Metadata for scanning older photos

I’m digitizing slides and negatives (color, black and white) taken by myself over many years, as well as those from parents and in-laws. One topic I’ve started thinking about is what metadata should captured to reflect the original photograph.

Tethered capture from Lightroom captures metadata from the digital image (date, time, aperture, shutter speed, camera, lens, etc.). This is good but what I really want in the metadata is when the original photo was taken, who the photographer was, aperture, shutter speed, film ASA/ISO, etc.

Has anyone else come up with a workable solution for capturing metadata from the original analog photograph?

In almost all cases, either there is no readily available original metadata with the original image or it’s in a form that usually doesn’t lend itself to easy digitization. You can of course use LR to add metadata (photographer, original date/time, camera data, keywords, etc.), if you know what they are. For some tags, you may need to use keywords instead of exif tags (because the exif tags can’t be written to). No easy answer, I’m afraid.

I use keywords that I put on the file in LR:
1:50, 6x7, 2019, ADOX ADONAL, analog, Australia, b & w, B&W, film, films, ILFORD DELTA 100 PRO, medium format, Melbourne, VIC, Victoria, ZENZA Bronica GS-1, ZENZA BRONICA Zenzanon PG 100mm/f3.5

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All you have done is tell people the widget is red, or blue. It was captured on X date, by this person, here is the copyright. In one way, the ONLY person who is going to benefit from that is you, or someone who understands your file naming process. How much value is there in that? The people you are doing this for will value the photos because they might or might not, know “the story” about the image. Who was in the photo, what they were doing at that momoment, that day, that year, what they did for a living, life events, who they loved. THAT is what you want to put into the Description.

You want the writing that is on the back of the print typed out, you want people who knew these people to sit down in small periods of time and discuss the people in the image. This is part of genealogy. This is what really matters, maybe even more.

Hi @tmeadow , are you aware of the metadata features included in Negative Lab Pro? I’ve tried to build them to let you do basically what you’ve described (and much more). Below, I’m copy/pasting the information on using metadata in Negative Lab Pro from the v2.1 announcement

Let me know if you have any questions!

Creator of Negative Lab Pro

:star2: 1. Custom Metadata (Just for Us Film-Shooters)

Ever since I started shooting more film, it bugged me that there wasn’t a good way to capture the richness of the analog process inside the metadata. Lightroom’s metadata engine is incredible (and fortunately for us, extendable), but by default it is decidedly focused on digital photography workflows. So until now, my workflow has involved separate spreadsheets, complicated 3rd party tools, or simply hoping I can remember everything!

So, with a lot of input from the Private Facebook Group and this very forum, I’ve extended Lightroom’s metadata engine to make it the perfect tool for capturing your analog workflows.

A simple, fast workflow for adding and editing film-centric metadata
Negative Lab Pro extends Lightroom’s own metadata engine with a custom section for film shooters. It’s built right in to Lightroom. In the Library module, just select the dropdown to the left of the “metadata” section, and select “Negative Lab Pro.” When you start add your analog metadata, you get all the time-saving features Lightroom has built-in, like Metadata Presets, Autocomplete, and Selectable Lists of past values used.

:arrow_down: Click the video below for demo :arrow_down:

Perfectly Organized for Film Shooters
The custom metadata section is divided into 4 editable sections (equipment, shooting, digitizing and development), plus a section of metadata generated from your Negative Lab Pro status and settings. You don’t need to fill in everything, just fill in what you have and what’s important to you.

Sortable and Searchable
Once you’ve added your new metadata, you can use it directly in Lightroom for sorting and searching through your photos. Want to see everything photo you’ve taken using your Hasselblad 500cm, together with Portra 400? No problem!

:arrow_down: Click the video below for demo :arrow_down:

Non-destructive & Safe For RAW
The original standard metadata is not changed in the original RAW. This is critical, because Lightroom uses the metadata in RAW files (like Camera Model and Lens) to select the corresponding camera and lens profiles to use in rendering, so you don’t want to overwrite this. Instead, the custom metadata is stored non-destructively in Lightroom’s catalog. Then, when you export the RAW to tiff or jpeg, it allows you to generate and store the analog metadata in standard EXIF and IPTC fields.

:star2: 2. Smarter Exports and “Positive Copies”

Not only does Negative Lab Pro v2.1 extend LR’s metadata, it also adds a custom “export service”, so that you can take advantage of the metadata when you go to share it with other services. You can access this inside Lightroom’s export module by changing “Export to” to “Negative Lab Pro”, or by right-clicking an image and selecting one of the built-in export presets.

