Its so hard to talk about Capture Dates without getting super excited, so I will just calmly start at the beginning. OK, there’s actually nothing at all exciting about Capture Dates, but if you are working with digital images or scanned prints/film you do need to understand them a bit as they can either make your digital life a lot easier or very confusing.
The Capture Date is the date and time that a photo is taken. For those geeky enough to want to know, it is technically part of the EXIF metadata that is created when the photo is taken, or as it is technically referred to, captured. The device that is taking that photo will embed or stamp that information directly into the digital image, which is then used by apps like Apple Photos and Google Photos to sort your photos chronologically when you view them. Depending on the app it may also be called Date Time Original or Date Taken.
Simple enough, right? Except as with all things digital, stuff happens and problems occur.
Accurate or inaccurate?
Lets just start with the importance of these dates being accurate. Photo catalog apps like Apple Photos and Google Photos rely heavily on these dates to give you a time line of your life, and along with GPS coordinates, your important memories and events sometimes get displayed when their AI features use that info for those “This is Your Life” slideshows that they create. But mostly we as humans tend to think of our life chronologically, and if we want to find a photo or photos we remember from a specific time period, the accuracy of those dates is critical in finding them.
Here’s where that stuff happens and problems occur thing comes into play. If the device that took the photo is not set correctly, or if you scanned some old prints, you may find yourself wondering why those photos of your wedding are listed under 1959, twenty years before you were born, and those photos of your great-grandfather Murray appear to have been taken last Summer.
So lets see how these things can happen, and then we’ll talk about how to fix them. Before iPhones, we took most of our digital photos with either point & shoots or higher end DSLRs, some of us still even use them. These cameras have to be manually set with the correct date and time otherwise that can be off, sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot, like fifty years a lot. If you still have one of these, go and correct the date in your camera’s setting to avoid future issues.
The good news is that iPhones will always have the correct date and time, they are set automatically.
Often we get sent photos from family and friends, and what they don’t realize is that when they created the copies to send you by email or other, they often strip that date and time info out of those digital copies. These orphans then take on the date the file was copied as their new Capture Date.
When you scan old prints or film, the Capture Date will be set as the date they were scanned, and that can be off by quite a bit as you can imagine. When having scans done, try to batch them by year or even decade and see if the scanning service will set the correct Capture Date for you after scanning. It is something I offer and encourage my clients to do when I scan their images and can make a huge difference in how we will be interacting with them.
How to correct them is pretty simple. Most desktop apps have a menu item that will correct the date and time. In Google Photos, select the image or images you want to adjust and select Edit date & time from the drop down menu. Apple Photos has the same option; click on the drop down menu Image, then select Adjust Data and Time. Adobe Lightroom has this feature, as does most other photo cataloging software. Keep in mind these changes may only apply within the app, most apps only make these changes permanent when exporting the images out of the app.
Viewing Captures dates outside of these apps can be done in Windows by clicking on the image, going to Properties and then Details. On a Mac, you will need to open the image in the Preview app and under the Tools drop down menu, choose Inspector. Look for the EXIF tab to see the info. If there is not an EXIF tab, your image has had that info stripped from it and you will need to add it back in.
One important thing to understand is not to confuse something called Date Created with Capture Date. Date Created can be viewed on both Windows machines and Macs (in the Finder window), but actually refers to the date the file was created, not the date the picture was taken. Sometimes that can be the same date, but often if a photo is copied or exported, that new photo will have a new file creation date pertaining to the copy or export date.
When we start becoming the editors of our own life story we can find ourselves dealing with some technical issues that can be a real headache. I personally believe that getting these Capture Dates right is one of the more important things we can do in managing our photo collections. So plow through and try to get it as right as you can, I think you will be happy you did when you see an accurate and illuminating timeline of your life unfold.