I’ve used Microsoft Windows (Live) Photo Gallery almost daily from its first availability many years ago. It’s a great tool for organizing photos. Photo Gallery works with Flickr, Picasa, and Facebook. Its editing features are sufficient for 99% of my needs. I like it.
I add tags, ratings, captions, and “author” (photographer) to photos on my computer. That information is written to the photo file itself. If I copy that photo anywhere or send it as an email attachment, the copy has that same metadata. Cool.
Naturally, we share photos between computers on our network. I learned a long time ago to be careful deleting files over the network (using any tool). If I delete a file on my computer, that file moves into the Recycle Bin, but if I reach across the network to delete a file, that file is permanently deleted. (Windows 8 File History could come to the rescue.) Why? Ask Microsoft why.
If I edit a photo on my computer, I can revert to the original. If I reach across the network to edit a photo, I can only revert on the computer used to perform the edit, not on the computer that hosts the original.
Only yesterday, did I learn another peculiarity of working with photos across the network. I spent several hours sitting on the couch in front of the 40 inch TV tagging and rating 500 photos from a recent trip to Chaco, which were on my desktop hard drive. Everything seemed perfectly normal until the next day when I searched my desktop for those photos using those ratings and tags. None were found. I panicked, but was relieved to see my originals were still in their folder, albeit without any tags, ratings or captions. WTF? It got weirder when I went to the TV system to look at those same files across the network. The TV showed my hard-wrought ratings and tags.
I knew Photo Gallery uses a database, partly because when that database becomes corrupted, it creates problems. I also knew the database holds data that cannot be written to a file, most typically a video file that doesn’t support the same metadata JPeGs do.
Unfortunately, Photo Gallery also uses this database for metadata updates made across the network and does NOT write that data to the file. In no way does Photo Gallery indicate that some data goes in the db and some goes in the photo files. I’m sure this is regarded as user friendly at Microsoft — users don’t want to be nagged about technical matters. I’m at a loss as to why Photo Gallery won’t simply write this data as it would to a local file — I have permission, I can crop or delete that original across the network.
So, all that metadata, hundreds of tags, ratings, and captions, was locked up in the database on the TV system and impossible to transfer, export or otherwise write to the files on the original system. Damn.
I spent hours in an effort to get around the problem, including renaming, copying, and deleting the database files on each system, as well as reinstalling or upgrading Photo Gallery. Moving or copying photos didn’t make a difference, either. I had to accept that data locked up in one database was as good as gone.
If you use Windows Photo Gallery — which I still recommend — avoid this problem: only edit metadata on the machine that holds the file, not across a network. Treat the network as read-only for this purpose.
Computers often make me feel like a rat in a maze. I have trouble surrendering — I think computers should work for me. So, I do have a work-around. If your photo collection is small enough, consider storing it on SkyDrive, which will synchronize files between systems, including metadata, so long as you edit the local copy or the SkyDrive copy — you still don’t want to reach over the network to another local machine. Let SkyDrive handle it.
I’m unwilling to upload 50,000 photos to the cloud, though that day is coming. My personal work-around is to use a backup program to sync photos between my desktop and TV system. As a result, there are two local copies of each photo. If I change anything about one copy, the other system gets an updated duplicate. The two machines are equals — I can work on either equally and not face this problem again.
Except with flags — I don’t know why flags don’t go into the file — and video, for which all metadata always goes into the database, none of it goes into the file. Oh, well, thankfully, I don’t shoot a lot of video (I took 8 videos in Chaco Canyon while I shot 500 photos).