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Add Alt Text To Images In Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 2024

May 2024

Introduction

I just discovered Adobe updated the 2024 version of Photoshop and Lightroom so you can add alt text to images directly from the apps. This is wonderful news for the world of accessability. When other apps and services start using the metadata it'll lead to a huge increase in the numer of images with alt text.

Two New Fields

The alt text is stored in metadata fields that are defined as part of the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) standards 1. They were announced in 2021 2 3, but didn't make it into the Adobe products until recently.

The metadata is stored in two fields:

Here's what they look like in the Photoshop File Info window:

    A screenshot of the Adobe Photoshop 2024 File Info Menu showing the 'Alt Text' and 'Extended Description' accessibilitie fields

And here's what it looks like in Lightroom Classic:

    A screenshot of Adobe Lightroom Classic
 -     The main area of the screenshot is a black and white close-up of some textured and carved floor tiles. There's a thing set of dark tiles that form an unside down L going from the bottom left to the upper right. The sidebar shows Lightrooms "Metadata" section where "Alt Text" and "Extended Description" fields are visible

(Click the "Customize" button in the Metadata section to open the window to pick which alt text and any other metadata you want to use for your images)

Details

The Alt Text (Accessibility) field is designated to be the primary field. The official defintion is:

A brief textual description of the purpose and meaning of an image that can be accessed by assistive technology or displayed when the image is disabled in the browser. It should not exceed 250 characters.

You can write longer descriptions by adding more text into the Extended Description (Accessibility) field, which is:

A more detailed textual description of the purpose and meaning of an image that elaborates on the information provided by the Alt Text (Accessibility) property. This property does not have a character limitation and is not required if the Alt Text (Accessibility) field sufficiently describes the image.

Why Two Fields?

I can think of reasons why having two fields makes sence. I'm thinking mainly of having a feature where you can have the Alt Text inline by default and then provide an option to access the Extended Description if you want to learn more about the image.

There's a sizable problem with that when it comes to images on the web. As far as I'm aware, we only have a single "alt" attribute for images in HTML. So, there's no built-in way to do the split. Every site/app will have to make their own determination about how to include the metadata. I won't be surprised to find some use the text from the Alt Text field but ignore Extended Description. Whatever the case, there will be difference that will lead to confusion and frustration. But that's minor compared to the benefit of having the fields.

The IPTC guidelines say user interfaces should warn if Alt Text goes beyond 250 characters. I tried it in Photoshop and Lightroom and neither one did. I'm fine with that. Until we have another attribute to use in HTML, I wouldn't be surprised to find the defacto standard is that folks use only Alt Text regardless of the length of the text.

Still Work To Do

Neither Twitter/X, Facebook, or Mastodon appear to utilize the alt text fields yet 4. That's not super surprising, given that Photoshop and Lightroom haven't been providing them even though some other apps have 5. The question is when there will be enough usage of the fields for the social networks to start using them. I'm optimistic that there's a valid shot in making it happen sooner rather than later now that Adobe is on board.

The Benefit

I've been looking forward to this addition ever since I saw the original announcemnet. I love that I can now write alt text when I'm editing my images instead of when I'm posting them. That always feels like extra work because of the context shift between the text of the post and the text of the image.

Even better, I only have to write the text once and it sticks with the image. And, once things are fully in place, when we copy and paste images around, the metadata will stick with them. Just imagine: a world where every meme has alt text.

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Endnotes

Footnotes And References