate victory for artists rights metadata, website hosting company SquareSpace has announced better support for rights metadata.
In late 2018, Google Images began to support embedded IPTC metadata that identifies the photographer and copyright owner of an image. (As long as that information isn’t stripped away by the website that published the image.) If an image contains rights information, users could click on a link for “Image Credit” information to see who shot the picture and who owns the copyright.
The new feature – live today – presents the information right under the picture.
If there’s no rights metadata on the image, users will still see “Images may be subject to copyright”.
The Google Images team told the IPTC’s website that, “We are committed to helping people understand the nature of the content they’re looking at on Google Images. This effort to make IPTC-related information more visible is one more step in that direction.”
Google’s new presentation will help educate and empower honest users of the web about copyright. Accordingly, this blog applauds enthusiastically. Respect.
More good news
Early this year, Google announced that it would introduce another new rights-related feature in Google Images. Driven again by embedded IPTC metadata in a picture or by Schema.org markup on a webpage, this one flags pictures that might be legally available for use. Images that carry appropriate information to facilitate contact between a would-be user and the image’s owner will display a “Licensable” badge. A link to the image owner will be provided.
(Googe’s Licensable feature is currently in beta. It was slated for release by now, but according to the latest from Google, the COVID-19 pandemic has slipped the date back to sometime in the summer.)
Photographer Penny Gentieu is working with her daughter Anna Friemoth, also a photographer, on a new website. They’re using the Squarespace web hosting service.
Squarespace markets heavily to photographers. YouTube watchers will instantly recognize the brand. Seemingly every second photography channel lately features host-read endorsement ads pitching Squarespace as a platform for photographers’ websites.
Gentieu and Friemoth were excited by Google’s new support for photographers. But they were mortified to discover that Squarespace stripped the requisite metadata from photos.
After a less than successful interaction with Squarespace’s customer service department, Gentieu wrote a story pleading with the provider to stop deleting the metadata. The article appeared on PetaPixel, a large website devoted to photo industry news. It spawned a spirited comments chain, even including a response from Squarespace CEO Anthony Casalena.
Within two days of the PetaPixel editorial, Squarespace wrote to Friemoth: “Hello there, We’re replying here to let you know that we fixed this issue. Going forward, this metadata will not be removed from images uploaded to the platform.”
Gentieu’s tenacity. Google’s improved commitment to artists’ rights. Unheralded hard work behind the scenes by the IPTC. PetaPixel’s reach. And Squarespace’s responsiveness. And we all benefit from two significant advancements for photographers and honest users of the internet in a single week. To each of you, a heartfelt thank you!
If you are a photographer, please, please make sure you are embedding proper metadata in your photos. If you have a website, do the right thing and make sure your site respects metadata. You can learn about doing those things right here in this blog. And if you have more good news for our industry, let us know in the comments.
The entire Licensors structure is now available in Photo Mechanic; Google Licensable will expose two of the fields
Photo Mechanic has released support for the PLUS Licensor metadata fields that will be exposed in the new Google Licensable feature. You’ll find it in Photo Mechanic 6, Build 4538, and later. (The fields have been in the PM+ beta for a while.) The entire Licensor structure is supported, some twelve fields, with the ability to list all that information for multiple licensors.
Licensors writes to PLUS (Picture Licensing Universal System) XMP fields, part of the IPTC Extended schema.
In the interface, you’ll see the label “Licensors” and a button with three dots. Click the button and a pop-up dialog appears with all the new fields.
Fill in the fields according to your taste. Google will expose the Licensor Name and the Licensor URL. I chose to add my business phone number, as well. If somebody wants to talk to me about a picture, I want to make it as easy as possible. All the normal contact fields are available, along with one for your PLUS ID, if you have one.
If you don’t see the button in your IPTC Editor or Template Editor (formerly Stationery Pad), you’ll need to go the preferences for those dialogs and turn on Licensors. This is likely the case of you have customized your metadata dialogs. I have, so I had to turn on the new gizmo.
Go to Preferences> Acccessibility>Customize and choose a button for “Metadata (IPTC) Info”, or “Metadata (IPTC) Template”. The appropriate configuration dialog will open.
I found Licensors waiting at the bottom of the list of fields.
