By Michael Lynch, CCC, NRECA
Are your digital photographs organized well enough for you to find what you need quickly? That’s a challenge for most of us, especially as our photo collections grow to many thousands of images. Technology can help, but you also need to do your part. Consider these strategies for taking control of your digital photo files.
1. Check that your camera is set to the correct date and time.
This may seem obvious, but if your camera isn’t set to the correct data and time, that information will be wrong on all of your photos. It’s worth a minute to check your camera settings to ensure you will be able to sort your photographs chronologically in the future.
2. Don’t be afraid to delete.
With digital cameras, it’s easy to take hundreds of photos in a single session. Do yourself a favor and delete the bad ones right away. Keeping photos you won’t use makes it harder to find the ones you will. Be ruthless when pruning.
3. Keep track of your favorites.
When reviewing new photographs, make sure you mark favorites so you can find them again quickly. Most image management software will let you assign star ratings to your photographs. That’s an easy way to keep track of the best. If you’re not using image management software, put your favorites in a “keepers” folder.
4. Consider using image management software.
- If you only have a small number of photos, storing them in folders on a computer may be all you need to do, assuming you develop a logical folder system. A common approach is to start folder names with year, month and date followed by a description. For instance you might have holiday images in a folder named “2015-01-01 New Year’s Day.” It doesn’t really matter how the system works as long as you understand it and stick to it. Consistency is the key.
- If you are a serious photographer and want to edit and organize your images at the same time, image management software might be for you. There are a lot of image management systems out there. I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, but there are many alternatives. No matter the tool you use, I’d suggest you look for one that makes it easy to edit in bulk and add keywords, ratings and other metadata to images. A lot of these programs offer free trials, so you can see if the workflow they offer works for you.
- If you want to organize and share your photos on the web, there are many online options. Search for “photo hosting websites” and you’ll be spoiled for choices. Here’s a decent starting list from lifehacker. NRECA uses SmugMug both for photos.cooperative.com and Cooperative.com’s monthly photo challenges.
- If you need a company-level solution, take a look at digital asset management systems. These are aimed at big groups with lots of photos and video to manage, so they generally only make sense in larger environments. Here is some basic information about digital asset management from WebDAM, one vendor in that space, to get you started.
5. Backup your photos.
Make sure you store your photos in at least two locations. I’ve had a hard drive go bad and lost many photos. It’s not pretty. I’d also recommend against storing long-term on small portable storage devices, as they are easy to misplace.
If you have photos on a cloud service, that service probably provides automatic backups. If you are cautious like me, though, you may still want to have a copy somewhere else because you never know when that service may be unavailable. Photo sites like Google Photos, Flickr and SmugMug or cloud storage services like iCloud and Dropbox are also good options for backup storage.
6. Keep an eye on what’s new.
Imagine having a program that reliably organizes your photos for you, identifying all of the people, places and things in them. We’re not 100% there yet, but there are a number of companies working to make that day a reality soon.
For example, the newest version of Lightroom offers facial recognition. With it, Lightroom will look through your photos and group them together based on similar faces it finds. This lets you save time and tag people in bulk. You can see a demo of how that works in this video. Facebook users are used to something similar on that service.
Others are going a step farther to automatically identify what is pictured in your photos. Google Photos and Flickr are attempting to analyze your photos and” auto-tag” them today, though this has led to some controversy for both due to inappropriately applied tags that have offended users.
To see a short video about one company’s auto-tagging vision, visit autotag.me. This sort of capability is clearly coming soon. We’ll just have to see who provides it and how accurate they can get it.