Working With IPTC Metadata

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The industry standard for photographic captions and keywords is IPTC metadata. Photo Mechanic is designed to give you ultimate control in how this information gets added to your photos. These tools are meant to help you do this quickly, accurately, and efficiently.

IPTC Stationery Pad

Keyboard Shortcut
IPTC Stationery Pad

Mac: ⌘-I
Windows: Ctrl-I

Captioning a group of images is very simple using the IPTC Stationery Pad. The Stationery Pad can be applied to single images or a selection of images making it perfect for adding information to whole sets of images at one time.

To use the Stationery Pad in this way, make a selection of images in the Contact Sheet and then open the IPTC Stationery Pad under Image / IPTC Stationery Pad on the main menu bar.

Type your data into the various fields and make sure the checkbox to the left of each field you wish to apply is checked. If unchecked, that field will not be applied. If you have a set of data that you use regularly, like a list of Photographers, Cities or States, you can set up a custom dropdown list for all of the fields in the IPTC Stationery Pad. Next to each field is a dropdown list arrow which will open an Edit option when first clicked. Click on Edit to bring up a word list dialog where you can enter any number of items and add them to the list.

The IPTC Stationery Pad.jpg

This menu allows you to select from a list rather than type in the same words each time. One other benefit from this approach is that all the spellings will be the same as well as the case. Even slight misspellings will throw off a search so using the drop down lists is a good way to ensure consistency.

Next to each field in the IPTC Stationery Pad is a dropdown menu. Click on the Edit option to bring up the Edit IPTC List dialog where you can type in new entries and hit Return/ Enter to add them to the list.

Adding items to IPTC Lists
It is good practice to set up as much of this as you can in advance, and to export the data and keep a backup. If you have whole sets of data that you use on a regular basis, you can save the entire Stationery Pad to be loaded later. Use the Snapshot button to save the current data to use again later.

Normally the IPTC data is added to files by replacement of existing data but this may not always be desirable. You can ‘append’ data to Keywords, Caption and Caption Writers fields by checking the Plus (+) sign next to the field. This will then append the data rather than replacing whatever is there already.

Hint: It's a good idea to add a space at the beginning of appended text so that the last and first text characters do not run into one another.

Holding down the modifier key causes the “Clear” button to change to an “Options” button. Click this to set options for which data fields are cleared and which are kept unchanged when you use the “Clear” button.

Using the Modifier key gives you options on which IPTC fields to clear

Job: Quickly access User/Client variables from this button

Sequence: The {seqn} variable allows you to add an increasing number to certain fields. Set the start of the sequence here. (Learn more about Image Variables)

To see a description of many IPTC fields, see the IPTC Variables Map


This dialog complements the capabilities of the IPTC Stationery Pad by adding a thumbnail view to the selected image and the ability to step through a selection of images without having to return to the Contact Sheet view. You can get to it quickly by hitting the 'I' key, That's 'I' as in Imagine.

Iptc info.jpg
Keyboard Shortcut
Prev-No Save
Mac: ⌘-Shift-{
Windows: Ctrl-Shift-[
Mac: ⌘-[
Windows: Ctrl-[
Next-No Save
Mac: ⌘-Shift-]
Windows: Ctrl-Shift-]
Mac: ⌘-]
Windows: Ctrl-]
Mac: ⌘-U
Windows: Ctrl-U
Copy Data
Mac: ⌘-Shift-C
Windows: Ctrl-Shift-C
Paste Data
Mac: ⌘-Shift-V
Windows: Ctrl-Shift-V
Most of this dialog operates much like the normal IPTC Stationery Pad with the difference being this applies only to one image at a time. All fields can include Variables and there is a Snapshot button to save commonly used data sets.

