Editing image metadata of digitized analogue photos?


I’m interested in hearing what workflows people apply around old photos that has been scanned / professionally digitized. Needless to say, these image files will come without any metadata at all.

  1. What metadata fields are relevant to think about? Obvious there is date-time, but is there anything else worth considering? Some text notes perhaps? Anything else?

  2. What software do you use for editing metadata of large batches of photos, and how do you do it such that the photos retain the correct order? Estimate a date-time for a photo series and then space their date-photo metadata 1 second apart? Setting the same date-time and instead relying on filenames to maintain the correct order?

We recently had a thread on “Rearranging photos” that asks about software to change date-time metadata. This thread is a little more general since I’m interested in all aspects of this photo digitization :slight_smile:

IPTC is the photo metadata standard.

Here is a page listing fields you can use, descriptions of them, etc. That whole site, photometadata.org/ is pretty relevant to your question.

I tend to do as much as I can in Lightroom these days. I use the latest version as part of Adobe’s $100/year Photoshop/Lightroom Creative Cloud subscription. Here is a basic overview to metadata editing in Lightroom

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I probably should write up a big blog post about this because I have some very strong opinions. I’m in the middle of a major project to digitize, catalog and organize around 40,000 slides and negatives and about 50,000 digital native images. This is just my family archive. The Historical society archive is smaller but harder to do. It’s comprised of about 1500 glass plate negatives from the early 1900s and then abut 150 large old physical scrapbooks that are from local clubs and organizations. The info goes back to the founding of the town but he books themselves are deteriorating rapidly and need some form of preservation.

I use Lightroom for all my cataloging so this is all based on Lightroom. I also use Lightroom CC Classic not the cloud version.

Decide on a file naming scheme first and do all file renames outside of Lightroom.

Decide on a physical image file storage scheme and then move the files into it before you import into LR.

When you Import the photos use a keyword preset that includes process keywords that make sense to you. Mine are @needsCaption @needsCopyright @needsCreator @needsKeywords @needsNames @needsTitle @partialKeywords @WIP

WIP is for ones I am working in the develop module. As I finish each task on a photo I remove that kayword from that photo. By creating smart collections I can quickly see how many photos are in need of what cataloging step.

Think about how you will search for images and then develop a robust hierarchical keyword history. Use special characters to separate process and disposition keywords and no spaces allowed for portability later.

On the keywording part, think through how you will be searching for the pictures. I actually defined a big portion of my LR keyword structure before I did any actual keywording in the app. I went through several iterations of it with a small 1000 image sample catalog before implementing it on the big catalog. I cared about Who, What, When and Where and set up structures to capture that. I have a well defined hierarchical set of keywords so that applying a keyword at the bottom of the tree automatically includes the upper keywords. My top level is written all in CAPS so that I know it’s a major category, below that I use a well defined plan for singlular vs plural, scientific names and common names using synonyms and then to individuals. I have a lot of animal pictures so I actually keyword into taxonomic categories but that is a function of the images I am dealing with. For people my top category is PEOPLE then I keyword them with names in the format lastname_firstname_middlename For married women I include maiden and other names as synonyms but usually my visible one is the name I know the person by. For events I have a top level category EVENTS and then within that keywords of birthday, party and so on and then specific ones within that.

So for example: I have 3 pictures I took of my rams in snow . Initially they come into LR with the process tags all as keywords and the year as a keyword. Yes I duplicate years in my keyword scheme. My first step is to look at and decide if I am going todelete any. I very rarely delet any pictures, disk space is cheap and I’d rather have more options for later. Then I decide to keyword them all. I know the names of each ram in the picture so I add those as keywords. now I have all 3 with keywords of Desert_Weyr_Tiberius, Desert_Weyr_Wick and Desert_Weyr_Wentworth. By adding the bottom sheep name they automatically also got keywords of ANIMAL, ovine, sheep, domestic_sheep, Breed_BWMS That’s my Who. Then I added the keyword Garvin_Mesa which also adds Paonia, Colorado, United States and PLACES keywords. That’s my Where. I added a keyword of snow, which also added WEATHER as a top keyword and I added a keyword of winter which added SEASON The date and time I took the picture is already in there because it was in the file my phone captured so with those keywords I’ve answered the When question. For digitized images I’d go in and edit the date time original and date time digitized fields in the EXIF data for the image.

By just adding 6 bottom level keywords I’ve now actually added a bunch more. I decide that is all so I delete the keyword @needsKeywords since I’m done with that process on those photos. I also am done with @needsNames so I also delete that keyword from the photos. I decide that only 1 of the 3 needs a caption so I add it to that one, and add a _no-caption keyword to the other 2 so I know I am finished with that part. Then I delete the @needsCaption keyword. I did my import with a preset that included the creator of the images (me) and the copyright data so I can delete the @needsCopyright @needsCreator keywords too. Even better would have been to remove them from the preset but I haven’t gotten that done yet. I’m not going to title any of them. I also am done with doing keywords and I have no plans at this time to do any editing of the photos so I delete the @needsTitle @partialKeywords @WIP keywords and add the _no_title keyword. Again I could really benefit by making some more detailed presets but haven’t done it yet. These pictures are now fully cataloged. The entire process to do the pictures took me about 2 minutes. I’ve spent far more time typing it out for you than I did to do the task but it was all predicated on a rich, robust keyword hierarchy that I had predefined. The searching is simple I can select all with sheep and find these and many others, if I need just Black Welsh (my BWMS breed) I can do that, or maybe I want all pictures of Tiberius because I’m doing a scrapbook page about him and his grandfather Kirk and want to have pictures of both of them at the same ages. For most ordinary folks you can think of replaceing my sheep names with people names. I have far fewer pictures of people since it’s just me and my husband. This is a really long winded way of trying to explain the full process of cataloging I use.


