Lightoom has powerful metadata authoring features
Adobe Lightroom is one of the most popular photo editing applications on the market. Lightroom differs from some of the other applications we’re going to talk about both in scope and function. Lightroom is a big, sprawling program. It is used to edit photos, to archive your collections, tone photos, build photo books, and as they say, much much more. Lightroom is a good metadata authoring tool, too. That’s good news!
If you don’t already use Lightroom, you probably don’t want to use it as your metadata authoring program. There are simpler ways. If you are a Lightroom user, read on. We’re going to assume here that you already know who to use Lightroom. In this post, we’ll only concentrate on Lightroom’s metadata functionality.
Lightroom is different
Lightroom is database driven. In Lightroom, your original photos always remain untouched. Well, the image part does anyway. When you edit a photo in Lightroom, everything you do to the photo, or maybe I should say “intend to do” is written to Lightroom’s database (as, yes, metadata), and when you export a photo, all the stuff that you “did” actually is done to a new file just before it’s written to disk by the export process.
The only actual change Lightroom makes to your photo files is writing metadata to the files. And it really only does that when we tell it to. Don’t worry, Lightroom writes metadata to files losslessly, just like Photo Mechanic does. Here, we’re talking about both our kind of metadata – captions and copyright information and the like, and Lightroom’s kind of metadata – the recorded information about changes you make to your pictures, like toning, color and whatever. Working in Lightroom is conceptually very different from working with Photoshop and PhotoMechanic, or Bridge, or XnView. In those programs, we work directly on our files.
Let’s add metadata to some files in Lightroom, step by step.
Let’s get a preliminary out of the way. We’re going to need a boilerplate metadata template that we add to all our pictures.
In Lightroom, in the Library module, with any photo selected, go to the right rail and expand the ‘Metadata’ section. Then, from the ‘Presets’ flyout, choose ‘Edit Presets’.
That will bring up a dialog where you can fill in all the fields you want to include in your template. If the picture you have selected already has metadata, fields in the dialog will already be filled in. If the metadata on that picture is similar to what you want your template to look like, that’s great. You’ll save some work.
One way or another, edit the template to be what you need.
You will notice that each field has a tickbox next to it. If the box is ticked, your template will
overwrite whatever might already exist in that field on a photo with whatever is in that field on the template. If the box is unticked, that field is inactive in the template and nothing will be done to any data that might be there in the photo. If a field is blank and its box is ticked, whatever data might exist in the field on the photo will be cleared.
When importing photos into Lightroom, I can’t imagine wanting to lose any information, so you don’t want to tick boxes for empty fields. There are buttons at the bottom of the dialog that allows you to tick all the boxes, none of them, or just the ones where you have added data.
Once you have your template looking right, go to the ‘Preset’ flyout at the top of the dialog and choose ‘Save Current Settings as New Preset…’ from the bottom of the flyout. Name your preset and save it and you’re ready to go.
Import your photos into Lightroom
Now, when you import a batch of pictures into Lightroom, if you look at the right rail of the import dialog, you’ll see a panel called ‘Apply During Import’. In it, you’ll see a flyout for metadata. From that flyout, you simply
choose a preset. Click ‘Import’, and shazam! Your photos will be imported, and your template metadata will be applied in Lightroom’s database to your photos, with basically no work expended on your part.
Two important points to remember here:
1. Lightroom, at this point, has applied metadata to your pictures in its database. It hasn’t done anything to your files yet. We’ll circle back to this later.
2. The ‘Apply During Import’ setting is sticky. Next time you import photos, it will still be set to apply your template. You may NOT want to apply a template for some reason, perhaps on photos that already have metadata. So LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP. Double check! You have been warned.
Caption your photos
Now we want to apply metadata that applies specifically to the photos in the batch we’re working on. In Lightrooms right rail, look at the Metadata panel. At the top, there is a flyout for views. (There isn’t enough room in the panel to show all the fields, so this is necessary.) ‘IPTC’ gives a good overview of metadata on the photo.
In Lightrooms right rail, look at the Metadata panel. At the top, there is a flyout for views. (There isn’t enough room in the panel to show all the fields, so this is necessary.) ‘IPTC’ gives a good overview of metadata on the photo and is my personal default.
Change the view to ‘Large Caption’. That will give us a form field big enough to see what we’re doing in the caption. Simply select a picture and type in your caption information. There is no ‘Save’ or ‘Apply’ function. You’re typing straight into the database.
To copy the information you just entered to all the photos in your batch, you can do one of several things:
Select the photo that has the new caption information. Go to the ‘Metadata’ pulldown in Lightroom’s main menu and choose ‘Copy Metadata’. This will bring up a dialog similar to the one we used when we made our template. Make sure that the Caption field is the only one ticked. Bear in mind here that we can’t append or prepend information to fields in Adobe Lightroom. Whatever is in the caption field in the dialog will overwrite whatever is in the field on the target photos. Make sure that the whole caption and your byline is still there. When everything looks right, click ‘Copy’.
Now select all the photos to which you want to add the new information. Go back to the ‘Metadata’ pulldown on the main menu and choose ‘Paste Metadata’. You’ll see a progress bar and your new caption will be applied.
Select the photo that has the information you want to copy. Now, using Command/Control-Click, or Shift-Click, add the photos to which you want to add the information to the selection. You’ll notice that the source (Or ‘Active’ in Lightroom-speak) photo will be highlighted a bit more brightly than the target photos.
Click the ‘Sync’ button at the bottom of the right rail.
The same dialog from above will appear. Make sure that only the Caption tickbox is ticked and that the information looks right. Click ‘Synchronize’. You’ll see a progress bar and your new information will be applied to your pictures.
You can use the Paint Tool (spray can) to spray metadata. The Paint Tool can only spray templates, so you’ll have to make a new preset (template) to squirt onto pictures.
