Image Text interface with keywording in progress.
Photographers should be out shooting, not sitting at home inputting keywords or reducing images from 16-bit to eight.
That, essentially, is the motivation for photo industry consultants Electric Lane in creating two scripting plug-ins for Photoshop – Image Text and Image Visa, which add meta data and check and correct the images – both prime examples of using automation to help photographers and picture libraries in their workflow. “It’s the first system of its kind that has the ability to fix as well as check for problems,” claims Electric Lane founder Sarah Saunders.
The recession has bitten into photo library sales, and micro-stock is cutting away fee levels, so agencies are looking to reduce costs and improve productivity. Many agencies have shed staff, moved to lower cost or shared premises, and cancelled representation of photographers whose work was not very saleable or was supplied with too many faults to correct. This tandem application (they function as two parts of a whole so they are not purchasable separately) inserts metadata and automatically corrects the image to the preset photo library standard, so they are ready to be uploaded to a website and licensed straight away.
Science Photo Library, which is using the system with a test group of around 15 photographers, is pleased with it so far. “This is a major advantage for photographers,” says Giancarlo Zuccotto, one of SPL’s directors. “Their images can be on the website the same day, instead of in a two-month backlog for checking by our staff. They can also be immediately sent out to our distributors.”
When you install, the scripts each generate a code, which you then email back to Cookson to receive the unlock code. This seems cumbersome, but Electric Lane is anxious to ensure that only legitimate users have the application. I was using the trial version, which is the “plain vanilla” non-customised application. It is intended to be customised to the exact requirements of each photo library. “It is all about productivity,” says Saunders. “There is a great deal of repetitive manual checking and correction that can be done away with by automation. This is easier on both the picture library and the photographer.”
Image Text inserts description, keywords, caption, credit and other metadata into the IPTC header (“File Info” in Photoshop). When I first started the application I left the credit as XXX instead of my name and later found that I could not amend that. The designer tells me that this is because I am using a trial version, and that photo library versions have the photographer’s name preloaded to avoid this.
Image Visa corrects images for size, format, resolution and interpolation, and removes errors like extra layers, channels or paths. It can convert CMYK to RGB, assign a colour space such as Adobe 1998, reduce 16-bit files to eight-bit and has many other features that are customisable. The workflow is run by Image Text, which creates small previews to work with. When you are finished with it, you close it and run Image Visa and the original images are modified and the metadata added. If they are ok they go into the Pass folder. If there is something wrong with them they go into Fail, and various reports are generated. The script adds a bit of code to the photographic file so it is not good trying to cheat by moving failed images to the Pass folder because they will just be automatically rejected by the photo library anyway.
Both applications are very simple to use, mostly self-explanatory with little room for confusion, and dialogue boxes pop up to tell you if you are doing something wrong.
Image Text pictures can be previewed one at a time, or in batches of nine. It has a traffic light system that goes from red through amber to green when you have added the correct amount of metadata. The keywording can be saved as a template. The Image Location box should have a preset so, for example, UK is the default selection, so users don’t have to click List > Continent > Country each time you run the application. There is a box called Instructions, which is part of the File Info IPTC structure, so the thing to do is select the None tick box and the field will turn green.
The SPL system is set up so that its photographers assign images into one of its seven main categories. Zuccotto suggests that a spell-checker should be added to the next upgrade of the application, which seems a good idea. Although you do not have to do all the importing of data at once, it can be split over several sessions, any image that does not have green traffic lights in all required fields will be failed when you run Image Visa.
SPL’s version also has a facility to attach a property or model release PDF to the image file, though the trial version does not. Image Text also automatically cleans up duplicate keywords, and some wrong punctuation. Once you are satisfied with this process, you click Finish: it then tells you how many images have passed or failed. Because the images you are using are small preview files, this is quick and not processor intensive.
But the Image Text keywording system is not as well worked out as it could be. I keyworded a folder of environmental images that had wind turbines, solar panels and an identifiable person in the frame. Then there were more wind turbines, so I named the person and when I made it a template, it overwrote the previous keywording. This part of the package needs more development. It would be much better to have separate templates to attach, because often keywording is variations on one or several themes.
Time after time
Next you move on to Image Visa. I found it slightly annoying to move through menus and dialogue boxes to run the programs, so if I was doing this every day I would record an Action to speed up the process. Image Visa goes through the main files, adding the metadata from Image Text to them and correcting them. This can be a time-consuming process, depending on the number of files and how large they are, but it is totally automatic and the user can go away and do something else, or perhaps let the run go overnight. After it has finished, all the good, corrected images are in the Pass folder, and any that are below the specified standard are in Fail, uncorrected. A report called Audit.csv will be in the Data folder, which tells you what has been done to correct the files and why others failed. You can open a .csv file in Microsoft Excel or any similar spreadsheet application. The failed images are left uncorrected so that the photographer can investigate and remove any problems that have been revealed by the software
I was surprised at how many errors could be found in a random batch of files from various photo libraries that Cookson showed me to emphasise how necessary the application is. Aside from various extra layers and channels, CMYK images not RGB, and files that were too small or had the wrong resolution, there was a topographical mapping image that had 5MB of invisible paths in it. These would have been country or province borders but they could play havoc with a printing process.
Image Visa can be set up to make duplicate images and thumbnails automatically if that is required for small website preview images, for example. Set-up starts at £350 +VAT, with an additional fee per photographer of £50 +VAT.
Architectural photo library View Pictures is also using the software and its director Dennis Gilbert (featured in BJP’s April issue) is full of praise for it. “It is fantastic. The applications take all the worry out of uploading to the website, you know the images will be fully ready for use. Photographers are slightly unique individuals and previously we had some problems with images being, say, 16-bit or containing extra layers. With this we now know they will be perfect.” He says the program has speeded up View’s workflow and made it more efficient.
In summary, Image Text could do with a little more development, but Image Visa seems an excellent product. Together they cut out a lot of the most menial and time-consuming technical work to make an image ready for the marketplace.
Most Popular Articles
Updating your subscription status
We have a vacancy for a Key Account Manager working on The British Journal of Photography
Magnet Harlequin, one of the UK's leading Creative Production Agencies is seeking a new Head of Photography.
We have opportunities for two experienced photographic, audio or video technicians.