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 may be seeing a long longed-for trend toward WordPress hosting providers enabling the ImageMagick imaging library by default. That causes their customers’ sites to respect embedded metadata on images. Preserving metadata means preserving rights information, powering rights-driven features like Google Images’ “Image Credit” and “Licensable”. Which makes life better for honest people all over the web. When hosts turn on ImageMagick for all of their customers, millions of sites at a time will switch to honoring metadata. If indeed we're seeing a trend, this is really good news.
Google is beta testing a new feature that will help honest people obtain licenses to use pictures found on Google Images. “Licensable” will help identify images whose owners can be readily found. Cash can be exchanged and a license issued in the speed of a click. Or an email or phone call.
(Many copyright owners I have dealt with have been so blown away by somebody approaching them for a legit license that they have just given me the license. Honesty pays. I kid you not.)
How it works
Three IPTC fields new to Google Images will drive the new feature. This is in addition to the three fields that Google has supported since late 2018.
The Web Statement of Rights field, which is known in most software as “Copyright URL” will drive a “Licensable” badge on an image in Google Image search results (see illustration above) and, if the field contains a valid URL, a link for “License Details” will appear on the image’s preview. (“Valid” here means the whole URL, beginning with the protocol, like this: https://www.carlseibert.com/licenses ) This is the most important of the new-to-Google fields.
Google is now telling website operators that stripping metadata from images is not a good thing. Look at the bottom of this help page where Google tells webmasters – ever so gently – to leave copyright metadata alone! Woo! Hoo!
Google describes the URL in Copyright URL as “A URL to a page that describes the license governing an image’s use.” For most non-Creative Commons images, there is no license yet for whatever use a Google Images user might have in mind. That’s the idea – to arrange for such a license. So, Google’s description can’t be taken too literally. I’ll come back to this.
Missing from the mockup Google released is the image’s copyright notice. The contents of the Creator and Credit fields appear more prominently than before. But where’s the copyright notice? Maybe clicking on the photographer’s name brings up the copyright notice? If the contents of the Copyright field aren’t revealed, that could be a big issue. Hopefully, this will be sorted out in the beta process.
Licensor and Licensor URL, relatively unknown fields in the PLUS portion of the IPTC’s Extension Schema Standard, will drive additional links for the name of an agency/licensor and “Get this photo on:”. This part of the feature is clearly aimed at photo agencies. The URL could point straight to a purchase page for that particular photo.
There’s no harm in just putting your company name and link to whatever page on your site is best for dealing with folks who want to license a photo here. Or, on the other hand, honestly, I don’t see any harm in individual photographers just skipping this field. Which is a relief, since most of us won’t immediately have access to the Licensor fields in our software anyway.
For what it’s worth, I think the way Google has laid out these links in its current beta (see the main picture above) is backwards. I think that they should start with a link for “Licensing Details” (which will be driven by the most likely populated field), followed by “Get this photo on:” which can really only help out in those cases where a license may be purchased online. We’ll see what happens as Google proceeds with the beta.
What does this mean to you and me?
Google is trying to clean up the copyright thieves bazaar that the internet and that their product, in particular, has become. It is in our interest as content creators and publishers to help out in any way we can. It’s our stuff that’s being stolen and our web pages where the stolen stuff ends up.
Moreover, it’s dead easy to be on the right side of this.
What do we have to do?
Photographers need to make sure that they embed proper metadata in every image they send out into the world. Readers of this blog already know this.
To review, Google Images already exposes the contents of the IPTC Creator, Copyright, and Credit fields. Double-check to make sure your template fills these fields properly.
The Creator field just needs your name.
The Copyright field holds your copyright notice. There is no legally required format. Just tell everybody you own the copyright. Adding some minimal contact information, like your business phone number, really helps.
The Credit (or “Creditline”) field is trickier. Traditionally, this field holds the name of whomever the photographer is working for. For a published credit that reads “Suzie Photographer/The Widget Times”, ”The Widget Times” goes in the Credit field. Nowadays, some people are putting the entire credit string in this field. Which freaks out automated publishing systems, yielding something along the lines of “Suzie Photographer/Suzie Photographer/The Widget Times”. Sigh. Your choice. Or don’t use the field at all if you don’t need it. Neither Google nor I will judge you.
I have written about the Copyright and Credit fields before. Visit this post. The search feature on this site will return some more posts that talk about Copyright.
Add – or refine – content to the new fields
Copyright URL/Web Statement of Rights needs valid content for you to benefit from the new Google goodness. Make sure the value in your template is complete, including that beginning “https//” or “http//”.