In the top right of the dialog, under the thumbnail, are seven buttons:

  • Left Arrow: Move to previous image, without making changes
  • Right Arrow: Move to next image without making changes
  • Save & Left Arrow: Apply IPTC changes and move to previous image
  • Save & Right Arrow: Apply IPTC changes and move to next image
  • Save, Upload & Right Arrow: Apply IPTC changes and open the Upload dialog, then move to the next image
  • Copy: Copies the currently displayed IPTC data to the clipboard
  • Paste: Pastes any IPTC data from the clipboard to the current image

Note: No changes will be made to a file unless the OK button is pressed or either of the Save arrows are used.

The modifier key adds functionality to the Clear, Apply Stationery and OK buttons.

  • Options: Changes which fields are Cleared
  • Copy to Stationery: Copies whatever data is set in this dialog to the IPTC Stationery Pad
  • Eval: Click this button to see how any Variables are resolved

Hold down the modifier and Ctrl key and the Apply Stationery button changes to Apply to Selected. If you have a selection active in the Contact Sheet window then this will apply the current metadata to those images, much like the IPTC Stationery Pad does. All non-empty fields will be applied.


Keywords play an important part in any archiving setup and Photo Mechanic adds some extra functionality to this field in both IPTC Stationery Pad and IPTC Info.

Clicking on the dropdown arrow on the Keywords field of the IPTC Stationery Pad or IPTC Info window and clicking on ‘Edit Keywords...’ brings up the IPTC Keywords dialog where you can set up a Master list of Keywords and select out of it the ones you want to use. By using the Snapshot button you can set up sets of keywords related to different subjects or jobs.

Adding Keywords can help finding photos later on

You can add, delete, or change keywords from your master keywords list. Note: Changing a keyword in the Master keyword list does not change the keywords on previously-saved photos. It only changes the entry in the list. If you wish to change a keyword that has already been applied to multiple images, you can use Find and Replace.

After setting up the Keywords list you can select them from the dropdown list next to the Keywords field in the IPTC Stationery Pad and IPTC Info display.

Use the additional Snapshot buttons to save either the Current or Master lists for later use.

Keywords Panel

Keyboard Shortcut
Keywords Panel

Mac: ⌘-K
Windows: Ctrl-K

Adding Keywords to selected photos

Another way to keyword an image or a set of images is by using the Keywords Panel. You can access this panel by choosing the ‘Keywords Panel...’ command on the Image menu.

This panel operates on selected photos and can be used interactively with the current Contact Sheet. Select some photos and then use the Keywords Panel to apply keywords to the selected photos.

Multiple sets of keywords may be saved and loaded from the Snapshot button. If you want to make a new subset of a list of keywords, you can Command-click the individual keywords to select them, then use the ‘Snaphshot from selected’ button to create a new set.

  • Add, Delete, and Change buttons work just like they do in the Keywords Dialog.
  • Load from Master loads the current set of master keywords (used above in the Keywords Dialog on it’s right hand column) replacing the current set of keywords.
  • Save to Master saves the current set of keywords over the master keywords list as used above in the Keywords Dialog on it’s right hand column.
  • Applying: text field may be edited directly to change keywords or quickly add in a keyword that you don’t want to add to your keyword list. Just add keywords separated by a comma or a semi-colon (depending on your IPTC/XMP Preferences.)

Then to apply the set of keywords listed in the ‘Applying:’ text field, click on the ‘Apply to selected photos’ button. The keywords will be applied according to the popup menu just above the button. The choices in that popup menu are ‘When applying, append keywords’ which only adds keywords, and ‘When applying, replace keywords’ which deletes any current keywords each selected photo has before adding the keywords.

Structured Keywords

Keyboard Shortcut
Structured Keywords

Mac: ⌘-Opt-K
Windows: Ctrl-Shift-K

Beyond the basic functionality of a simple linear keyword list is the concept of controlled vocabulary and a hierarchy of keywords. There are two different Structured Keyword ‘tools’, one is a floating panel which can remain open and the other is accessed through the IPTC/Info Dialogs. Both have similar functionality, the slight differences being how the keywords are finally applied to images.

