IPTC Keywords: Do it on all your photo library, but not on all of your photographs.

seila  ( 4 min. read)

Or “How I Learned to Stop Inserting Metatags on Each  Photograph I Took and Automatically Improved My Search Results”

Any blatant reference to the classic Blake Edwards comedy aside, it is probably the sheer elation I felt recently, after I stopped being unrealistically fussy about how to properly use meta tags on my photographs, and decided on the course of action I’m about to tell you about, that has compelled me to write these lines in the hope I’m somehow striking a new ground of sorts here. Why?
First of all, because saying I’ve been on this road before for quite long a time (ie., searching for a magical serum that would suddenly get me rid of all of my meta tagging ailments) is perhaps, the very definition of the word understatement, as  rewinding my mind back to the now-distant years of 2004-5, I am reminded that’s when I first bought a digital camera (they were more frequently called that, with a deliberate emphasis on the “digital” part),  as well as a a boxed copy (another expression going in disuse) of ACDSee image organizer, (then o version 5.0)  I already was in the impression that proper metatagging of my then-budding “digital” collection from the word go, was, erm,  the way to go.

What followed after that as the decade progressed, was a parade of different PCs (another oldfashioned word, perhaps going the downward path of “digital”), laptops, operating systems (mostly Windows, sometimes, but in moments of lucidity, Linux) and consequently, changing from ACDSee to another piece of free software, be it Digikam, Xnview or paid (Adobe Lightroom) software.

So, to the first conclusion I got to?

Well, that whatever software you happen to use to help you out on that endeavour matters less than, first, finding a method and sticking to it!

So, asI think  I cannot stress this last statement’s importance enough, I’ll write it over  again, but this time, rewording, capitalizing it (no shouting intended) with the ad hoc double exclamation marks: CREATE YOUR OWN METHOD AND STICK TO IT!!

Why?After reading and watching related videos ad nauseam, I came to the conclusion that whatever method I created, it should solely meant to facilitate my finding my own images quickly, not all those people’s! I cannot say I got to it straight away: by a very long time I was in the fruitless hope someday, somehow, the clouds in the sky would clear up, heavenly rays of light would shine on me and the angels would blow their trumpets – the moment I learned something magical from someone in particular. Useless to say that moment has never actually happened!

Photoshop CS6 screenshot.

Photoshop’s metatag window (press CTRL+ALT-SHIT-I for it) with its many tabs, can be undeniably overwhelming as well as an overkill for most of us; making it therefore the last resort when it comes to metatagging your files. There are indeed better tools for that.

Only when I realized the monkey-see-monkey-do approach wouldn’t do me any favours, I realized I had to change, before any piece of software or tagging system, my own mindset about it.

Reaching such an “epiphany”, so as to speak, would require from myself (and no one else, first of all) to be able to answer a few, honest questions, such as “what do I really wante from keywords?” or “Are titles or comments really that important for me, as long as keywords enable me to find what I’m after?”, and so on. And it was answering questions of that kind, that I concluded, among other things, that:

– No fooling around with keywords I’d propably not be even looking for, such as those exclusively aimed at stock photography submissions – only those I’m prone to look for later on, are the ones I care to include.

_ I don’t have to be as specific with location as having to input, for that matter, IPTC fields such as city, state/province or IPTC country code, because, in the end of the day,  all I need to find my beloved photographs is the precise location where I was positioned when I took the photo (and the GPS coordinates will do just that) along with the location of the subject being shot, and those fields will more than suffice for that purpose.

– If all I want was to be able to find this or that shot representing a sequence of whatever theme, subject or whatever popped to my mind, it’s just about time I stopped tagging all similar photographs within an specific series and only picked and chose one or another from that series that would represent it (in the search results) as a whole.

The more than welcome side effect to this last decision was that I could bypass XMP   sidecars, for instance, because I simply dreaded the fact some programs in the future might have a mind of their onw (and they usually do!) and decided to give a rat’s backside to whatever .xmp sidecar file I’d carefully crafted a few years back. So to that, I decided I would keep my RAW files (or DNG, for some time) in subfolder of that particular photoshoot (mine are organized by whatever day they were shot on) and would create a duplicate JPG file from only a few selected shots that I may (or not) be processing/editing in the foreseeable future.

As I said, that’s my very own system – regardless of how daft or crazy others reading this might think it is, it simply works for me. And that’s what this article is all about after all; regardless of how radical you consider some of its ideas if it inspires you to go on and find your own method, I’m pretty certain it will have served its purpose.

With that in mind, I won’t even delve into more details of the bis and bobs of its workings, but I’ll just summarize my own method for the sake of illustrating this text:

1 – On two external hard drives I keep a synchronized (not a backup, mind you, as I want my storage method to be as platform-independent as possible) of a generic “Photographs” folder, in which subfolders respectively for year, month and day are created and, inside the latter a subfolder with all my RAW files for that day, but on the upper one, JPEG files from said RAWs – but only from a few representing shots – not the whole damn series!

2 – These JPEGs are then renamed by YEAR-MONTH-DAY HOUR-MIN-SEC plus a serial three-digit number (I used by sometime the in-camera filename, but that turned out to be a bit confusing) in order to avoid any namesake conflict.

