In a comment to my blog post from last week, Set Up Your Metadata View, a self-described N00b asked the question: What’s an IPTC? Well, it’s a good question with two primary answers. The first is that IPTC stands for the International Press Telecommunications Council which is based in the UK and which develops standards for the news industry. The second is that the IPTC acronym is used by photographers and photo editors in the news industry to refer to the standard set of metadata attributes defined by the IPTC that can be applied to images.
This set of attributes, first defined in the 70’s and significantly updated in the 90’s, encompasses pretty much any bit of metadata that you can think of attaching to an image that might be useful for the news organizations with distribute and process vast numbers of images. There are dozens of defined attribute names, many of which are useful only in a news-based workflow. However, there are a number of these attributes that are useful in any context, such as a headline for an image, a caption, the location of the image, a byline indicating who took the image, and a copyright declaration.
With just these bits of information embedded into an image in a standard format and using standard attribute names, a photograph becomes immediately more valuable and useful to anybody that happens to get their hands on it.
As an example, click on the photograph of my yellow Escape on a snow covered road. It should open in a new window. You’ll see that this image is being hosted on Flickr and that the image’s page has a title, caption, and tags that give more information about the photograph. I didn’t manually set these in Flickr, though I could have. Instead, I added this information once in Aperture using the IPTC Headline, Caption, and Keywords metadata fields. I then used FlickrExport for Aperture to upload the image to Flickr. The rest happened automatically.
If you were to pull down the original size image from Flickr (at least at the size I uploaded it to Flickr at), open it in Preview, and then pull up the Document Info for the image, you would see how this is accomplished. Here’s a screenshot of what is shown so that you don’t have to jump through those hoops:
You can see that the Headline, Caption, Keywords, and more all match up with the data displayed on the Flickr page. You can see even more details on the Flickr More properties… page for the image. And, here’s the real benefit, since I set this data once in Aperture, I can upload this picture to another photo sharing site and if that application supports ITPC metadata, this information would automatically appear on that site as well with no further work on my part.
In a world where your images could end up literally everywhere, IPTC metadata gives a standard way to communicate the important information about your image to whoever might receive it.
The only downside to using IPTC metadata is that every application that touches the image and then saves it needs to specifically pass the IPTC metadata along those derivative images. Professional applications like Photoshop will preserve IPTC metadata just fine. Unfortunately, many other applications don’t. In fact, Flickr as an application doesn’t. The IPTC metadata is present in the original file uploaded to it, as shown above, but the metadata isn’t currently propagated to the smaller images that Flickr generates, including the small thumbnail I’m showing above. If you save the smaller image off to your desktop and inspect it, you’ll find that there’s no IPTC or even EXIF metadata in the image. I consider this to be a bug, and one that I’ll be reporting to the Flickr team now that I’m aware of it.
Anyway, that’s what IPTC is and why it’s important. By design, Aperture does the right thing in a way that is seamless to you. All you need to do is add metadata to your images. Aperture does the rest.
*** As a footnote, I should mention that IPTC metadata attributes are designed to be attached to most any media, not just images. But since we’re talking about Aperture here, I’ve intentionally glossed over the other use cases for IPTC metadata.