Tick to turn on “Enabled” and “Visible”.
Drag Licensors to wherever you want it. I put it in with some other PLUS fields.
Remember to make a new Snapshot.
Make sure to fill in the fields in your templates.
And you’re good to go.
Update on Google Licensable
Apparently, the COVID-19 crisis has affected both Google and the photo licensing agencies involved in the beta of Licensable. The latest word is that Google now intends to make the feature live “in summer”. Hopefully, the crisis won’t worsen and we’ll start seeing Licensable badges in a few months.
Be on the lookout. When you spot the first Licensable badge, jump in the comments and let us all know. In the meantime, stay safe out there!
Optimizing images for WordPress. There’s been a lot of digital ink spilled on the subject. There are tons of urban myths swirling around. There’s stuff that’s true, stuff that was true five years ago, stuff that was never true, and stuff that’s way over complicated or just plain wrong.
But the real lowdown, circa early 2020, is stupid simple.
You don’t optimize images for your WordPress site. WordPress does it.
All you have to do is upload a good quality image, at the largest size your site will need, saved at a JPEG compression of 82 or higher.
And, by the way, make sure you have ImageMagick enabled as your imaging library.
Let’s optimize some images for uploading to WordPress, step by step. In this How-to, we’ll use Photo Mechanic. Photo Mechanic is known as a hard-core tool for professional photographers. It’s not usually thought of as a program that web designers would turn to.
But, as it turns out, Photo Mechanic is a great tool for this particular job. It’s powerful, comprehensive, fast, and straightforward to use. Maybe it’s time to commend it to the attention of the web design community.
It’s what I use in real life for this kind of thing, if that means anything to you.
We should use ImageMagick on our sites; here’s how
Everybody who has a WordPress website should enable ImageMagick (at least for the time being) to protect artists’ rights metadata. Why? Because we’re ethical, socially concerned folks, that’s why. How? Read on. It’s real easy.
A bit of background. WordPress uses an imaging library to (among other things) create the images that will be served by your website. We have a choice of imaging libraries. Right now, circa 2020, of the two at hand, only ImageMagick protects the important metadata that this site is all about.
This post is all about the process WordPress uses to optimize images.
This one covers stuff we can do to get our images ready for WordPress efficiently.
Virtually all good hosting providers offer ImageMagick. We could go so far as to say that doing so is part of the definition of a “good” hosting provider.
If ImageMagick is enabled on a server, WordPress, by default, will use it. Many hosting providers – and their number is growing as we speak- enable ImageMagick by default. In that case, we’re golden. We don’t have to do a thing.
Look before you leap
So, first, let’s see if ImageMagick is already working on your site.
Upload an image that you know contains IPTC metadata. The image should be big enough that your imaging library makes sized renditions of it. If you don’t have such an image handy, you can grab a purpose-made one here.
Put your sample image on a page or post. It should be small enough on the page that WordPress serves a re-sized rendition, rather than the original image that you uploaded. (The original image is just that. It’s exactly what you upload. It’s the renditions that we’re concerned about.)
Publish or preview the post or page with your test image. Previewing will do fine.
Right-click on your image and download it to your computer. When you see the save-as dialog from your browser, you’ll see the filename of the image, as served by your site.
Take a quick look to make sure the filename includes some dimensions, like this one: DSC4334_wp_test-300×200.jpg. When WordPress makes images, it adds dimensions to the filename. If you see them, that’s good. We’re dealing with a file made by the imaging library. If the filename is exactly what you uploaded, you were served your original file. Either your picture was too small or you made it too big on the page.
Now, take a look at your “round-tripped” file in any application that reads industry-standard metadata. You should see some meta-information. (If you downloaded the test file from a few paragraphs ago, you’ll see one of the metadata starter templates I give away all the time in How-To posts.)
Applications that will read metadata for us include any of those that I cover in this blog: Photoshop, Photo Mechanic, Lightroom Classic, XnView, ON1 Photo RAW, Adobe Bridge, and a bunch that I don’t cover, including the File Info dialog of the Mac operating system, the File Properties dialog in Windows, and a slew of photo editors and image browsers. Or you can use the IPTC’s own free online metadata viewer. A link is in the footer of every page on this website.
