Get Your Photos Organized

Over the holidays, I took about a hundred photos around the house. I also managed to fill up a memory card while photographing wolves at the nearby wildlife refuge and, just a few weeks ago, I snapped a truckload of “light trail” style night photos from a pedestrian overpass in Las Vegas. Every one of those photos has found its way onto my PC, and that’s in addition to the thousand or so photos I took during 2006 alone. Finding a specific photo is a daunting task. Heck, with so many photos, I often completely forget that some shots ever happened, and I’m surprised when I find them by accident months later. Clearly, it’s time to get organized.

Rename or Tag?

The first bit of advice you’re likely to hear when it comes time to getting your photos organized is to use a logical system to rename them. But I’ll be honest with you: I don’t think that renaming your photos is a particularly effective solution for getting organized. It’s slow and tedious (just the sort of combination you want when there’s an activity you aren’t especially motivated to do in the first place), and when you’re done, it only makes your photos marginally easier to find. I far prefer the newfangled solution of tagging your photos with metadata.

If you haven’t heard me rant in my weekly Digital Focus column about the virtues of tagging already, here’s what I’m talking about: using photo organizer software, you can assign “tags” or “keywords” to each of your photos. If you put a little thought into your tags, you can create a dozen or so categories that reflect all the common photo subjects you routinely shoot: family, pets, holidays, soccer practice, Elvis sightings, and such. It’s about the same amount of work as renaming photos, but when you want to see all your holiday photos, just click that tag in your photo software and you’ll see them all. Plus, you don’t have to type the same tag over and over. Create a tag once, and then just drag and drop photos to that tag to assign it.

If You’re Not Daring

That said, I understand that not everyone wants to go to the trouble of tagging–or you simply might not own the appropriate software. If that sounds like you, at least you can rename your photos from obscure camera-speak like DSC000023 to “Barbara at the beach.”

If you really get into organizing your photos by file name, the Windows method may start to seem kind of anemic. For beefier file naming, try a favorite program of mine: for just $10, Name Dropper lets you create a slew of name fragments and assign them to a dozen customizable buttons. To rename photos, combine the fragments into descriptive compound names. Or try Siren, a free program that gives you access to the metadata associated with your photos. You can combine snippets of info like your camera model, ISO, exposure data, lens information, and date taken to create truly informative file names for your photos, automatically.

Tagging: Like Renaming Without all the Lame

As I already mentioned, renaming your photos was fine in 1997, but these days I highly encourage you to try tagging. There are some superb photo organizers out there with great photo tagging features. My favorites include Adobe Photoshop Elements–which comes with Photoshop Album–and Microsoft Digital Image Suite, which features Digital Image Library. Both programs let you assign tags (Digital Image Library calls them Labels) to your photos and then swoop in to see any set of photos that correspond to any term you choose. And if you’re considering stepping up to Windows Vista, the superb, built-in Photo Gallery stores its tags in the photos as well. And that I really love, becuase now your tags are baked into your files at the operating system level.

Check out a somewhat longer version of this story in my Digital Focus newsletter for PC World.

25 Responses to “Get Your Photos Organized”

  1. pat Says:

    As an amateur photog, but forever learning and experimenting, your advise is very welcomed and informative. You are absoluely right about the subject of naming and tagging photos! What a nightmare to try to locate something specific when all you have is a meaningless sequence of numbers!!!! I will try the free software recommended. Renaming and organizing is very tedious and time consuming.


  2. Glenn Says:

    Google’s Picasa is also an excellent picture organizing piece of software. Can’t beat free, and it is very nice.

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