3 – Said JPEG files are then give their appropriate IPTC keywords (which unlike the past decade, are now in fact store into the XMP section of the files. Plus: their respective IPTC title, sometimes a headline, altitude and latitude coordinates (easily done by the likes of ACDSee or Geosetter, for a freeware option), location (which is the actual place the shot takes place, not where I was positioned when I shot it, which usually are two whole different beast when you use a long telephoto lens! For this later, the GPS coordinates will take care of easily. The copyright disclaimer, which, in accordance to the IPTC guidelines is something like: ©2012 Jane Doe, all rights reserved. and sometimes for the hi-res TIF files created from processed RAW, the number of megapixels (it gives me a quick assessment of whatever restriction a particular photo might have for any photo contest or even print size) – which is something XNVIEW image organizer quickly shows on one of its EXIF fields.

XnviewMP screenshot

XnViewMP customized to my own needs. 1) My folder structure 2) A subfolder within a day with the untouched RAW files 3) Information literally at my fingertips 4) Colour and Star-rating system 5) Where I get the megapixel field from.

4 – I also take advantage of the colour-taggin system (ever more present these days in the same XMP field for apps as varied as ACDSee, Adobe LR and XnView, for instance, plus the 1 to 5-star rating system, itself usually read by all of those same software titles.

And, that’s it! I’ve got only the shots that really matter physically organized on my hard drives, appropriatelly keyworded, tagged and ready to be put to good use  whenever I need them. What else could I ask for apart from more patience time for doing that to a +30K photo library!?

As I said before, these are my two cents to a personal meta-tagging system that do work for me. Go and find your own!




Project #1: The City of London at Its Quietest – continuation

timer-32 ( 4 MIN READ)

As stated in the previous post that actually kick-started this urban photography project blog, ‘The City of London at its Quietest’, I furhter my impressions as to why this may be an interesting project to endevour into after all. Specially if you take into consideration the blatant fact that London’s own financial district can definitely be, during business hours, a daunting place, to say the least, for photographing less busy scenes. I mean, scenes devoid of all the hustle and bustle one typically finds taking place in that area during business hours. Not that us street photographers mind busy pavements and thoroughfares. It has notoriously been quite the opposite actually; as we usually have, for a century and a half – when film became fast enought to (kind of) freeze movement – tried, whenever possible, to include in our shots, as many people going by their business in public as possible – either for context or to help us tell a story.

But, (a sound ‘but’ here) sometimes, all we want to include in our shots is the odd single passer-by (or a small group of them, moslty) ‘interacting’, so as to speak, with their surroundings, or “no person at all”, as renowed street photographer James Maher rightly puts it on his ‘The Essentials of Street Photography‘.

In this post’s particular case, I couldn’t agree more with that assessment!


Fleet Square, with an oddly-shaped sculpture whose colours, in my opinion, complement beautifully those of the flower bed’s – colours which were obviously maximized by the marvelous Kodak EBX positive emulsion I used to take this picture. Copyright (C) 2005 – Nilson Bazana

So my point is, for the sole purpose of “staying in” in The City, when most have gone away temporarily, is a great way to look at The Square Mile under an wholly different perspective.

That is, “The City”, as Londoners usually refer to it, under a much less crowded point of view than the one we are usually used to look at it from. This may proves, as it has to me, to be a great source of photographic opportunities, where that, weren’t for well-known landmarks (by Londoners, at least), might as well not being recognized as belonging into the Square Mile, at all – even by a cab driver!

Out of hours, The City’s dwellers play hide N’ seek – it’s up to us to search them!

The Wikipedia entry for The City, informs us its population shrinks, by the time the last desk lamps are switched off, or office cubicles’s real estate start to be taken over by the armies of dutiful cleaners, from hefty 300,000 inhabitants (actually commuters) to a much humbler 7,000-resident figure! (a recent documentary presented by Stephen Fry claims those numbers to be 400,000 and 8,000 -a more up-to-date figure, perhaps?

Statistical differences apart, it’s obvious this abysmal shift deficit of its inhabitants’  tally, does account for the quietness, solitude (even eeriness, sometimes!) you might feel, by literally losing yourself in irs umpteen roads, alleyways and narrow passages.

Coming Across a True Phenomenom

I personally came to think more of this phenomenon in particular, when I was freelancing, in the mid noughties, not as a photographer, but as a chef for the freelancing division of world-wide catering giant Sodexo. (I still make no secret that I’ve always been a proud amateur snapper – with the odd weekend assignment – without ever becoming a full pro).

As that job took me everywhere in London (one week I’d be in the London Underground’s head office  – which unbeknownst to even seasoned Londoners, is underneath St. James’s Park station – to popping into to the massive kitchen in the UK branch of PricewaterhouseCoopers in The Embankment, or the to Fleet Street, in a much smaller kitchen for the cafeteria for a law firm – I’ve seem them all!

