Digital workflow for Flickr


I am still looking for a good solution for my digital workflow for pictures on Windows Vista. I want to be able to easily tag my pictures locally on my hard-drive and on Flickr and keep the metadata in sync.

Let me describe the state of affairs.

Metadata in images

With metadata I mean the info I add manually to a picture, like the title, author, description, tags and GPS info. A digital camera already adds lots of other data to your pictures like aperture, camera model, if the flash fired or not, etc. This info is usually stored in an EXIF section in the JPEG file. For other metadata there are several options: EXIF, IPTC of XMP. IPTC is an older standard. XMP is more flexible (e.g., it allows Unicode) and modern.

The Golden Rule

This page states the golden rule of metadata:

Store the metadata in your images

Adding metadata to pictures

While in Redmond two weeks ago, I uploaded a subset of the pictures that I took to Flickr. I added the metadata through the site. Flickr does not embed this metadata in the file. If you download the original image file, the title, description and tags are gone. So I basically violated the Golden Rule.

A better option is to add the metadata before you upload your images to Flickr. Locally I can embed the metadata as IPTC or XMP in the JPEGs using a variety of tools. This way your metadata flows with your image to Flickr. If you download it again, the metadata is stil there.

The easiest option to add metadata to your images is to use the Windows Photo Gallery built into Windows Vista. This stores metadata in an XMP section in the image file.

Unfortunately, Flickr only imports metadata from EXIF and IPTC and not from the XMP section. So all the images that you tag in Vista show up untagged on Flickr.

Vista Flickr Uploader

My colleague Matthijs (who still won't reboot his blog, not even to market his own app 😉 has written a Vista Flickr Uploader tool to solve this problem.

His Vista Flickr Uploader app is written in C# and uses .NET 3.0, most notably Windows Presentation Foundation and the Windows Imaging Component. He open sourced it through CodePlex. This tool solves one way of the problem. When uploading your pictures, it extracts XMP info from your pictures and adds it to Flickr as metadata.

Microsoft Photo Info

As an alternative to tagging through Windows Vista Photo Gallery, you might want to try out the Microsoft Photo Info tool. This is a free download from Microsoft that works on both XP and Vista. It integrates into the Windows Explorer. The great thing about this tool is that it can read and write both IPTC and XMP info. So your metadata is recognized by Flickr when you upload your images.

Embedding metadata from Flickr

So Vista Flickr Uploader or Microsoft Photo Info solve one way of the problem: getting metadata from your images onto Flickr. The other problem still remains: getting metadata from Flickr into your images. I found one tool (.NET 2.0 based) that is able to download images from Flickr and embed the Flickr metadata as IPTC. It was quite unstable and wasn't really able to find my images so I won't link to it.

Remaining problem

Another problem that this download tool caused was inconsistency between the IPTC and XMP info in the image files. Imagine the following scenario:

  • Tag your images with XMP info in Vista.

  • Upload them with the Vista Flickr Uploader.

  • Flickr now shows the metadata from the XMP.

  • Change the title, description or tags on the Flickr site.

  • Download the image from Flickr with a tool that embeds the Flickr metadata into IPTC.

You end up with an image file with both IPTC and XMP info. The XMP info is out-of-date, yet it takes precedence in Windows Vista ;(

So I am looking for a tool that downloads pictures from the Flickr site that embeds the Flickr metadata as both IPTC and XMP info or just as XMP. I wasn't able to find such a tool, so I will probably have to write my own app to do this.

[Update 2007-08-31: I have now written such a tool: FlickrMetadataSynchr.]


A possible alternative might be to use a really powerful metadata tool and library written in Perl that allows you to extract and embed metadata in almost all known formats. Phil Harvey's ExifTool can even be used to read ID3 info from MP3 files. I could use it to wipe XMP info from images so the IPTC info is used again by Vista.

The problem with this command line tool is that it works really low-level with the potential of damaging the metadata beyond repair. I.e., other programs refuse to load your images because they can't make sense of the metadata.

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