But where should the URL point? Mine used to just point to the front page of my site. I figured that anybody who wants to reach me will be able to click “Contact” and all will be good. But I didn’t have “https//” in the URL, so by Google’s lights, it would have been for naught.
What I recommend here is for you to make a simple landing page for people who might want a license. “Hey, thanks for your interest in my work. Talk to me and we’ll hook you up.” is all you basically need to say.
I made such a page for this site in a matter of a few minutes. It doesn’t appear anywhere on the site’s navigation menus. The only visitors who will see it will be coming from a link in my metadata, so it doesn’t have to be fancy at all.
If you have a page on a photographer’s portfolio site like Photo Shelter or Zenfolio or SmugMug, from which users can buy licenses, you could link there. Or you could make a landing page on any of those sites, too.
Or… I imagine that just linking to your home page or contact page would still be OK.
What about Licensor and Licensor URL?
If you’ve got ‘em, smoke em. It’s basically no work on your part to fill them in on your template and then you’re good to go. If you don’t have access to those fields in your metadata editing software of choice, I wouldn’t sweat it. By properly filling Copyright URL, you’ve got the “Licensable” tag and 90% of the benefit of the feature. Anybody who wants to buy a photo from you has the information they need to do so.
Of course, remember to add a good caption! Google doesn’t read embedded captions (yet). But identifying what’s depicted in am image is the main point of metadata.
Once a lot of images are tagged, the Google Images environment will be a better place – a little more honest-people-friendly and a little less thief-friendly.
Editing software support for these fields
I scanned through the software I cover to see which programs support these newly important fields and which didn’t.
Photo Mechanic – Supports Copyright URL, but doesn’t yet support Licensor and Licensor URL. Photo Mechanic’s lead developer Kirk Baker told me that his team is aware of the issue and is discussing potential solutions. Support is forthcoming.
Update Late April 2020: Photo Mechanic 6 now supports the entire Licensors structure, including Licensor Name and Licensor URL. See this post for more.
ON1 Photo RAW – Supports the Copyright URL field, but not the Licensor fields.
Photoshop – Supports both Copyright URL and the Licensor fields.
Adobe Bridge – Supports the Licensor fields, but not Copyright URL. Copyright URL is part of the Core Schema. What. The. Heck? I looked carefully. If I made a mistake, please let us know in the comments.
Adobe Lightroom Classic – Supports both Copyright URL and the Licensor fields.
Capture One – Does not support Copyright URL or the Licensor fields.
XnView – Does not support Copyright URL or the Licensor fields.
In sum, this is a zero-work thing. (Unless you’re using software that doesn’t support Copyright URL) Check your templates and you’re good to go. Depending on your software, “Get this photo on:” will either work now or be available to you later.
For website owners
What do those of us who operate “normal-size” websites have to do to make our web pages work with this new Google feature?
Just make sure your website does not destroy metadata. Then Bob’s your uncle. Or substitute whatever cliche for things being hunky-dory you prefer. Regular readers of this blog probably already have their sites whipped into shape.
To make sure, just grab a photo that you know has IPTC metadata. Put it on one of your pages. Visit the page in a browser. Right-click and download the picture. Go to the IPTC’s online metadata viewer here, or from the link at the bottom of this page. Or use any metadata-capable program.
If the metadata is there, it’s all good. You don’t have to do a darn thing and you and your contributing photographers can rest easy.
If you don’t have a marked-up photo handy, you can download the IPTC’s standard test image here. It has LOTS of metadata. I wouldn’t put it on a visitor-facing page, but that’s just me.
If your website fails the metadata round-trip test, the chances are it can be fixed in a jiffy.
Fixing websites that strip metadata
A plurality of all websites (some 35% of the entire web) run on WordPress. WordPress will use the imaging library ImageMagick if it’s available and has been enabled in PHP. Most WordPress hosting services offer ImageMagick. By default, ImageMagick supports metadata.
Turning it on is incredibly easy, but the exact method you’ll need to use depends on your host. Some hosts have easy-to-follow instructions in their documentation. For others – most of them, really – you just contact customer support via chat or phone and they’ll either tell you what to do, or more likely, just take care of it for you. Problem solved.
More and more WordPress hosts are enabling ImageMagick by default. If your host has already hooked you up with ImageMagick, we don’t need to be having this conversation. But props to your host!
