Metadata where none was.

Monday, February 20th, 2006

We went on this terrific trip to Africa in 1999, and, long ago that it was, Sammy shot some three dozen rolls of 35mm slides, which until recently have been languishing in boxes, largely unedited, but nicely sorted and labeled. And although we had a slide scanner, its cranky SCSI connection made it a less than routine operation to digitize the images. Well, borrowing our neighbor’s USB 2.0-connected Nikon scanner took care of that.

But once you have the images, what do you do? I’ve often rhapsodized about the power of metadata accumulated along with imagery in most modern digital cameras. I can, for example, tell you this about the (digital) photo at top-right…

Camera Model Name : Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL
Shutter Speed : 1/13
Aperture : 3.5
Shooting Date/Time : 2006:02:20 09:22:30
Date/Time Of Digitization : 2006:02:20 09:22:30
Components Configuration : YCbCr
Compressed Bits Per Pixel : 3
Shutter Speed Value : 1/13
Aperture Value : 3.5
Max Aperture Value : 3.5
Flash : Off
Focal Length : 18.0mm

…and so on and so on. Well, our wonderful Africa scanned images don’t contain these invisible ‘tags’ that digital photos do—but they can be added retrospectively, and if we do, that data will live on within the huge 100 MB TIFF scans and to any (much smaller) JPEG versions we create. We can search for meaningful keywords within the photos. We will know what day (if not what time) the photo was made, even if the paper notes disappear. Life will be more groovy knowing that frame 6 of roll 52288 shot with our old Pentax is a picture of the river out in front of our tent at the Mwagusi Safari Camp at Ruaha, Tanzania, shot on February 3, 1999.

How could it not?

So not only have we been winnowing—choosing maybe 30% of the total images as worthy of scanning—we’ve been carefully making notes about the content and location of each image—much of this gleaned from Sammy’s notes during our travels, and all of that goes into a spreadsheet which is then used along with a cobbled-together Applescript and Perl script thingie to embed the data and rename the TIFF file from its original scan name to a name that reflects the roll and frame number of the original.

So, scanning at archive quality (about 5 minutes per slide), metadata restoration, archiving to DVDs, and then conversion to lower-res version JPEGs we can have in our iPhoto and on our iPod. This involves a lot of squinting and using my reading glasses (not a pleasure) and it’s amazing on a certain level that an unorganized guy like me could care enough to do all of this.

But I do, so we do.