How To Use a Photo Organizer

Once you have purchased a digital camera it costs almost nothing to take more pictures. Thats quite a change from the days when each color photograph could cost a dollar or more. Carrying a pocket camera and following the advice on QuickShotArtist, you will soon have a collection of many hundreds of good images. You will ultimately want to retrieve specific pictures from your collection. Perhaps you will want to show someone the picture of sunset you took back when the lake froze over, or perhaps you decide you want to get some prints made of photos of a vacation spot taken over the years. A photo organizer is a computer program that helps you find and retrieve the images you seek.  An organizer will also let you look at the images in slide-show fashion, and copy and backup your collection.

There are many organizers available. Our example is the organizer packaged with Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.  The features discussed are similar in other versions of the Adobe Product and in other organizers on the market.

Images are brought into the Organizer using the Filemenu. The import process works with images in a camera plugged into the computer or with image files stored on CD, memory stick, or hard disk If the files are in a camera they will be copied to your hard disk. If the pictures are already on your hard disk, perhaps saved from e-mail or downloaded fro the web, then importing them does not make another copy. Be careful if you have images on a memory stick or portable hard drive. They will usually not be copied to you desktop hard drive. Check the destination folder. Sometimes it is easiest to drag the folder on to your hard drive first. Importing only records where the files are on the disk. That means that if you move or rename files using the operating system, the Organizer will lose track of where they are. The Organizer will automatically search the hard disk to try to reconnect the files, but that is time consuming and only works if the file has been moved but not renamed. There is a command within Organizer that lets you move files while keeping track of them.

Once imported, thumbnail versions appear on the Organizer window. The size of the images is adjusted with a slider at the top of the window. You will build a list of tags to identify the images, and that list appears on the right.

Organizer screen

Moving the slider at the top all the way to the right end of its range results in only one image being displayed on the page. The scroll bar to the immediate right of the image space advances the images as a slide show.  Moving the slider left makes the images smaller and puts more of them in rows and columns in the image space in the window. Selecting one or more images outlines them in blue. Tags from the list can be dragged to one of the selected images and it will be applied all of of the ones selected. Dragging a tag to an unselected image applies it only to that one image. If some images are selected you can still apply tags to individual unselected images.  Selected images can be passed to the editor for touch up by using the Editor menu on the top right of the image space.

It's worth planning out a system for tagging. Organizer provides a few generic predefined tags like People and Places, but you must define most of them yourself. Digital photographs are automatically tagged with the date and time when the camera takes the picture. There are now a few cameras that automatically add the location data to the image, using GPS to get the coordinates. A new cell phone camera has been announced with the feature. Until location-tagging becomes standard,  it is best to define tags for the locations of the pictures.  You may want tags with varying scopes such as California, coast, San Francisco, and park. Pictures taken in Golden Gate Park could receive all four tags, or you could just use San Francisco and park.  The goal is to be able to retrieve an image. If you can get the image you want, there are no extra points awarded for having a complete set of tags. Having tags for California and coast will help you find pictures taken on the coast even if you don't remember what city you were in, perhaps in a rural section. The more pictures taken in one place the finer the locations. In your home town you might have tags for individual streets. Here are some location tags:

Place tags

A tag for the type of subject is a logical compliment to the location. You may want to find pictures of flowers without regard to where they were taken, or possibly flowers in Italy.  Here are some of the tags I have defined for subjects:

Subjectm tags

In my list is one called Panorama. That is a subject category. It describes the nature of the image.  Other tags in this category might include Cell Phone Camera, Canon A570, Posterized, and HDRI. You may have no use for this category, but if you ever want to find a panoramic photo of flowers taken with a cell phone camera in a park in California there is no substitute for having a full set of tags.

In the Organizer screen captures above, notice the five small stars below each image. You can rate each image from one to five, and the rating will show as one or more stars colored gold. This can be useful if, for example, you want to make a calendar using your best shots of the California coast.

If you are an avid photographer, it is best to define many tags, more than you think are really necessary, and add them to set of  pictures when you import than. That minimizes having to go back and add tags to a large collection of photographs. Make a list of all the things you might use the photos for in the future. For example, you make a year-end holiday letter, you might want to have a tag for pictures that might be included.  

Click the boxes by the tags in the list to search for the items having those tags.  Clicking on Hawaii yields all the pictures in Hawaii. Then clicking fish finds the Hawaii photos also tagged with fish.  There is no straightforward way to find both fish and flowers in Hawaii. You must do separate searches, or be creative and define a new category fish-flowers.  Find all the fish and apply the new tag, then find all the flowers and apply the new tag. Thereafter fish-flowers will yield both.