With the Paint Tool selected, choose ‘Metadata’ from the flyout that appears to the tool’s right, and to the right of that, choose the template you want to spray. This technique is good if you have different sets of data you want to apply to arbitrary pictures in your batch.
Now go back through your photos and edit the captions to add information specific to individual photos.
You can use the Copy-Paste or Sync functions to copy captions between photos that can use the same caption information.
Embed the new metadata in your photos
At this point, we have added IPTC metadata to our photos in the Lightroom database. We haven’t written any new data to the files on disk. Should a photo be copied or moved to another folder, or if anything happens to the Lightroom database, we’ll lose our metadata. not just our metadata that we just entered, but any information that Lightroom has stored about color changes or other edits you have made. That would be bad.
There are three ways to handle this new challenge:
Set a global preference, per catalog
One way is to set a global preference in Lightroom’s Catalog Settings that tells Lightroom to automatically write any metadata changes to the files, as you go along. This is great if you have a fast computer. (I don’t.) Every time you do anything to a picture, Lightroom will write new metadata to its file in the background. (We’re talking about both so-called ‘develop’ data and metadata we add to pictures here.) There’s a performance penalty to be paid if we do that.
If you want to go this way, go to Lightroom’s Catalog Settings dialog (In the same pulldown with Preferences), choose the Metadata tab and tick the tickbox at ‘Automatically Write Changes to XMP’.
One further note about this method: The Catalog Settings preference is global for that one particular catalog. If you go this way, you’ll need to check the settings for each catalog you use.
Update files manually
Another way to deal with writing our metadata to the files is to wait and update manually. To do this, all we have to do is select the files we want to write to, go to the ‘Metadata’ pulldown in the main menu, and choose ‘Save Metadata to File’.
This way is great in that we control when we have our machine at full speed and when we bog it down with metadata writing. But the drawback is that we can lose track of which files need to be written. Then, in an abundance of caution, we simply select all the files in our batch and update. That’s totally fine, except that of we have hundreds of files, it’s going to take a while.
Make updating easier with a Smart Collection
There’s a third path. We can use Lightroom’s Smart Collections feature to show us exactly which files need to be updated and just update those.
Smart Collections are found in Lightroom’s left rail (by default; you can move this stuff around).
Click on the ‘+’ at the top of the Collections panel and choose ‘Create Smart Collection…’. Lightroom opens a dialog to edit the Smart Collection.
Leave ‘Match’ at ‘All’.
From the leftmost flyout (by default, it will show ‘Rating’) choose ‘Other Metadata> Metadata Status’.
The middle flyout will automatically change to ‘is’.
From the rightmost flyout, choose ‘Has been changed’.
That’s it. Name your new Smart Collection and save it.
Now, whenever you have images that need to have their metadata updated on disk, those images (virtual links to them, actually) will appear as if by magic in your Smart Collection. Select them all, choose ‘Save Metadata to File’ from the Metadata pulldown in the main menu, and watch pictures disappear from the Smart Collection as they are updated and no longer fit the criteria for inclusion in the Smart Collection. I’ve got to say, this is pretty slick!
Export photos from Lightroom
In order to actually use a photo from Adobe Lightroom, we have to export it. Remember that Lightroom doesn’t make any changes as we go along; it just makes a list of things we want to do with the image. When we export, it actually does all those things.
To export photos, select them and click the ‘Export’ button at the bottom of Lightroom’s left rail.
Now you will see the export dialog. In this dialog, we choose parameters for Lightroom to use when it writes our exported files to disk. Here, we can choose things like the pixel dimensions of our new files, their compression, file names and formats and more, including how we want Lightroom to handle metadata.
There’s a section in the Export dialog for metadata.
In it, you’ll find a flyout that allows you to choose what metadata will be included on export. You can choose ‘All Metadata’ or various subsets, down to only copyright data. (Why on earth anybody would want to blank out copyright data is beyond me. If you really need to, that can be done in Lightroom, but not here.)
Choose an option from the flyout.
Below the flyout, you’ll see tick boxes for ‘Remove Person Info’ and ‘Remove Location Info’.
‘Person Info’ refers to specialized keywords that Lightroom will put into the Keywords field if you use Lightroom’s facial recognition feature. If you don’t use facial recognition, this is meaningless. If you do, you get to choose whether or not those keywords are left on your pictures.
‘Location Info’ is all information in any location field in your metadata and GPS coordinates. That includes any information you entered in fields like City and State, and any information that Lightroom automatically entered in those fields. (If you turn on the feature, Lightroom can resolve GPS coordinates to physical addresses, right down to the house number.) If you want to zap that info from your exported photos, this is where you do it.
When you are satisfied with your export settings, click ‘Export’ and sit back while your output files are made for you.
What if you want to export a version of a photo with different metadata?
Here’s a pro tip: Lightroom has the ability to make ‘virtual copies’ of photos. (Right-click on a photo and choose ‘Create Virtual Copy’.) There’s no physical copy of the photo made on disk; Lightroom just makes another set of metadata in the database to describe an alternate edit of the picture.
This function is normally used for black and white versions of a photo, or versions targeted for a specific printer, or the like. Virtual copies inherit the IPTC metadata of their parents, but you can then edit it so that the virtual copy has its own IPTC info. This is tremendously useful in cases where you want to export a version of a picture with custom metadata. Let’s say you want to send a version to a client with custom Rights/Usage information for just that client. This is where you do that. If you do, for some reason, need to output a picture with no copyright information, this is the place where you would do that, too.
In future posts, I’ll do how-tos for other popular metadata-authoring programs, like Photo Mechanic and Adobe Bridge.
A post on creating templates in each program and sharing them between programs in in the works, too.
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