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.
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.)
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.