When photography went digital I had a feeling akin to elation. No more sticking photos into albums (or not, as the case most definitely was). I saw a future where my entire library of images was all contained on a single USB stick (which it is) and searchable by year, month, subject… just searchable (which it isn’t, not really).
The trouble is, as soon as we went digital, we all started taking more and more and more and more and more photos and videos. The sheer enormity of capturing our life and the lives of our children soon became apparent. There are just so many images! What do we do with all those images?
Well, we need help in two areas. The first is a system that sorts out our images into an organised, searchable library. The second is ideas on how to get our images off our computers and out into the big wild world where they can have meaning and context. I’ll cover this aspect of things next week.
An organised, searchable library
Why are you keeping them?
The most important thing to consider when you’re deciding how to organise your digital photos is what you want to organise them for. Are you simply wanting a place to keep everything neat to look at later on? Do you want to edit your photos? Do you want to share them online via email or social media? Do you want to send them off periodically to be printed?
How will you remember them?
Once you know what you plan to do with your images, you need to decide the best way to arrange them. Are you a chronological keeper, arranging everything by date? Or are you more likely to find things if they are allocated an event – weddings, school, holidays, birthdays, etc.
Edit out the flops
The temptation with digital photography is to keep every image you ever created. The trick to creating an efficient library is to get rid of the duds. That’s all the images that wouldn’t have made the cut when film was around. Weird poses, out of focus, over-exposed or just 97 versions of the same subject. Does this hurt your eyes?
Find the winner and discard the rest. It’s actually good to get into the habit of doing this via your camera right after you take a series of images. That way you don’t even waste your time uploading them in the first place.
Create a naming system that works for you
Your camera will call your image something useful like “IMG002317″, which you’ll need to rename if you’re ever going to find it again. I rename mine by event then by place then by date and then by a note if necessary, just to be sure. So on my hard drive the image below is called “Stripey socks_Home_291213_Lottie” – don’t be scared of long file names, detail is important and your computer doesn’t mind!
I rename my files immediately after I download them. I batch them (by highlighting all the ones I want to work with) in Windows Live Photo Gallery (which is generally the inbuilt software that opens if you import photos and you have a PC) and right-clicking on the first image and selecting ‘rename’. I then add the final ‘note’ part of the file name on an individual basis where necessary. I generally just add notes so I can search based on that later – most photo organisers allow you to search most readily on the file name. So, here I’ve added an ‘all three’ note which allows me later to search for photos containing ‘all three’ of my children. Another way to do this is to tag my photo with ‘all three’…
Use tags to make it easier to search for groups of images
You can add as many tags to a photo as you like (as far as I know). So, in the above photo, I might tag it ‘beach’, ‘all three’, ‘holiday’, ‘sundown’ and any other word that I might later want to use to group this photo with like photos by. You can use tags in most photo organisers (including Windows Live Photo Gallery) – just google your package along with the words ‘how to tag using…’.
It’s tempting to just keep all of your photos in the date folder from when they were taken, but inspire yourself a little by arranging them by event. You can have an album for ‘babies’ where you show all your children’s baby photos (as well as your own?); ‘holidays’ to group together all the family holidays; ‘weddings’ so you can get all misty-eyed over all the nuptials you attend… the list is endless (and truly feels endless once you get started with one… albums are addictive!). Luckily, creating a virtual album is so much easier than sticking photos in those old photo albums, especially the ones demanding fiddly little photo corners…
Photo editing and organising software to help
Of course you can create a system of organisation right on your computer’s hard drive, but there are software programs (many of them free) that can do it for you. The true value in these programs is that they allow you to see your images all at once and edit your series much more efficiently. They also have the added bonus of image editing – goodbye red eye, hello cute filters!
In my digital photography course, we are using a professional package called Adobe Lightroom 4 to sort and manage our shots. Lightroom allows us to create virtual ‘Collections’ of photos and manage them via keywords, flags, metadata descriptions and date / time / subject. It’s a pretty full on piece of kit that I am still trying to get my head around, but if you’re serious about your photography, this is the one to get.
Stumping up for the full (pricey!) version of Adobe Photoshop is probably not necessary as Photoshop Elements also has a built in photo organiser. You can filter photos by People, Place and Event views (as well as the usual time/ date filters). You can also use the face recognition software to pull stacks of images of each person. Geo-tagging is also possible via an interface with Google Maps. Handy for those ‘where were we again?’ moments.
There is seamless integration between both of these packages (should you happen to have them) and both Lightroom and Photoshop allow you to upload images directly to popular social media sites like Facebook, Youtube, Flickr and Vimeo.
Since these ‘professional’ packages come at a cost, it’s good to know that there are loads of options for free digital photo organisers. Here are my two picks for PC users. If you happen to have a Mac, iPhoto probably has all the organisation elements you’ll ever need.
We use this at home and it’s always been a simple, clever tool. It has onboard editing tools and gathers every photo that is on your computer’s hard drive into one place, organised by date. You can also tag photos (“star”) to find later and also search by words used in folders. Many people complain that as Picasa continually searches your computer for images, it makes your computer work heavy, slowing down other programs (that’s the best way I can put it in terms I can understand!), but as all that is way beyond my technical expertise, I can’t say I’ve ever noticed it. As it’s a Google product, you can upload straight to blogger, gmail and Picasa Web Albums so it makes it easy to edit and share your images.
This is pretty much the most popular online photo sharing and storing facility going. It’s simple and reasonably quick to upload photos and there is a generous storage allowance (you can pay $25 a year to get more). You can organise your photos into albums and it’s up to you whether you keep them private or share with the masses. If you elect to share, take some time to look at the usage rights that you are allocating your images so you can be in charge of who can use them and whether they are free.Other good sites for online photo organising are Photobucket, SmugMug, Phanfare or Zenfolio.
The most important organising tool
If you’re new to image organisation, I’d definitely start with Picasa and move on from there if necessary. Chances are, it will have everything you need. Remember, the most important piece of kit you’ll need for keeping a well-organised image file is the delete key!
What system do you currently use to organise your photos?