I really like the basic info presented in Peter Krogh’s books


A couple of other good resources:


and this is useful for search and replace of metadata


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Here is a list of my process and use keywords:

_published which has the following underneath. In practice I’ll attache one of the lower one like _scrapbook and the _published gets added automatically


I’m a big fan of hierarchical keywords. other people prefer a flat structure. pick one and be consistent. I started flat but then it just doesn’t really work for me the way I think so I changed.

Other than camera data I’ve basically been able to edit most everything in LR. I do have it set to show both EXIF and IPTC though.

Thanks for the answers so far. I have changed the title to not mention EXIF since I wasn’t aware of the IPTC standard. What I actually just meant was metadata :slight_smile:

I’ll read the answers in more depth later. I see several suggestions of Adobe Lightroom, and while it looks good, I’d also be interested in options that doesn’t cost a subscription and is less powerful. For my own usage it’s more a putting old analog photos in the best digital shape I can, but all photos I’m taking today and in the future will be digital and born with rich metadata.

So if anybody have experience with a less expensive option than Lightroom, I’d be interested in seeing suggestions here as well :blush:

LR is the “standard” out there, but it’s not even the best piece of software. My main grief with it is that it’s painfully slow. But you can avoid some of it’s shortcomings.
That said:
There’s a lot of free software out there.
AnalogExif, exiftool, darktable, digikam, Photos.app.

Absolutely no need for LR.

Yes, you can include or exclude keywords, either in the search or in smart collections.

When did you last work with it?

I’m running on my main iMac which is an older device but it’s plenty fast enough. I’m never waiting on the software except during a huge import as it’s building the smart previews. No performance hits that I’ve seen although a few of the folks on the LR forums say there are some slowdown when you get to 250-300K photos cataloged.

I just did a test. With LR up and only showing my last import of 9 pictures in the Library module in grid view I clicked on the left hand side bar on the top level of my folder structure on the Picture_Files_Cataloged top level folder which has 23691 photos in it. They are in a structure by years and then by month and day so several layers deep. However, all of the thumbnails were up and visible in the grid view within 2 seconds. The most I have in any single folder is just over 4000 images and as far as I could tell it was instantaneous to see them. when I selected just that folder.

What behavior are you seeing that is slow?


When did you last compare the time you need to preview, cull and keyword a shoot to the time it takes in PhotoMechanic?

Interesting your line of thought: “never wait…except”. I don’t have time for those exceptions. There’s a reason PhotoMechanic is the go-to tool for sports photographers (which I worked as when I was young and dumb). C

Export 1000 images as JPG from LR and C1: C1 wins. Just measure with a watch and see how it’s export routine is 15-20% faster.

As for your 23691 example: you are negating the whole import process. Remove them from LR and then start from scratch (with included junk photos). Both in LR and PhotoMechanic. How much time until you have a culled, keyworded, sorted collection? What I can do in PM in 1 hour takes double (at least) in LR. And now having a DSLR with insane resolution doesn’t help at all.

I don’t even start LR when I am on the move, because I don’t want to waste time listening to whirring fans.

I guess we have different usages of the software. For me: LR is too slow.

Just one example from my previous life as photojournalist: get back after a moutain-bike race with 8-10 full CF cards and deliver the 50 best shots to the agency’s FTP withhin 30-45min. With IPTC. LR had huge improvements in it’s speed, but that’s my bar for speed. Not doable with LR.

I’m a LR used since the first beta rolled out, assisted in the development of some modules, teached LR workshops, am a (still) certified professional photographer and for ME Lightroom is slow. YOUR usage is different.

I’ve never used Photo Mechanic.

I misinterpreted your issue. I thought you meant once you are working within LR.

Your use case (8-10 full cards) is something I’ve never done or run into. In my personal catalog I think the largest picture import I’ve done as a single import is maybe 500 pictures and that was years ago. I usually am importing a months worth of personal pictures or a single roll at a time of the scanned historical stuff so small numbers. I also am never under that sort of time pressure to get things done quickly. I do the scans, then later I’ll do imports in to LR, and then I’ll slowly work through my workflow process of finishing the cataloging by completing the metadata. It’s a very different way of working.

I can see that slow imports would be an issue in a newsroom.

I have been experimenting with tethered shooting direct into LR of some of the historical stuff but not much more than testing. I’m still trying to get the proper camera and light setup that works for that material. For that project the time between positioning pages will be the long pole not any speed of import so again I wouldn’t see the issues you see with LR.

LR had huge improvements in it`s speed. Especially zipping through a folder became way faster. But certain tasks are still not there yet.

I understand the import routine. But I’d like some kind of “speed” option or mode. Import as fast as possible, just show the empedded preview and start sorting, culling, keywording.

That said: if I had to choose just one tool for my photography, it would be LR. C1 is getting dangerously close, but I`d still go for LR.

For reference, I settled on this app: https://neededapps.com/metaimage/

Now it’s just a matter of putting together a strategy and going the actual work at some point. Thanks everyone for your input.