There is little you can do to stop someone who is determined to steal your images. Watermarks are easily removed and website scripts are defeated with a simple screen grab. These attempts only mar your work and make your site difficult to navigate.
In this tutorial I’m not talking about protection from image thiefs, I’m talking about protection from lost opportunities. Times when your images are inevitably downloaded, blogged, cropped, reblogged, faved and saved, and end up orphaned on someone’s hard drive, ffffound, imgfave, tumblr, or email—especially when that person likes your work and would really love to hire you, if they could just figure out where the image came from.
This happens more often than you think; art directors are constantly grabbing images whenever and wherever they see them, but seldom have the time to organize them and make note of where they came from (they should really be using Evernote). Months or even years down the road they might find your image floating in a random folder, uselessly renamed li4tceEqMb1qe.jpg by Tumblr, your name & website address croppped by an ignorant blogger leaving TinEye with no results.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could tuck your name, website and keywords and copyright information into every image to avoid this situation? You can—using Metadata.
Metadata is data about data—like the Created and Modified dates you see attached to every file on your computer. It’s like a little text file appended to files only adding a few bytes to the total file size. You might already be familiar with EXIF metadata added to JPGs by digital cameras, scanners and phones. The metadata I’m talking about in this tutorial is IPTC, but all you need to know is that by the end you’ll be able to embed your name, website, email, phone number, address and copyright into every image—automagically.
Batch Add Metadata to your Images
with Adobe Bridge
The first thing you’ll want to do is add metadata to all the images you have online, so that when your image goes walkabout, your name and contact information go with it.
1. Make a local backup of your website. Download all your images, or your whole site if it makes it easier, using FTP. Having an exact copy of your website on your hard drive is good practice anyway. Make another local copy, or a ZIP of your entire site in case something goes wrong.
2. Open Adobe Bridge. I am not a fan of Bridge, but this is one thing it’s actually good at. You can also use free tools, but your mileage may vary.
3. Navigate to your images. If your images are organized into folders select View > Show Items from Subfolders and uncheck View > Show Folders. You should now be looking at thumbnails of all your images. Select all by going to Edit > Select All or Ctrl+A.
4. Open the Metadata Panel (Window > Metadata Panel) and click one of the pencils on the right. Fill out the desired fields, especially Creator, Creator Website(s), Copyright Notice, Copyright Status, and Rights Usage Terms (this is where you put ©Your Name, All Rights Reserved). Click the checkmark when you’re done.
5. All done! Click one of the images to confirm, then upload everything back to your FTP, overwriting your old files.
Create a Metadata Template in Photoshop
You don’t want to have to open Bridge and type out all that information every time you make a new image (I never want to open Bridge). In Photoshop you can create a template to fill in some fields for you.
1. Start Photoshop and create a new image.
2. Go to File > File Info.
3. This is Photoshop’s Metadata Panel. The tabs we’re concerned with are Description and IPTC, you should recognize some of the fields from our work in Bridge. Fill out the appropriate fields. Note the scroll bar.
4. Create a Photoshop Metadata Template. Click the dropdown button at the bottom, between Preferences and Cancel and select Export. Save your metadata template to the default location with an appropriate file name. When you click the dropdown back in the Metadata Panel, you’ll see your template listed. Click it and it will ask if you want to clear existing properties, keep original metadata and replace matching properties, or keep original metadata and append matching properties. In the future, use whatever is appropriate.
Make Photoshop Automatically Apply
your Metadata Template
If you’re anything like me, you don’t even want to open the Metadata Panel. It’s an extra step and easily automated.
1. Create a new document.
2. Open the Actions Panel. Window > Actions. Actions are a way to perform repetitive multistepped tasks, and even bind them to hotkeys. They record every action until you click the Stop button on the right, then play them back whenever you trigger them with the Play button or hit the assigned Function Key.
3. Click Create a New Action. Give it a descriptive name and click Record.
4. Go to File > File Info. Click the dropdown and select the template we just created. Clear/Replace/Append existing data as you see fit, I selected Clear. Click OK.
5. Click Stop Playing/Recording on the Actions Panel. Add the new action to an appropriate folder.
6. Go to File > Scripts > Script Event Manager. Check off Enable Events to Run Scripts/Actions. This allows application events like starting the program, opening a document or printing to trigger scripts or actions. We want to apply our default metadata whenever we save or export an image. Start by selecting Save Document beside Photoshop Event, and your Default Metadata action. Click Add.
7. Repeat step 6 for Export Document. Click OK.
Update: Make Illustrator Automatically Apply
your Metadata Template
1. Create a new document. Choose settings that you use most frequently.
2. Go to File > File Info. This should look familiar. Drop down the menu in the lower right and select your previously created metadata profile.
3. Go to File > Save As Template.
Mac users, save this template to Username/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Adobe Illustrator/CS5/en-US/new Document Profiles/
Windows users save it to C:/Documents and Settings/Username/Application Data/Adobe/Adobe Illustrator CS5 Settings/en-US/New Document Profiles/
4. Now Create a New Document. Under New Document Profile, select the template you just created.
5. Change settings on the New Document Panel as needed. The new document will retain your File Info metadata. Illustrator defaults to the last used Document Profile, so every new .AI and .PDF you make from now on should include your name and contact info.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to make Illustrator apply this metadata to exported images. That will have to be done with Photoshop.
And that’s all there is to it.
Now every image on your website and every image you save or export out of Photoshop will have your name, contact information and a copyright notice invisibly embedded. This metadata should persist in the file even if the image is cropped or edited, unless someone deliberately strips it out (but the people we’re dealing with here are lazy and probably won’t).
When your orphaned image ends up on an art director’s hard drive, battered and bruised, your metadata should still be intact and available to them in Bridge, Photoshop, or any other professional imaging application. It may not survive 100% of the time, but the cost/benefit of this automated process should be a no-brainer.
Have a comment or suggestion about protecting your images online? Let me know in the comments!