If you see that your site is indeed preserving metadata, congratulate yourself with a glass of fine wine, good coffee, or whatever floats your boat.
If not, you’ll need to enable ImageMagick on your server, which won’t take but a few minutes.
How to enable ImageMagick
Being the considerate people that we are, we should Google the name of our hosting provider and “ImageMagick” to see if they’ve provided an easy way to DIY this. If they have, then do what your provider’s documentation says.
If they haven’t, just ask their Customer Support team to take care of it for you. Usually, hosts provide chat with Customer Support. Or maybe you have to use an actual telephone. Most hosts have great support. They’ll take care of your request in a jiffy and you can be on to that congratulatory beverage.
You should re-do the check procedure, just to make sure all is well.
A bit more background
In order to enable ImageMagick on a WordPress server, we have to enable a PHP extension called Imagick. Imagick is all ready and waiting. It ships with PHP. The line to turn it on is already in your php.ini file. It’s commented out with a semicolon. All we need to do is delete that semicolon. One keystroke. That’s if we have access to the main php.ini. But we don’t.
Each server administrator chooses how he or she will handle this PHP extension thing. There are all kinds of ways to configure a server to allow ordinary users like you and me to do the deed. Or maybe the admin just wants their own employees to handle it. Thus, it’s a host-by-host thing and we usually let Customer Care take care of it for us.
I have a post explaining how to enable ImageMagick on a mini server on your local machine, like MAMP, here. In that case, you have total access to the server. So, that post shows the under the hood gitty-gritty, if you’re interested.
Is your site on Drupal? This post talks about enabling ImageMagick on Drupal. If anything, it’s even easier.
All of this assumes that ImageMagick itself is installed on your server. As I said, on good hosts, it almost always is.
If it isn’t, or if it’s not enabled via Imagick, WordPress falls back to an imaging library called GD.
GD ships with PHP, so it’s always available. By necessity, GDis a more stripped-down, lightweight sort of affair. One of the things it doesn’t have is the ability to preserve metadata. Which is the whole reason for my mania about enabling ImageMagick. I’ll circle back here in a minute.
Is there an efficiency advantage to one library or the other?
Short answer: No.
If you’re a normal person, running a website that isn’t Facebook or eBay, you won’t see any real difference. ImageMagick uses a bit more server resources during the two or three seconds while your image uploads. Unless you upload a zillion images a day, like eBay, you won’t notice.
GD runs in PHP’s memory space. ImageMagick doesn’t. Depending on a bunch of factors that we, as normal website owners, don’t even have a way of knowing about, that could tilt an advantage in server speed, so small that nobody would ever notice – during those few seconds when images are uploading – one way or the other, depending on which library is in use. Not that we could even know, much less care.
Will the imaging library make a difference in how an image is processed that will affect page load times?
ImageMagick’s fans claim that it provides better image quality at a given compression ratio. In theory that means that if you use ImageMagick, you could have WordPress compress your images a tiny bit more and see faster load times, or better quality at the same load times. But in all honesty, I can’t tell the difference. We’ve got more important stuff to worry about.
ImageMagick is a much bigger, fancier, more comprehensive program than GD. If we had a WordPress plugin that would allow us to take full advantage of all the cool things it can do, that might be really cool and we might be able to eke out a load time advantage. But we don’t have such a plugin. Volunteers?
GD, for its part, has a new maintainer, Wilson Chen, who is very interested in adding metadata support to the program. He has added it as a milestone in a future release. When GD gains metadata support, those of us who are so inclined can nerd out on the fine points and choose whichever imaging library we like.
But until then, social responsibility wins out and ImageMagick remains our library of choice.
Feel better about how your site treats the people who create your content – a group that may include you – by enabling ImageMagick to preserve artists’ right metadata. Just do it. Congratulate your self in the comments.
In most of the US, we have just sprung forward for Daylight Saving Time.
While we are busily setting the clocks in all our cameras, some of us might wonder if we can synchronize these things so that we can sort images by time. For real. Like frame by frame. Or play by play in a ballgame.
Well, no. The crappy clocks in cameras just don’t run well enough for that to really work. But we can use Photo Mechanic’s time manipulation feature to sync up multiple cameras after the shoot.