A wise reader has asked me a wise question recently. The question went like this: “How do I organize my pictures for the future? What can I do today so that the pictures I leave for may family will be accessible in the future by my children and grandchildren?” This question made me think and realize that leaving memories for those we love is very important. Actually this is one of the main reasons we take pictures I think. Spending some time to understand new technology and future trends is worthwhile for everyone. If we don’t then we might embrace some tech fad today that will be obsolete in a few years and then all the work done using this “very cool new thing” will be wasted. So, what do you do to organize your pictures for the future?
Invest time in creating an efficient and flexible folder structure for your pictures
File folders have been around ever since computers were invented and they are the basic storage structure for storing anything digitally.
File folders will stay around for a long while regardless of the new approaches to cloud storage (i.e. Apple, Amazon, Google, etc). Even though this might sound “old school”, file folders will definitely be around in the future.
So, you’re not wasting your time trying to organize your pictures folders. Actually, you should always start with organizing your pictures folders first before doing anything else with your pictures.
Understand and use image metadata standards
An image metadata standard means that there is an agreed upon and consistent set of image metadata fields that always appears as long as the software used to produce it conforms to the standard.
Using image metadata standards to store your keywords, image captions and other data, will ensure that your metadata is future proof.
Currently there are three standards:
- EXIF – produced by the camera
- IPTC – human produced
- XMP – newer wrapper for image metadata encompassing both EXIF and IPTC
EXIF is the default image metadata standard used to capture data produced by the camera. It also contains geographic information (geo tags) that can be added by a camera or by a human using a map as in the case of Picasa.
IPTC – is an old standard containing fields like: description, keywords, country, city, etc. IPTC has been around since the 1980s and it is supported by most decent modern software like Picasa, ACDSee Pro, Adobe Lightroom, XnView, etc. This is the standard to try to work towards especially when saving your keywords. Picasa saves keywords (or tags) in the right place in the IPTC image header, so your keywords are compatible with any other software.
XMP is an Adobe standard which is pretty new and it provides ways to encompass any standard pretty much. It has wrappers for EXIF and IPTC but allows for much more metadata. XMP is a little tricky because if you’re using fields that are not in IPTC or EXIF, then you’re stuck to the software you’re using to generate the data with.
My approach has been to just stick to creating keywords and maybe image captions because these two fields are usually pretty standard and they go in the right place both in IPTC and XMP. Picasa generates both IPTC and XMP image headers with things in the right places. So, as long as you use Picasa to save keywords and image captions, your metadata will be safe even if Picasa disappears at some point in the future.
Do not rely on a particular software package for creating image metadata
I am not saying that you should change the software you’re using. I am saying however that you should not rely on any particular software package to read your image metadata. This means that you should never say to anyone “You need software XYZ to be able to read my image metadata”.
This means that use software that is compatible with EXIF and IPTC…this way you’re not stuck with some software package that will become obsolete. Software comes and goes, but as long as you stick to the standards and to file folders, your metadata will be safe for the future.