Over the past few years, I’ve become much, much better with developing and maintaining solid metadata for my photography. It’s become a key part of my photographic practice.
Before I was a very serious photographer, my practice was to take whatever pictures I took with my camera and dump them into a folder system very loosely and arbitrarily organized by date. If I went on a trip or if some other kind of significant event happened, I would start a new folder. Afterwards, I might start yet another folder and would continue down this route however I felt like it at the time. It was all very unsystematic.
In more recent years, I turned around my unsystematic ways and got more organized. As a database programmer, it came very naturally for me to spin up a custom database by which I manage and describe all of photography. Going all the way back—all the way back—to the very beginning of my photography, my AFS exchange year to Australia in 1994, I spent a lot of time dating photos to the best of my ability. With digital images this requires no work since the camera records a date with the image upon creation. But for my film photography, this was much harder. Certain cases were more problematic than others simply because I didn’t bother recording dates during my teenage years and my early 20s when I was using a film camera. Beyond dates, I’ve also been grouping photos under various series centered mostly around location (i.e., where I took a photo) and rating photos, among other things. Especially in cases where I didn’t have a lot of solid information to go on, piecing together clues stoked old memories, which was fun.
I’ve found that last thing—rating photos—to be especially useful. With a rating scale of 1 to 5—1 representing photos that are so bad I don’t know why I hang on to them, 2 representing photos that make me think “meh” upon seeing them, 3 representing solid but not remarkable images, 4 representing worthiness for a photo album, and 5 representing exceptional images—the exercise forced me to consider what elements of a photograph make for better compositions than others. And it’s just a way to isolate photos I truly like from the mass of so-so photos I’ve taken over the years.
With the recent turn of weather away from summer and toward clouds and rain, now has been an excellent time for me to get myself caught up on another data point I’ve neglected in my photography database: keywords. Using a somewhat looser system for capturing everything from a feeling that a particular image may have—urban grit, dreamy softness, humor, and so on—to a particular photographic technique I may have used—backgrounds in focus with foregrounds out of focus, wide angle closeups for intentional distortions, and so on—keywording each image is proving to be more time consuming and mentally taxing. But again, it’s made me far more conscious of what makes an image a pleasing image to me.
For my keywording project, I’ve made it back as far as August of this year. That’s a span of about a thousand images (I guess I’ve been taking a lot of pictures these past three months). My plan is to do diligent keywording both moving forward as well as going back as September 2021, or the time I got my hands on a decent interchangeable lens camera. I may go back in my personal photography catalog even further.