You may know that old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, when it comes to processing, editing and sharing images using your software of choice, storing the metadata in an XMP file ensures those “thousand words” aren’t lost.

If you frequently work with RAW images, you’ll know that there can be a varying amount of tweaks and retouches involved. Keeping track of all these changes is the job of the XMP file. XMP files allow you to transfer your image metadata, ratings, tags, keywords, geolocation, and other attributes about the image outside of the actual JPG, CR2, or other file. The XMP format is a standard way of recording these data so that other programs can carry all of the additional data you added to your images.

An XMP file acts as a roadmap for the editing process of a RAW image. This means that when the image file is shared in another application that is different from the one it originated in, the XMP file will allow it to be read. 

Often an XMP file is known as a “sidecar” file, meaning it travels alongside the RAW file to make sure that all the metadata is retained through editing and sharing. 

This is especially beneficial when files are shared across different applications. For example, if a RAW file is edited in Lightroom, those changes are recorded in the XMP file. If the image is then opened with Photoshop or Bridge, the XMP file means that the original edits are not lost and the image appears as intended by the creator.

Compatibility can be a major stumbling block when sharing image files, therefore, storing metadata on an XMP file is one way around this.

Another benefit of using XMP files is that it allows you to store important information about an image which will follow it through a series of edits, often involving multiple applications.

You can create the RAW file in your chosen application, add metadata to it such as geo-tagging and file info on who or what is in the image and assign it to a particular category. Storing that information in an XMP file will make sure that all that information follows the image file wherever it goes, making filing and organizing your images much easier.

Most creative work doesn’t live in a single piece of software. You might start by capturing images in Capture One. There you might do your quick selects, add job information, and other relevant data. Next, you might organize the files using Adobe Bridge. From there, you might pass the RAWs off to a retoucher and get back a finished TIFF file. When you to import this into your DAM – the TIFF file may no longer contain the job information, photographer, talent, or the other metadata you meticulously added earlier.

This is where XMP files save the day — when you import them into your DAM, your software can read the metadata and append all of the missing information to the asset.