The “other choice” for WordPress sites is an imaging library called GD. GD ships with PHP and is used if ImageMagick isn’t there. GD strips metadata. Currently, GD is at version 2.25. Support for metadata is on the roadmap for GD v2.4. When that day comes, it will be good news for content creators everywhere. But it might be a while.
Many big websites use the Drupal CMS. Drupal users need only install a couple modules and they will be able to choose their imaging library in Drupal’s GUI. That will take a good healthy three or four minutes. The hardest and most tedious part by far is reading my How-To post on the subject.
Super-fancy, custom-built websites, like the big news sites, may use any imaging library, but the chances are pretty good that a given site uses ImageMagick. And ImageMagick has likely been told to strip metadata. If that’s the case, it’s as simple as telling it not to by deleting an argument. Obviously, that’s a developer thing. And nobody is going to change a live server absent a pretty good argument for doing so. But when it comes down to it, it’s not a big deal.
If your website is static and your images are processed externally from your site and you have metadata stripping going on, just tell whoever or whatever is doing the stripping to stop doing that!
Another way to trigger “Licensable”
You can also enable the Licensable feature on your page itself, with schema.org structured data. This is a page-by-page and image-by-image thing, and you have to do it, as opposed to just letting Google parse the embedded metadata from your images. That’s a lot more work. Structured data is able to override embedded metadata, so that might be a reason to go that way.
Photographers and website operators alike – when should we make ourselves ready?
Well, right now would be good.
Seriously, we’re only being asked to do stuff we should already be doing anyway. All we really need to do is check and make sure our metadata templates are in good shape if we’re photographers and make sure our website is behaving as it should if we are website operators. We should check this stuff periodically anyhow.
Google says that Licensable should be up and running by late April, 2020. The more compatible content we have up before then, the better.
Will I zoom to the top of the SERP?
Google is saying that participation in Licensable will not be a ranking factor. That makes total sense. Right now there just isn’t enough properly marked-up content out there for Google to use as a basis for judgment. That said, in the long term, doing stuff that Google asks us to do is usually works out to our benefit.
Google has once again moved a step closer to a better world, where images are more likely to retain the information that makes them relevant to society. It took a bit of a lawsuit nudge to get Google’s heart in the right place, but no matter. Their momentum is in the right direction. Will it all help? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Google has begun actively surfacing copyright metadata on Google Images. Now that the Copyright field itself is working, users can see all three of the IPTC fields Google promised a few weeks ago. What does this mean for website operators?
It means that, if you haven't already, you should make sure your site respects metadata on images.
If you haven’t already, you should, ah… encourage your content contributors to put their names on their work.
Today - May 25, 2018 - the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect.
The GDPR is a 200-page law designed to protect internet users from spam and abuse at the hands of websites and services that use or store data on individual users. It applies to any website that does business with people who live in the European Union. Which means every website in the world. Including this one.
I’m posting this GDPR update to let you know that I take your data and security seriously. And, for that matter, to let you know how much I appreciate the time you spend on this site.
The Creative Commons licenses require - as long as it is “reasonable” - provision of a link back to the original work. For photographers, that means a link to an “original” file. In this post, we look at what kind of file to host and how to host it.
A South African photographer is suing an agency of the South African government for copyright infringement. He is seeking a breath-taking 2.1 B-i-l-l-i-o-n Rand in damages. (I’m sorry. I can’t even type that number with a steady hand.) That’s north of $180,000,000 in US dollars.
Looking for something? I just added a search engine to this blog.
If, say, you’re interested in using ExifTool to work with GPS data, you can now search exiftool gps, instead of reading through every post. (ExifTool and GPS are both mentioned in several posts, but closest to what you want, as of this writing, is semi-hidden near the bottom of the Emmanuel Macron portrait post. So, yeah, it was becoming pretty obvious that I needed to add that search functionality.)
(Note that I’m using orange type when I talk about search terms here because quotation marks have a particular meaning in the world of search and it would be confusing as all get out if I used them for, you know, quotations.)
There is a search box in the footer of every page and post, and the main menu at the top of every page and post now has a link to a search page.
Let’s get Boolean
The new search engine connects search terms with a Boolean AND operator. That’s like the default in Google
Today we have a new search tool and a primer on Boolean searching.
back in the day or the “Must Include All Of” option found in many search functions.
So, if you enter two search terms, like joe photographer a (hypothetical) post that included “Joe Smith is a great guy”, and “Suzy is a great photographer” would return.
