Color Labels in Metadata

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Today’s Question: Are color labels specific to Lightroom or are they standard metadata?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The metadata field used by Lightroom to record color labels is part of the Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) originally created by Adobe. However, there isn’t a standard on what information is put into this field, and so not all software will interpret color labels the same. Furthermore, not all software supports the XMP metadata standard.

More Detail: The color label you can apply to photos in Lightroom is stored in the Label field that is part of the XMP metadata standard. However, not all software applications support this standard, which means not all software will be able to display or update color labels you have added in Lightroom.

Keep in mind that by default Lightroom Classic CC will only save metadata updates to the catalog, not to the photos themselves. If you want the metadata to be included with your photos, you have two options. You can manually save metadata for selected photos by choosing Metadata > Save Metadata to File from the menu. You can also have standard metadata values saved automatically to your image files by turning on the “Automatically write changes into XMP” checkbox on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog.

It is also worth noting that there isn’t an established standard for the information that is written to the Label field in metadata for different applications. In fact, Lightroom doesn’t even use the same values as were originally implemented by Adobe Bridge. That means that by default a red color label added in Adobe Bridge would appear as a white color label in Lightroom, and vice versa.

That’s because each of these applications use different words to describe a given color label. For example, while Lightroom uses “Red” as the metadata value for a red color label, in Adobe Bridge a red color label is represented by the word “Select” in metadata.

Due to the issues above, color labels in Lightroom are not as widely supported as other metadata values that are part of the EXIF or IPTC metadata standards. Therefore, I recommend that if you’re going to use color labels, you use them for a secondary purpose, as they may not be available with all imaging software you may choose to use at a later date.