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Photo Dates and Terminology – An Introduction

Different software and different systems use different photo date terminology. In this article, I will provide a little bit of information about photo dates, but I will focus on explaining the terminology that is commonly used, and that is commonly misunderstood.

If you’re a professional photo organizer or photo manager, it’s essential to understand photo dates. Unfortunately, most professional photo organizers have been exposed to misinformation about photo date metadata in courses, webinars, blog posts, and YouTube videos. A great deal of that misinformation is a result of misuse and misunderstanding of terminology like Capture Date and Date Taken.

Before you read any further, it’s important to understand the terminology I use in this and all other Photo Organizing Stuff articles and videos. So, if you have not already done so, please visit the Definitions page of this website.

It’s also important that you do not believe everything you read—on this website or anywhere else. Please do your own research. At the end of this article, you will find links to online resources about photo date metadata.

System Date Metadata

System dates, also known as file dates, include Date Created and Date Modified. System date metadata fields are labeled the same way on both Mac and PC. 

Date Created (System)

The Date Created for a file (in this case an image file) is usually the same as the Snap Date as long as the photo stays where it is. But, as professional photo organizers and photo managers, we gather our clients’ digital files by copying, exporting, downloading, or syncing them. As a result, the Date Created of many photos will change and become irrelevant to our work. 

In Finder for Mac, there is no column intended to represent the Snap Date of photos, but there is a Date Created column. The term ‘Creation date’ is also used on Macs to represent the date the file was created.

When removing duplicates, some photo organizers think that the photo with the earlier Date Created is the ‘original’ and may prefer to keep that photo in certain situations. My testing indicates that it’s not worth considering the Date Created.

Most Mac users also use iPhones and have their photos synced to Apple Photos and iCloud. Those photos are not displayed in Finder. Photos displayed in Finder may have come from other sources and then saved to the Mac. As a result, the Date Created displayed Finder is not reliable as being the same as a photo’s Snap Date.

Date Modified (System)

A file’s Date Modified will change when the file or photo is changed. Changes may include editing or resizing the photo, adding metadata like Keywords, or editing the Snap Date.

Photo Date Metadata

Photo date metadata fields display dates directly related to the photo, and do not change when files are copied or moved.

EXIF photo date metadata is added by the capture device – the camera or phone or whatever device was used. One EXIF field, EXIF ModifyDate, changes if the photo is edited, converted to another format, or other metadata is added or changed. 

XMP and IPTC photo date metadata are added by applications photos are imported to, opened by, or changed by. I do not fully understand all the reasons why XMP and IPTC dates are added or changed. One reason is that those changes often happen ‘behind the scenes’, and those changes vary from application to application. 

EXIF, XMP, and IPTC date metadata can be added or edited, but not by all applications.

The names of the U.I. fields that are intended to display a photo’s Snap Date vary by application. For Windows File Explorer and some PC applications it’s Date Taken. For most photo applications, it’s Capture Date. Mylio uses the terms Date Created and Date Shown.

Capture Date

Capture Date is an expression, not a metadata field. Capture Date is used in many applications as the name of the U.I. field that is intended to display a photo’s Snap Date.

Here are some examples of things I’ve heard or read in courses, webinars, blog posts, and YouTube videos for professional photo organizers, and presented by professional photo organizers:

  • Capture Date is the date the photo was taken.
  • Capture Date is the same as EXIF DateTimeOriginal.
  • There is a metadata field named Exif Capture Date.

None of those three statements are true, but many believe they are. As a result, many professional photo organizers do not realize how many Undated photos are in the collections they organize and therefore deliver collections that include mis-dated photos.


Is Capture Date the Date the Photo Was Taken?

Not necessarily. In applications used by many professional photo organizers, like Lightroom Classic, Apple Photos and Photo Mechanic, Capture Date is intended to represent the date a photo was taken. However, these applications assign a Capture Date for every photo—including those without any Snap Date metadata.

Even when photos do have Snap Date metadata, the Snap Date displayed in the Capture Date field can be wrong if, for example, the camera date/time was not set correctly.

Is Capture Date the Same as EXIF DateTimeOriginal?

No. In Lightroom Classic, Apple Photos and Photo Mechanic, a Capture Date will be displayed even if a photo does not have a date in the EXIF DateTimeOriginal field.

In addition, a photo requires more photo date metadata (EXIF, XMP, or IPTC) than just an EXIF DateTimeOriginal to have good Snap Date Metadata. EXIF DateTimeOriginal is not enough. In fact, if a photo’s only date metadata is an EXIF DateTimeOriginal, the EXIF DateTimeOriginal field will be blank in applications including Lightroom Classic and Adobe Bridge.

Is There a Metadata Field Named ‘Exif Capture Date’?

No. In my opinion, the use of that term—especially by those who teach photo organizing—perpetuates misunderstanding of photo date metadata. If someone is learning about photo organizing and metadata and hears or reads the term ‘EXIF Capture Date’, they might believe that Capture Date is a metadata field.

Date Taken

Date Taken is a Windows property, not a metadata field. Date Taken is used in Windows File Explorer and some application for PC and is intended to represent a photo’s Snap Date.

Unfortunately, misinformation about Date Taken is common, and mirrors the misinformation about Capture Date:

  • Date Taken is the date the photo was taken.
  • Date Taken is the same as EXIF DateTimeOriginal.
  • There is a metadata field named Exif Date Taken.             

Is Date Taken the Date the Photo was Taken?

It usually is, but not always. Date Taken is a Windows property that looks at certain photo date metadata fields to determine what (if any) date to display.

If a photo does not have certain EXIF, IPTC, or XMP date metadata, no Date Taken will be displayed. If no Date Taken is displayed, the photo is Undated.

Many Undated photos do display a false Date Taken. They are often scans but can be other types of image files as well. Only by looking at various date metadata fields will you know if Date Taken really does represent the photo’s Snap Date. The problem with that is few applications allow one to easily see those other metadata fields.

Even when photos do have good Snap Date metadata, the Snap Date displayed in the Date Taken field can be wrong if, for example, the camera date and/or time was not set correctly.

In File Explorer, there is a Date field and a Date Taken field. Many people think they are the same, but they are not. Date Taken represents a photo’s Snap Date much more reliably that the Date field, because the Date field will display a date for every photo—including those without any Snap Date metadata.

Is Date Taken the Same as EXIF DateTimeOriginal?

No. The previous section includes most of the relevant information to answer this question. A Photo without an EXIF DateTimeOriginal might still have a Date Taken, but it would be false Date Taken. It depends on the presence of dates in other metadata fields.

This is yet another example of misinformation that contributes to photo organizers and photo managers lack of understanding about photo date metadata.

Is There is a Metadata Field Named ‘Exif Date Taken’?

No. Like the term ‘EXIF Capture Date’, it is false and misleading. If someone is learning about photo organizing and metadata and hears or reads the term ‘EXIF Date Taken’, they might believe that a photo’s Date Taken always represent the Snap Date.

Mylio: Date Created and Date Shown

Mylio will display a Date Created or Date Shown for every photo—even those without any Snap Date metadata.

I am puzzled by Mylio’s decision to use ‘Date Created’, as most people who work with photos think of Date Created as the System/File Date Created.

Links:

© Meg Macintyre, Photo Organizing Stuff

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