So, I recall leaving my job mid afternoon (start early, finish early, that’s one of the few perks of being a chef) on Fridays usually, and, after dealing with one or another personal engagement, strolling eastwards –  camera loaded with some 36-exposure transparency or B&W film ready to fire hanging from my neck – thinking: “I’m gonna walk at my heart’s content till the lights get too dim.”
Thinking in retrospect, security guards in those days were definitely more lenient on those pre-July 7 Bombings days, than it is the case nowadays, as I walked freely in and out of said buildings during working hours, without even a single eyebrow being risen as to the contents of my rucksack!

So, what really struck me was how different the district in question looked as the afternoon advanced towards its end: private owned sandwich shops, unlike the likes of  Subway, were, by 4 pm, all shut; there were less buses, taxis… and, above all, much less people on the streets. Cleaners and other contractors – whom you usually saw during the week mostly through thick glass windows, and only after dusk had settled in – were now outside, washing the pavement, putting the rubbish out (trash, for you lot across the pond) or having a fag. In summary: both quietness itself and contractors had, by late afternoon, almost totally taken over a large chunk of the Square Mile!


Only a stone’s throw from Fleet Place, short, crescent-shaped Limeburner Lane starts up just off Old Bailey criminal court – only to end up, a few hundred yards ahead, on Ludgate Hill, opposite the City Thameslink station. As this was taken during the same photographic stroll of the photo above, the film is the same Kodak EBX. Thought not a great photograph, and this scanning in particular not making justice to the emulsion’s dynamic range, one can easily tell the lonely figure is all but a blue-collar city broker. Copyright (C) 2005 – Nilson Bazana

And so I proceeded to shoot, as you can see by the diversity of places and different times of the day  the shots illustrating this and the previous post show, and on on my website on www.nilsonbazana.com or Instagram feed.

So, what are your own experiences in this charming place? Do you concur with what I’ve just said or had a totally different experience there? Feel free to drop us a few lines and let us all know it, if you like.

On the other hand, if this somehow inspired you to make incursions into the City of London with the sole purpose of photographing its inherently-quiet weekends’ and holiday’s loneliness, I couldn’t recommend this enough, as great photography project.

Project #1 – The City of London at Its Quietest (or any other busy urban area you know, for that matter)

Edit – November 2016: Entry’s title changed to reflect the new direction this blog heads for from now on. (Come on! We all are allowed to change now and then, arent’t we?)

Roaming the streets of London, camera hanging from the neck, occasionally snapping the odd street scene, is certainly an experience many a British or cosmopolitan photographer (myself included in this latter group, as I left London for other shores quite some time ago) won’t easily forget:
Brushes with tourists ever avid to make the great capital in a couple of days; your own wondering of where the heck those pickpockets the police sign tells you to beware of,  are actually lurking from at that precise moment; the odd overzealous London cop (bobby) inquiring the heck of you as to your actual purpose (if any) for photographing a certain government building – the list is endless!

But before anything, a little disclaimer of sorts: please, mind you who may not have had the honour/pleasure/heart (your mileage may vary) of visiting the well-known capital of Buckingham Palace, Harrod’s, black cabs and red buses yet (you definitely should!):

The “City of London” referred to in the title of this entry and along its lines, is not London itself, but its very own financial district instead, which is called just that. So, think of The City of London to London, what you’d think of Wall Street to New York. Cappice?

Moving on with the post itself, on my own personal level and keeping to its photographic theme (lure), something I’ve got accustomed to, when it comes to photographing The City, is eagerly awaiting for weekends in order to catch a rather different glimpse of “The Square Mile”, as it’s also known as. Don’t get me wrong: I love getting lost among the bubbling crowds of tourists and execs alike – from Fleet Street to Liverpool Street:
It’s just that, by only sticking to photographing it during those busy hours/days, you might be missing a certain character of that area seldom seen on the average “street photograph”, so as to speak.

So, as I start at this moment pondering over the pros and cons of said habit, I invite you to wait for the weeks to come for the next installments as to why shooting scenes in one of London’s busiest neighbourhoods – but at its quietest time – was by some time, a rather hard-to-break habit of mine.

So, I’ll be naming, on those oncoming entries, the right time, nooks and corners of that adorable concrete jungle which may as well strike the same creative chords in your photography – as I’d like to think it did to mine, back then.


I know, the example above is not exactly a technically-perfect one to illustrate this brief introduction (more serious ones are still to come, promise!) but it does depict that solitude I strive to contrive (haven’t  I just come up the loveliest rhyme?) when being there at the right time (wrong for most) of the day and week. It depicts Carter Lane, at its narrowest alleyway-like part, on a quiet Saturday afternoon.


TECHNICAL BIT (USUALLY SEEN BY PIXEL PEEPERS ONLY!): The film I used for the shot above was the now-defunct (what a surprise!) Kodak Elite 400, pushed to 800 – hence possibly, the low dynamic range (even for slide film) that ended up curbing my attempt at not having a washed out sky – I’d obviously exposed for the shadows, on the handful of frames I shot of this scene (I’d always do exposure bracketing with my Canon 50e – even though that camera’s light meter is a notoriously outstanding one). Nonetheless, I think it conveys the theme I’ve been on about in the last few lines.

More on that later! Continue reading