:arrow_down: Click the video below for demo :arrow_down:

Auto Captions
Now that we have all that custom, film-centric metadata, let’s do something smart with how we caption it. In Negative Lab Pro, you can now select what and how you want to caption your photo. This caption is built in to standard metadata fields on export, so it will automatically show when you upload to services like Flickr. It will also copy it to the clipboard, so it’s easy to share on places like Facebook or Reddit, which don’t include metadata.

Write to Standard EXIF Fields
It can automatically write the analog metadata to standard EXIF fields. Which, again, is really nice for both sharing on photo platforms like Flickr and for archiving.

Auto Keyword Generation
It can automatically generate film-centric keywords based on the metadata you input, and write them to standard metadata fields.

Right-Click > Positive Copies
Positive copies are really useful when working with film negatives in Lightroom, especially if you need to make some small tweaks using Lightroom’s normal toolset. Now, you can make positive copies without needing to open up Negative Lab Pro… just right-click on an image (or group of selected images), and go to “Export > NLP - Make Positive Copy”.

Presets for Exporting Files to Flickr, Facebook, Instagram and more…
The presets provide optimized file and metadata setting. You can also call them contextually using the “right-click, export” from the library or develop modules. Below is an example from a file I exported then uploaded to Flickr. The red boxes how the analog info I added was translated into metadata for the Flickr upload.

Full Customization of Export Settings
You can customize any aspect of the export presets and save them as your own. So if you want to change the file naming structure, or output sharpening, or color space… well, have at it!


Yes, I’m aware of the metadata features that you’ve added to NLP and I think they’re well done! (If only Adobe would make it possible to export user configured metadata…). Besides what you’ve got in NLP, the metadata that I’d like to capture is the photographer, date/time (in reality date I’ve got for most photos but few with the time), camera, etc. in addition to the same fields with the data about how the image was digitized. This may be a bit compulsive but it would be nice to have for some of my images.

I’ve been looking around the internet to see if anyone else has done anything like this but, if someone has, I haven’t found it yet.

I think photography metadata standards could stand a rethink. The IPTC people regularly do updates to their standards. The most common metadata standards such EXIF are written and maintained by camera manufacturers. Their interests have not extended to the digitization of analog photographs.


You’ll need to use the Lightroom Metadata panel to add Creator (photographer) and date/time. Because you don’t know the exact time for most scanned images, you’ll need to use a convention to fill in the time (e.g., 12:00:00 AM or PM). Likewise, you may need a convention for images where you don’t know the exact date (e.g., January 1 for images taken sometime during the year, etc.). Disclaimer: I don’t use Lightroom to manage my metadata, but a digital asset management program (IMatch so I’m not too familiar with metadata management in Lightroom.

You’re right of course about the current state of metadata standards. It would indeed be nice if NLP metadata could be exported. There have been some efforts to consolidate metadata management (esp. the Metadata Working Group), but in general metadata is a mess!


Thanks for your thoughts and mention of Phtools. I’ll check that out.


Lightroom’s metadata features are pretty awesome.

You can learn about how to add and use film metadata in Lightroom here:

The NLP metadata can be exported. You can read more here about how it exports film metadata here:

You can also read more about the fields and how they are used/consolidated in the metadata field guide here:

Photographer: You can already capture the Photographer in LR Metadata.
Date/Time: You can capture date in the NLP metadata, which will then set to be written in to the standard EXIF date during export.
Camera You can do this in NLP Metadata
Data about digitization There is a whole metadata section on digitization within the NLP metadata. It can be preserved on export by be written into the standard caption field.

You’re right, of course. But current metadata standards (Exif, XMP, etc.) simply don’t provide a way of storing scanned/digitized metadata in really useful standard tags. Instead, you (Nate) are forced to cram/consolidate this metadata into Auto-Caption for export. This is certainly a reasonable thing to do under the circumstances. It would be very nice if there were a standards-based alternative, but unfortunately this doesn’t seem likely.

On a related note, you may want to consider adding some commentary to the Guide about date/time fields, including the distinction between date captured and date digitized and also the utility of dealing with approximate dates and times. This is more useful to folks dealing with older negative/slides but may still be informative to users creating contemporary scans.

You can make a series of Metadata Presets in Lightroom which will apply metadata to scanned images. The presets can be applied to individual scans or as batch processing. They can be used after import or as import presets. So, if you know the where, when, why, film, camera, etc. information for groups of shots, you can make a preset and all that information can be applied on import or after import.

If I don’t have the exact date to add to the shots metadata, I will use an approximate date (to the month or year). I have a collection of keywords for the century, decade, years, and months. I can then just drag and drop images onto the table to apply the Circa Year to the images. If i eventually get the exact date, I add that to the image’s metadata later.