AND means that a content item that contains both thisand thatand some-other-thing meets the criteria and will return. AND searches return few results (hopefully including what you were looking for). AND can be hard to wrap your head around. Another way of thinking about AND is that, on a Venn diagram, it’s the intersection. If thinking about Venn diagrams is how you roll.
You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking at first that an AND search would return, all summed up together, the results of individual searches for this, that, and some-other-thing. (Union, in Venn terms) You’d be wrong, but you wouldn’t be blamed.
OR searches are like summing up the results of separate searches. An OR search for joe photographer would return any posts that mention Joe in any way, plus any posts that mention photographer in any way. OR searches typically return tons of results that aren’t what you want. Venn-wise, OR is a union. In some programs, OR would be “Includes Any Of”.
That said, if you want to do OR searches here, I can buy an upgrade that makes that possible. Speak up in the comments. If enough people pester me about it, I’ll do that.
Our new search engine allows you use double quotes to search for an exact phrase. So “joe photographer” would return only posts that mention Joe Photographer specifically, excluding examples like the Joe Smith one above.
Partial strings are supported if the missing letters are at the beginning or end of a word. photo and grapher will both return posts with the word photographer. But graph will not.
NOT searches are not supported. Sadly.
Fancy search engines that I can’t afford (and would not likely be found in the sort of desktop software that most of you will use to manage your photos) allow users to string Booleans together like mathematical equations to make elegant searches. (joe OR photographer) NOT smith would return any posts that include either the words joe, orphotographer, but would exclude that anything that mentions that Smith guy.
So today we have a new search tool and a primer on Boolean searching. Enjoy!
Not finding what you’re looking for, even with the search functionality? It’s entirely likely that I haven’t written about it yet. Boot me into action in the comments.
OK. So what, exactly, is it that I want you to do about this metadata thing?
If you give birth to photographs – label them properly with a caption, copyright notice, and some contact information before you send them out into the world.
If you operate the means of publishing or distributing pictures, or if you’re just a cog in a great machine that does that, read the label to be sure you know what’s what and that you have rights to publish whatever it is before you publish.
If you run a website, make sure your server doesn’t strip the metadata labels, also known as Copyright Management Information, off of works that are published or distributed on your site.
What do I (you) get out of it?
If you’re a photographer, you get the warm and fuzzy of knowing that your work has a fighting chance of surviving. Maybe, years from now, somebody will look at that picture, understand what it is about, and who you are. Maybe that somebody calls you up to buy a license instead of stealing your work. (Or to ask your permission to use it, even.) Heavens to legacy.
In your own life, it means that when you have 50,000, or 500,000, or a million photos in your collection, you’ll be able to find the one you’re thinking of without spending hours or days looking for it.
…the balance of karma around you will improve. Your life will be a little better. The business environment in your segment will be a little better.
If you’re licensing your work to the future through Creative Commons or some similar means, it means that, well, that will actually work. Your work won’t just go in the dustbin after one use. Your name, the license information, and supporting data will be right there in the metadata and your work can be used again and again.
If you’re a publisher, metadata on a photo gives you the opportunity to be an honest person. (Without having to break your back about it.) That doesn’t suck. You know that you really do have rights to use that photo. You know for sure who’s in the photo.
You’re preserving culture
By not removing that copyright information, you’ll be following the law. The new, disruptive, novel, one-weird-trick way to not get sued in the intellectual property biz is to follow the copyright law. (A bold strategy if there ever was one. We should make up an acronym for it.) It’s an easy warm and fuzzy. Taking one more threat that might destroy your business, even if it isn’t a statistically huge threat, off the table is a good thing in my book any day. See this post.
And, if you have zillions of assets, you’ll be able to find the one you want, too.
How do you accomplish all this goodness?
Labeling your work with metadata is usually a two-step process.
Your copyright and contact information goes on your pictures automatically (All, or just the ones you might publish, or some that will serve as “signposts” when you are searching through your collection. It depends.) Depending on what software you use, templated information like that goes on your picture when you download them from your camera cards all by itself, or it might take a couple clicks and a few seconds for each batch of photos. (Look around this site for software recommendations and instructions, metadata explainers, and even downloadable starter templates. )
Then, it will take (a little) effort to caption and keyword your final selections. Maybe a minute for each published photo.
(Read what the copyright office has to say about registering copyrights. It’s not really a metadata thing, but since we’re here…)
Website operators, or agencies, or publications:
When a photo comes to you, look at it. Are the rights OK? Does the caption seem to be accurate? It only takes a second (literally) to look.
