Sunday, March 13, 2011

The IPTC-NAA standards

The IPTC-NAA standards

What are the IPTC standards?


Way back in the dark ages (OK, it was the 1970's) of image transmission, AP and other wire services actually sent images via machines that were little more than fancy fax machines. A black and white image was printed out line by line similar to how an inkjet printer of today works. Alongside the image would be typewritten information regarding caption, location source, crediting, etc. Typically the caption would either be cut off, or photocopied, and the two would go their separate ways. The text would be sent to editors, while the "photo" would go elsewhere for reproduction. If one or the other got lost or misplaced it would take valuable time to track it down and possibly mean missing a deadline. Obviously there had to be a better way.

Jump forward to today, where each image file can be saved using Adobe Photoshop with this text information embedded within the file. Anyone that's worked around newspapers, with digital images or image databases for a while has probably heard the acronyms IPTC or IPTC-NAA tossed around, usually when discussing the use of the File Info feature of photoshop. But few understand what they mean or what they stand for. The short story is that IPTC, the International Press Telecommunications Council, was one of the groups responsible for encouraging the standards necessary to"marry" the text information describing an image with the image data itself. The NAA is the Newspaper Association of America (formerly ANPA), and they also have been responsible for developing standards for exchanging information between news operations, including information used to describe images.

At this point, some of you are thinking,"OK that's enough about history, I'm doomed to repeat it, just show me how to use these IPTC "thingies" to help me find my images." If that's the case, you may wish to jump to the chart of Sample IPTC fields below. If you need some help in figuring out how each of these IPTC fields actually appears in your version of Photoshop, download the IPTC Core mapped fields PDF. For those that want a little bit more background about how these standards came to be, read on.

A Brief History of the IPTC
Standards regarding metadata for news images have evolved over time, beginning in the 1970's when some were first issued as"guidelines." However, most of these efforts were regional in nature, and focused on text. As news organizations moved from manual typewriters to CRTs (Cathode Ray Tubes) and VDTs (Video Display Terminals) these standards were revised and became more specific. Only later, as the world embraced the web, did the standards begin to address multimedia content.

In 1979, the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) approved its first news exchange standard IPTC 7901. This provided metadata and content in plain text only; the only delimiters allowed were spaces and line breaks. Despite these limitations, IPTC 7901/ANPA 1312 is still in use. In the '80s, the IPTC and ANPA standards were revised, updated and expanded into other areas such as radio and broadcast television. As the '90s approached, these various groups focused their efforts on a new standard that could serve various media, not just text....

What's the difference between FFO or XMP?
Which IPTC fields should I use?
View the IPTC Core mapped fields PDF

View the Users Guide to the IPTC Core panels (PDF) on the IPTC website
What programs are there to edit IPTC Metadata?
Is there an easy way to view IPTC or other Photo Metadata?
Which IPTC fields do you suggest to use for stock photography image collections?
List of Software supporting IPTC photo metadata standards IIM and "IPTC Core"