The main Structured Keywords Panel is accessed on the menu bar through Image / Structured Keywords Panel.

Organize Keywords into a structured hierarchy

Photo Mechanic comes with a basic vocabulary which is intended as a starting point and to illustrate the concept of nested keywords. Each keyword can be a parent, sibling or child word, forming a hierarchy of words from broad categories like ‘Animals’, to more detailed ‘child’ words like ‘Birds’ and on to even more detailed words like ‘48 Spotted Pardalote’.

‘Animals’ and ‘Plants’ would be sibling words and would appear alphabetically in the same panel. Each column to the right lists ‘children’ of a highlighted ‘parent’ word. The grey triangle to the right of a word indicates that it has Child words in the next column.

‘Grey’ words denote Categories, ‘normal type’ words are Keywords and ‘bold’ words are synonyms of the currently highlighted keyword.

Keywords can be added to files either singly or as the whole ‘path’ which includes all the ‘parent’ words. The preview field displays what the path will be; click on Add Keyword to add the last word in the list to the Collection panel or on Add Path to add the whole string of words. If you wish to use a path as a single keyword entity, use the Separator option by checking the ‘Use separator between keywords in path’ checkbox.

There is a search function for keywords, type in the word (or sub-string) and click ‘Find’. If there are more than one result the ‘Next’ and ‘Previous’ buttons are activated.

To save time when using large lists of searched for keywords there is an option to present the results in a list rather than the Next/Previous method. Hold down the modifier key and the ‘Find’ button will change to ‘Options’. Click the button to select how many results should be displayed in one list dialog.

  • Apply to: adds the words to either the Keywords field or the Caption field of the IPTC metadata.
  • Append: adds new keywords to any already in the field. Note : if this box is unchecked Photo Mechanic will replace any existing keywords.
  • Double-click: there are 4 options for when you double click on a Keyword.
  • Apply path to selected: applies the whole keyword path directly to selected images.
  • Apply keyword to selected: applies the keyword directly to selected images.
  • Apply collection to selected: applies the keyword directly to selected images.
  • Adds Path: adds the path to the collection panel above.
  • Adds Keyword: adds the keyword to the collection panel above.
  • Synonyms: options to exclude synonyms, to add synonyms only at the end of the path or all along the path.
  • Add Path: adds the path of the selected keyword to the Collection panel. Add Keyword : adds the selected keyword to the Collection panel.

Synonyms are different words with identical or similar meanings. It is useful to include these words in keyword list because you can never be certain whether a searcher might type in, for example, beast or beasts. Searches are ‘literal’ in the sense that a search for ‘beast’ will not show results that only have the term ‘beasts.’

In this way many different groups of keywords can be assembled into a Collection of keywords which can then be applied en masse to selected images using the Apply buttons in the bottom right hand corner.

This is a very powerful tool and there are many ways to use it to add keywords to your images. The exact method used will depend on your own workflow and how much detail you need from your keywords.

The other Structured keywords tool, seen below, is accessed through the IPTC Info dialogs by clicking the arrow next to the Keywords field. The main difference is that the keyword Collection is applied to the keywords field of the IPTC dialog when ‘Apply’ is clicked, thus the ‘Apply to’ dropdown and the three lower Apply buttons become redundant and are not included in the dialog. All other functions are identical.

The simplified Structured Keywords dialog found in the IPTC Info panel

If you want to create your own controlled vocabularies they can be created from scratch by right-clicking in the columns and selecting ‘Create Child’ or ‘Create Sibling’ etc. You can Import text files using the Load and Merge buttons, and edited lists can be saved using the Save button. Saving and sharing lists is a good idea when multiple users are adding keywords so that all words are consistent across users and all spelling are the same.

  • Save: allows you to Save the current database to a file of your choosing. You don’t need to use Save unless you want to export the database to another system or share it with a friend. PM always saves the database internally for you as you make changes to it.
  • Load: allows you to completely replace the current database with the file you’re loading.
  • Merge: allows you pull in only the items in the new database that don’t already exist in the current database. This is useful for people who update their database on their machines but subscribe to a standard database (like the Controlled Vocabulary database) and want to get the latest version but don’t want to lose their own additions.

