Metadata is important because it helps you and other DAM users find the right files (keywords), understand the content of the files you find (descriptions) and use those files correctly (rights management). That sounds great and all, but who is going to enter all that metadata?

The short answer is: hopefully someone else!

If you can use metadata that somebody (or something) else provides, you can save some time and headache. Here’s a list of DAM metadata sources, starting with preferred options in terms of more accuracy and less work required on your part:

Your Computer

Modern file systems keep track of basic but useful metadata. Just go into Explorer or the Finder and look at all the metadata your operating system tracks: date created, date modified, size and filenames (the original metadata!). Most DAM systems can automatically catalog this information. You might not need to create your own Project Start Date custom field if you can just search on the OS-provided Date Created field. Good stuff so far, so let’s continue.

Your Devices

This is where things start to get interesting. Cameras and other capture devices automatically record information like the date taken, GPS location and optical/sensor settings as embedded metadata that travels with the file into the DAM. If you’re thinking about creating and populating a custom field like Event Date, consider using the Date Taken EXIF timestamp recorded by a camera or the date created/modified reported by the OS as mentioned above. This is free metadata, people!

Your DAM System

DAM systems can often generate new metadata based on available information and document content. Some examples include keywords generated from the filename and folders containing the file, the text content of PDF and office documents, or locating visually related images based on content or color. You might not need to fill out the Description field in a catalog full of PDFs if you can simply search on file text contents. Turn that content into metadata!

Your Supplier

Do you have a photographer providing images, or perhaps an outside agency delivering project files? If you’re paying someone to provide digital assets, they may be able to include metadata along with the files they provide (good stock photo providers already do this).

Ideally, your supplier will embed the metadata so it travels with the file and automatically appears when cataloged in the DAM. The easiest way to do this is using standard metadata fields, or repurposing standard fields for workflow-specific use. For example, having the vendor put the “Part Number” in the “Job Standard” IPTC field. Now it’s their problem instead of yours.

Your Colleagues

This is where you might need to start calling in favors, explaining how a little time spent up front means more time saved tomorrow, or just outright bribing people (baked goods work wonders). Make sure you have standards in place so information is entered quickly and correctly -- taxonomies can help, as well as cheat sheets.

Your Applications

If you’re already working in another application outside of the DAM, like Photoshop or Bridge, you may find it’s more convenient to enter metadata within that application. In addition, the application may automatically add additional metadata for you (such as the “Creator Tool” used to edit the file or the “Color Mode” of a graphic). Custom file info panels can help here by creating custom forms within Creative Suite for metadata capture.


Metadata is essential in digital asset management, but entering metadata doesn’t need to be a painful and time consuming process. Be sure to focus on what you and other DAM users will actually use. There’s no point in entering information that won’t be used. Once you know what metadata is important, use the above list to figure out where to best source that metadata.

Where do you get your metadata? Do you rely on one or more of the sources above? Is there a source I missed? Let us know in the comments section.

Title image courtesy of Achim Hering via a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

Editor's Note: To read more by Edward Smith

-- Digital Asset Management: Are You a Rich Media Hoarder?