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Undated Photos Part 2: Identifying Undated Photos

You’ll only be interested in learning how Undated photos can be identified in your clients’ digital collections if you realize how abundant they could be in those collections!

If you don’t think that the collections you have organized included many Undated photos, there were probably more than you were aware of. In the article Undated Photos Part 1: The Unseen Menace, I reveal how many Undated photos have been in some of the digital collections I have organized. Another article in the Meg’s Bytes blog, Photo Dates and Terminology – An Introduction, includes additional information relevant to this article.

This article and the corresponding video include different information, so it is best to read the article first. The link to the video is at the end of the article.

An expertly-organized digital photo collection should not include any Undated photos—unless they are marked as such and separated from photos with good Snap Date metadata. It is possible to identify all undated photos and separate them out, so there’s no excuse not to do this important task and deliver more thoroughly organized digital collections to your clients.

I believe that most photo organizers do not realize how many Undated photos are in the digital collections they organize. The reason is that most professional photo organizers use applications that make it difficult to identify Undated photos, and so I’ve included those popular applications in this article.

It’s important to understand the terminology I use in this and all other articles and videos, so if you have not already done so, please visit the Definitions page of this website before reading further.

Solutions Examined

This article and the corresponding video examine if and how Undated photos can be identified using:

  • Directory Opus (PC)
  • Adobe Lightroom Classic (Mac and PC)
  • Adobe Bridge (Mac and PC)
  • Mylio (Mac and PC)
  • Finder (Mac)
  • File Explorer (PC)
  • Apple Photos (Mac)
  • Photo Mechanic (Mac and PC)

Metadata of Dated vs. Undated Photos

The presence of an EXIF DateTimeOriginal indicates that a photo most likely has good Snap Date metadata.  However, good Snap Date metadata requires more than just an EXIF DateTimeOriginal.

A photo must have a date that matches the EXIF DateTimeOriginal in at least one other EXIF, XMP, or IPTC date field for it to have good Snap Date Metadata and have that date recognized by photo software.

If a photo has an EXIF DateTimeOriginal but does not have a matching date in another EXIF, XMP, or IPTC date field, most photo applications will not even display the EXIF DateTimeOriginal! While it is unusual for that to happen, it sometimes does. I recently read a post in a software support forum written by someone who had used ExifTool to add EXIF DateTimeOriginal only to his scanned photos and was reporting that the dates displayed were not correct. 

Because it is very unusual for photos to have EXIF DateTimeOriginal only, I consider the presence of an EXIF DateTimeOriginal to indicate that a photo has good Snap Date metadata. If it does not, I will eventually spot it while organizing the collection.

Date Created vs Snap Date

Most photo applications display a Date Created for photos, but that field displays the date the file was created. Because professional photo organizers get their clients’ digital files by copying, moving, exporting and downloading them from Source devices, and online storage, many files will get a new Date Created. For that reason, Date Created is not reliable.
Note: in Mylio, Date Created is different.

Solutions for Identifying Undated Photos

Many Undated photos can be identified with no need to look at the date metadata. For example, sometimes old, scanned photos look out of place and display a date that is obviously incorrect. This article is about how metadata can be used to identify Undated photos in applications used by professional photo organizers.

Directory Opus

I will start with Directory Opus because it is the only application in this list that can sort photos by EXIF DateTimeOriginal—but only when the ExifTool Custom Columns Plugin is installed. That free plugin enables one to display a column for EXIF DateTimeOriginal and other EXIF, XMP and IPTC dates.

Directory Opus Photo Metadata

Two methods can be used in Directory Opus to identify Undated photos. A filter can be used to isolate photos with no EXIF DateTimeOriginal before or after a certain date. Another method is to sort photos by EXIF DateTimeOriginal. Directory Opus has a very useful Flat view, so all photos in a folder with subfolders can be displayed at the same time. Once Undated photos have been Identified, they can be selected and moved to another folder. Folder structure can be recreated when moving or copying files in Directory Opus, so the folder structure stays intact and no dates or date clues in folder names are lost.

Directory Opus Recreate Folder Structure

Directory Opus’s ability to identify and separate out Undated photos is one of its most valuable features for professional photo organizers.

Adobe Lightroom Classic

In Lightroom Classic, every photo displays a Capture Date. Capture Date is an expression, not a metadata field. Capture Date is used in Lightroom Classic as the name of the U.I. field that is intended to display a photo’s Snap Date, but it cannot be trusted.