Vocabulary File Format: It must be a text file encoded in UTF-8 which means it is fully Unicode compatible and supports any language. There are plenty of free text editors for both Mac OS X and Windows that can read and write UTF-8. The layout of the file is simply a tab-delimited set of words with special wrapper characters that determine the type of item the word is. Simple items (keyword items) have no wrapper character at all. Category items (items used for organizational purposes only and are not part of the hierarchical path) are wrapped in ‘[’ and ‘]’. Synonym items (items that are synonymous with their sibling item) are wrapped in ‘{’ and ‘}’. The easiest way to see this in action is to Save out the built-in structured keywords to a new file and then open it up in a text editor and see for yourself.

Structured Keywords Context.jpg
Commercial lists can be purchased from sources like David Riecks’ Controlled Vocabulary website :

You can also manage the keywords from within the Structured Keywords interface. Just right-click on an existing term and the contextual menu will appear.

  • Rename: Allows you to rename the text of an item.
  • Create child item: Adds a new item that will have the current item as its parent. This new item should be a more specific term than the current item.
  • Create Synonym: Creates a child item that is synonymous with the parent item.
  • Create sibling item: Creates an item that is at the same level as the current item.
  • Set type to Synonym/Category: Changes the type of the current item.
  • Delete the current item and any children underneath it.

Find and Replace

Keyboard Shortcut
Find and Replace

Mac: ⌘-Shift-F
Windows: Ctrl-Shift-F

Find and Replace is a powerful way to make broad changes to the IPTC data in your images. Photo Mechanic can search through the metadata in the currently opened Contact Sheet looking for a defined string. For each one it finds, Photo Mechanic can replace that string with another one.

The Find and Replace panel is under the Edit menu or use ⌘-Shift-F to open it.

Find Replace.jpg

Type in the string you wish to search for, paying special attention to case and spelling.

You can toggle off the case sensitivity using this checkbox.

Fill in the ‘Replace With’ box with the text you wish to insert and choose the fields within which you wish to search. This can also be used to change capitalization. You can find "soccer" and replace with 'Soccer" or "SOCCER." You can also use Photo Mechanic variables in your replacement: You could replace "ISO HERE" with {iso}.

It is important to note that all instances of the string will be replaced, so use the check boxes to limit the search to the fields you wish to search.

You can also choose between “All Photos” in the current Contact Sheet view or just the currently “Selected Photos”.

Click the “All” button to check all the IPTC Field boxes together or “None” to uncheck them all.

Click on “Replace” to start the Find and Replace operation.

You can Snapshot the options in the Find panel for later use. They will save and restore the Find: popup selection.


Snapshot button.jpg

On all of the most commonly used dialog boxes you will see a small Lightning symbol this is the Snapshot button and it is used to make a quick copy of the dialog’s current settings. Click on the button and you will be prompted for a ‘save’ name and it is best to use something meaningful here.

In future, when you click this button, not only will you see a Save option but also a list of all the previous Snapshots relevant to that particular dialog box. Selecting a named item will load the Snapshot, restoring the settings.

The Save As dialog is a great place to use this– you could set up two different Snapshots, one for large web images and one for small thumbnail web images. Run the dialog twice over a selection, using each Snapshot and you have very quickly generated a set of images for the Web. This is very similar to the Export option, but like many things in Photo Mechanic, there are different ways to do many things and it is up to the user to determine which best suits his or her needs.

Snapshots can be managed by modifier-clicking on the named entry in the snapshot list. This brings up the Finder or Windows Explorer opened to the folder where the Snapshots are saved.

In the Finder or Windows Explorer, you can copy, rename and delete the snapshot files if you would like. When you return to Photo Mechanic, the snapshot menu will be updated.

Snapshop menu.jpg