Insist/encourage photographers, clients and whoever might supply pictures to you to label them properly in the metadata. If – excuse me, when – they don’t, (and some always won’t) mark up the picture yourself. Trust me, you’ll save more time, money and lawsuits than you invest.
Software to do this? Pretty much every creative on the planet has the Adobe suite. Adobe Bridge will get the job done. Not pretty, but done. XnView works great and it’s so cheap it’s ridiculous. One way or the other, you’ve got to look at the picture. It doesn’t really take any extra work to see what the metadata says. See my software articles for specifics.
If you run the backend of a website, make sure your server doesn’t strip away IPTC metadata where all that culturally and legally important information lives. (See this post and this one for more information on how metadata is structured within an image file.)
In the interest of full disclosure: You will pay a small – insignificant, really – price in page load time for the 8 KB or so of metadata that you’re preserving. We’re talking about a millisecond and a half per picture for fixed broadband in the US (2017), and about four milliseconds for mobile devices. By way of comparison, it takes 300 to 400 milliseconds to blink your eye. So – not too bad a bargain.
If your website runs on WordPress, all you need to do is make sure your server is using ImageMagick (instead of GD) as its imaging library and important metadata will be preserved by default. Most hosting providers support ImageMagick, and many enable it by default. In the latter case, you don’t have to do a darn thing – except choose one of those providers. (In an upcoming post, I’ll publish the first edition of a chart listing providers who support or enable ImageMagick.)
If the provider supports ImageMagick but doesn’t enable it by default, it’s usually just a matter of contacting customer support (it’s chat, usually) and the deed is done in a couple minutes.
If your site is on a different CMS, it’s more or less the same idea. You might have to specify a different imaging library or change the configuration of the one you have. Most big-time industrial CMSes already use ImageMagick as their imaging library. In those cases, we’re probably talking about updating a config file.
Hold the phone
I hear someone in the shadows calling out “What about social media? What about phones? Aren’t those things dominating the media landscape now?”
Sort of. We’re not really talking about throw-away content here. That’s the whole point.
But throw away or not, professional content has to be, well, professional. It’s critically important for facts to be right. We can’t afford to accidentally use the wrong photo, or the photo the social media user didn’t authorize. And the quantities of content in the omnichannel world are staggering. Great metadata, great digital asset management and care and attention to rights and attribution help make the difference between living and dying for people working in a social media world.
Social media tends to strip away metadata. But you still need to keep track your assets. You should make sure every picture you put out there has metadata, regardless. If nothing else, you’ll be better able to keep track of the asset later. That stripped-off-by-the media-company metadata may or may not carry the day in some future legal hassle, but it sure isn’t going to hurt. See this post for more on what metadata needs to be on a photo you release and what metadata shouldn’t be.
By the way, your copyright and byline will survive a round trip through Facebook. Everything else ends up on the cutting room floor.
Social media companies may seem like such behemoths that we can never change their behavior. A little pressure won’t hurt, though.
Make metadata on mobile
As for phones – tons of photos are made with phones today. More and more each day. While most pictures that find their way to publication pass through a computer-based workflow on their way there, some don’t.
Not to worry! There are good metadata authoring apps available for both Android and iPhone. I’ll be writing about the best for each platform soon.
Will doing this really help? Will it make a dent?
Yes. It will help you. It will make the environment around you better. Your life will be better and easier.
I just suggested that publishers and agency people insist that photos they pay for be properly marked up. Poof! In one stroke, most of the pictures on your plate will be find-able and easier to use. You’ll save time and money. Life will be good. (Or better, at least. Your health, your family life – those things metadata probably won’t help.)
Photographers will save back the time and effort of marking up their stuff and then some. And just how many calls offering reuse fees does it take to make your day brighter?
If push one day comes to shove and one day you need to sue a copyright infringer, and that CMI in the metadata makes the difference between a lawyer taking the case and getting a judgment or not, that investment in metadata will make for a happy day.
Good works can go viral
There are trillions of photos floating around out there. In terms of that giant pile, good efforts by you and your friends might not make a statistical dent. But the balance of karma around you will improve. Your life will be a little better. The business environment in your segment will be a little better. That’s better than a dent.
And communities are interconnected. Trends take hold. The content creation and publishing communities are big, no mistake. But if the players in your niche start doing a good thing, it will spread to ever wider and wider circles of influence. Good ideas can spread through whole industries in no time at all.
Have you done something with metadata that we all should feel good about? Dive into the comments. Brighten our day!