Using the Metadata Panel

The Metadata Panel can be configured to display the EXIF DateTimeOriginal field. You can select one photo at a time and check that field, but that would be a very slow process!

Adobe Lightroom Classic Metadata Panel

Using the Data Explorer Plugin

The Data Explorer plugin by Jeffrey Friedel can be used to isolate photos with or without an EXIF DateTimeOriginal. 

Adobe Lightroom Classic Data Explorer Plugin

Using the Library Filter

The Metadata Filter includes a Date section that displays the Capture Date of photos in groups by year. While Capture Date is not reliable, the Date Filter can sometimes provide clues. For example, if years like 1969 or 2045 are listed, those photos should be checked.

Filtering by camera is another method and involves filtering to find photos without a camera listed. It’s an unreliable method because photos without a camera listed may have good Snap Date metadata.

In the Megabyte Method demonstration collection, 80 out of about 75,000 photos with good Snap Date metadata had no Camera listed and 344 Undated photos did have a Camera listed. While cameras listed for Undated photos included scanner brands like Brother, most were Canon—a prominent camera brand. 

If this method is used for identifying Undated photos, what does one do with the Undated photos that were identified?

Adobe Lightroom Classic Library Filter

What Next?

While it’s possible to use Adobe Lightroom Classic to identify all Undated photos in a collection, what would you do with them? I’m sure there is some way for Lightroom Classic users to take advantage of Undated photos having been identified and isolated, but I not sure what it is!

Adobe Bridge

Using Date Columns

In Adobe Bridge, there are only two date columns that can be displayed: Date Created and Date Modified. Neither is helpful for determining if a photo is Undated because dates for every photo will be displayed in these columns.

Using a Filter

It is possible to use a filter to see which photos do have an EXIF DateTimeOriginal, but it is not possible to see which photos do not have one.

Adobe Bridge Filter

Using the Metadata Panel

The only way to determine if a photo is Undated in Adobe Bridge is to open the Metadata Panel and check the EXIF DateTimeOriginal field for every single photo. To select which fields you want to display in the Metadata Panel, adjust Preferences.

Adobe Bridge Metadata Panel

And Then What?

Although it’s possible to identify all Undated photos in a collection using Adobe Bridge, would any client be willing to pay for all the time it takes using Adobe Bridge?

Mylio

In Mylio, the Metadata Display will show EXIF DateTimeOriginal if there is one, but the Metadata Display must be re-opened every time you select a different photo. It’s a very time-consuming process. For that reason, I would rule out using Mylio for the task of identifying Undated photos in a digital collection.

Mylio Metadata

Finder

There is no column available in Finder that represents a photo’s Snap Date, but it is possible to open a preview of each image, and then check the file info. Like with Mylio, it’s not an adequate solution for checking a digital collection.

Finder Info Panel

File Explorer

Date Taken is the only column in File Explorer that is intended to represent a photos Snap Date. If a photo is Undated, no Date Taken will be displayed. Unfortunately, the presence of a date in the Date Taken field does not guarantee that the photo has good Snap Date metadata. Photos can have a false Date Taken.

The photos with a Date Taken in the Screenshot below are Undated.

File Explorer Date Taken

Apple Photos

If you select a photo in Apple Photos and view its info, you’ll see the Capture Date, but because a Capture Date is displayed for every photo, it is not reliable.

Photo Mechanic

There is no way to identify Undated photos in Photo Mechanic or Photo Mechanic Plus. Like Lightroom Classic, Photo Mechanic displays a Capture Date for every photo. No date metadata fields are displayed anywhere.

Summary

Of the eight applications listed in this article, only Directory Opus (with an ExifTool Plugin) can be used to identify and separate out Undated photos without losing any date information that may be in folder names. It can be done accurately, thoroughly, and very efficiently.

When organizing your clients’ digital photo and video collections, do you use the applications you like to use and are comfortable with? Or do you use applications that do the job accurately and efficiently? Directory Opus is for PC only. If you are a Mac user, would you consider getting a PC so that you could do some important organizing tasks much better and faster?

Digital organizing is changing. Will you change with it?

Watch the Video on the Photo Organizing Stuff YouTube Channel

Video: Undated Photos Part 2: Identifying Undated Photos

Undated Photos Part 2 Identifying Undated Photos

© Meg Macintyre, Photo Organizing Stuff

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