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Organising and Indexing Photos

Digital Photography has allowed many of us to take far more pictures than we would have done in the past. Not only because the memory cards have got larger and prices are falling, and no processing fees but also it is a more instant process than with film when you had to wait and pay for processing. Many, once they have taken their images, then upload them onto their computer in order to edit, print or share with others. One task many are probably not very good at, or even thought about, is how they are going to organize and index the images in order to be able to find them in the future. Here we are going to take a look at each of the following in turn:

  • Keywords

  • Captions

  • Flags

  • Tags

  • Ratings

  • Collections or Albums

  • IPTC and Metadata

Once the image has been taken and uploaded on the computer there are other tasks that should become part of your workflow system, not only the editing and printing of them but also the indexing, filing and storing of them in a manor that will make it easier to find individual images in the future and make sure they are backed up and secure for the years to come. For information on storage devices and backing up see here.

I bet you have a large number of images on your computer and you know you visited and photographed a particular place, but can you find it, is your workflow system organised enough to be able to track it down quickly! In a lot of cases I doubt it. Even if you have managed to put some sort of structure in place on the ĎMy Picturesí area of your computer for when uploading images, getting to an individual photo for a particular topic is more demanding on your indexing/filing system and your time. Filing is subjective, what works for one person, may not work for someone else so it is not an easy task to master and takes some thought and organising.

However not all is lost, you donít have to come up with some elaborate system on your own as there is computer software available that can help in this process including many of the editing software packages, like Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, Nikon Capture NX2 etc. Even within packages such as Nikon ViewNX which comes free with all Nikon DLSR cameras there are facilities and ways to help you identify an image. Whatever system you set up or use what you want to avoid is having multiple copies of the same image in various different areas of your hard drive. It is much better to have a single image file and some software that allows you to organise them in such a way that you can find them again and cuts down on the amount of storage capacity you need.

If you havenít had a system in place up to now, you may look at the number of images you have and think wow itís going to take a few hours to go through this lot and set up a system. So there are two ways to go about this, you could set aside some time and work through those images you already have and set up a system that works for you now and that you can add to into the future. Or alternatively you could design your system and start using it for new photos you take now, and allocate a few hours each week to bring the older images into line. Either way defining and getting a system in place now will pay dividends and save hours in the future. Make sure whatever system you use that it is designed to become part of your ongoing workflow system and not a chore which youíd rather not be doing.

So how do you go about organising?

Uploading the images from your camera onto the computer is the first stage that takes place. Create a folder/directory where you are to upload the images to. Many of the transfer packages that come with the cameras have defaults set up on where to put them, but these can be modified you donít have to use them. The naming of your folder is important make sure it makes sense to you now and will do in the future. Also donít use a naming system which is muddled, or too specific or not easy to expand on. It is probably best at this upload stage to treat each card as if it were a film and give it a name which includes a date and a film number. This will allow all the images to have been taken on the same day to stay, and therefore be filed, together. It also keeps the upload process simple and quick to do.

This gets the images on the computer and has it on your computer once, in a single position, but it doesnít help you in being able to find an individual photo. Finding an individual photo can be done by labelling your images using various methods of indexing such as using batch renaming, keywords, captions, flags and ratings. Keywords and Captions are added to the IPTC or metadata of the image, where as flags and ratings are specific to the piece of organising software you are using, but are another valuable tool to help sort and identify images.

Some of the labelling process can take place at the uploading stage from camera to computer with some transfer packages, like Nikon Transfer. So for instance if all the images were taken at the same location you could get this added to each individual image as it is uploaded onto the computer from the media card. At this time you could also add your name and contact details as the photographer and any copyright notice you want to include, although it is not necessary to do this at this stage, as it can be done later when adding more specific descriptions and keywords.

The software packages we use for editing our images such as Photoshop and Nikon CaptureNX have the ability to add descriptions, tags, categories, ratings etc as part of their metadata, so once added this information will stay with the image. They also have the ability to batch process so it is possible to select a number of similar images to have the same information added in one operation, allowing this process to be done in multi passes.

Many software systems also have the ability to add flags, ratings and using filters which allow the images to be sorted and selected based on the criteria you set. Before using these you need to sort out what the different flags and ratings mean for you and define what each is to represent ready for when you come to add them. Once added the software filtering systems can be used to show just those images to a set criteria within their browser area, allowing you to have fewer images to select from.

There is another system, which some software packages use and these are Tags.  Tags are another method of allowing you to organise, sort, preview and find your photos. They are like keywords that you can attach to your images, but they don't change the items they simply give you additional and more flexible ways of finding and organizing them. So you are able to set up a standard set of tags and then attach the relevant tag to the relevant image. For example if you create a tag called Dad, and attach it to every photo featuring your father, then the system will instantly find all photos with that tag, regardless of where the photo is on your computer. You can also attach more than one tag to a photo. Tags can also be organised under categories which can themselves have multiple subcategories, but try not to over complicate as it will still be difficult to find the images and therefore loose the advantage of using them in the first place.

Collections or Albums is another organising tool that some systems have, this feature allows you to have category splits. These are in effect containers or folders in which you can put/drag your images to. With this facility you create a folder on say a specific topic or for a particular purpose you can then go through your images and drag the relevant ones you want to use into the folder you have created. What actually happens is the system creates a shortcut to the original image, shown as a thumbnail version of the image in the folder you drag it to and leaves the actual/original image where you originally installed it. In the new area you can still carry out modifications and other tasks provided by the software package you are using, and sometimes there is an ability to upload these albums online to be able to share them with others. Another feature of this is that when you click on the thumbnail in the album/collection area you can ask it to find the original image on your disk. In combination with the other methods mentioned here, which some software packages have, you have very comprehensive organising and indexing tools available.

So what software is available to allow us to organise and index our images. There are many. I have already mentioned Photoshop where the facility is built into its browsers and this includes the CS, and Elements versions as well as Adobe Lightroom. The Nikon Software of Capture NX, NX2 and ViewNX have all the functions and Nikon Transfer allows information to be added to the IPTC or metadata. However there are many other programs available from those that are FREE to download and use, through to low cost systems and the fully functioning photo editing software packages.

See Also:

Keywords and Captions


Flags and Filters

Free Organising Software

Backing up your photo collections

External Hard Drives



By: Tracey Park Section: Photography Section Key:
Page Ref: organising_and_indexing Topic: Editing, Printing and Publishing  Last Updated: 11/2009

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