Working with Metadata in Adobe Bridge

For a short introduction to Metadata and its utility for architectural historians, see this post. This page includes basic instructions on how to get metadata embedded in images so that when you send a file out into the world, its caption stays with it. We are all librarians now.

In all versions of Photoshop since CS, the image browser in Adobe Bridge is set up like a light table, where you can view small thumbnails of your photographs, write captions for them, and delete any unsuitable ones. Similar functions are built into other file browsers as well as more sophisticated image management systems (sometimes referred to as Digital Asset Management software).
The browser interface in Bridge looks something like this, in version CS3 (click on any of these images to see a larger version in Flickr):
Bridge default view

You may customize this view to suit your purposes and I suggest you do so. I have rearranged my screen in Bridge to look like this when I’m entering metadata:
Bridge view 4

On the right are all the thumbnails in the current folder. On the left are two panels that show, in the upper left, the current folder, and at the lower left, metadata for any selected images. The metadata panel is where the action is, since this is where you will provide detailed caption information for each image. This screen will become very familiar to you in short order.
Before you do anything else, you will want to change the metadata fields that display in the lower left-you want to have all the fields you need available and there’s no need to fool around with fields you don’t want to populate. To do this, select the small icon at the upper right of the metadata panel, and select Preferences (or, under the “Edit” menu, select “Preferences,” or use the CTRL-K hotkey):
Bridge view 3

The next screen will look like this:
Adobe Bridge metadata panel

Go down the list and check or uncheck the fields you need to display. Use the IPTC Core set of fields and NOT the IPTC (IIM, legacy) set, which is more constrained. A good basic set includes Creator (ie, photographer), Description (detailed caption), Location (building name or street address), City, State/Province, and Country. Add Copyright, if you like, and Keywords, if you use them. As long as you use Location, the Title field is redundant but has utility when you want to provide, for example, an alternate name for a building. After you’ve done this, the metadata panel will look something like this (note that this view also includes the Camera Data, or Exif fields, which display information about the exposure, equipment used, etc. These can be disabled or enabled, too, as you prefer.):
Bridge view 2

Once you have set up the fields to display in Bridge, the labeling itself is quite easy. First, select the image for which you’d like to write a caption. With the thumbnail highlighted, click in the field you’d like to edit, and type away. Next, press the TAB key to move down to the next line of the caption information and enter the relevant information.
After entering your metadata, press the return key OR click the check mark at the lower right of the metadata panel to confirm your caption and make it a permanent part of the file. You have now entered a caption for a single image.
Because, in any given set of images, many of the metadata fields will be identical (and sometimes all of them), it is MUCH faster to enter this information for multiple photographs at once. To do this, select a series of related images by pressing the CTRL key while clicking with the mouse (as images are selected, their border will turn a darker gray). Choose all the buildings in a single town, or all the views of a single building. Now, enter data in the fields, as before, that is common to each of the files. You can also type a generic caption in the Description field. Press Enter or click the check-mark to accept the caption for all the images you’ve selected and the information will be embedded in each file. To complete the caption, select the files individually to write the precise description (“Printing Office, detail of threshold on rear door,” eg) for each image. Click next to “Description” to do this, then enter the information and accept the new caption without changing any of the other fields.
Once you have done all this once or twice, it will become second nature. Labeling your images in this way ensures that caption information is never lost and, better still, many image management programs incorporate this information into their databases automatically. It is, additionally, far faster than trying to write descriptions of any kind on tiny slide mounts, one at a time, or maintaining racks of slide drawers.

2 thoughts on “Working with Metadata in Adobe Bridge

  1. Hi! Adobe Lightroom is also an excellent tool for keywording, organizing sets plus making localized or global adjustments to photographs or sets of photographs. Plus, it is nowhere near as pricey as a full-blown version of Photoshop and features a more intuitive (in my opinion) interface for making adjustments.

  2. Yes, I agree that it’s a fabulous tool. It is better at cataloguing images than Bridge, which is really a sophisticated browser, and it contains a marvelous set of image-adjustment tools. It is almost all that I ever use, these days, to catalog and process my photographs.
    Perhaps it’s time for a short piece on Lightroom, now that version 2.0 is out.

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