Digital Photo Image Management

Category: Photography

If you take a lot of digital photos, it is vital to organize and catalog them properly. That takes a bit of work when you transfer photo image files from your camera to a hard drive or other mass storage medium. But it only needs to be done once, and with the right software tools digital image file management is much easier...

Photo Management Software

Most digital cameras come with software to help you transfer photos from the camera to your computer. Typically, these programs will also help you organize your photos and do some basic editing, such as color adjustment, cropping, red-eye removal. But all the ones I've used from the camera manufacturers are a bit clunky, especially when it comes to email or sharing your photos online.

No matter what software you decide to use to manage your photo collection, the single best tip I can give is to plan in advance. Create a filing system of folders, file naming standards, and tags (searchable keywords associated with the image files). You choose what type of classification scheme makes sense to you. Sort and file your photos by date, by event, subject matter or based on who appears in the photos. A well-defined system makes filing images go faster and finding them again easier.
Digital Image Management

Don't just dump hundreds of images into the same folder! If you do, it will take the computer a long time to rebuild the thumbnail index every time you open that overcrowded folder. Instead, create top-level folders for each year's worth of photos, with monthly subfolders under each year. Within each monthly folder, you can optionally create a day subfolder only when you have photos from that day.

How you name image files is up to you, but automatically generated names like DSC000234.jpg are not very helpful. Related photos should start with the same characters so they can be grouped easily, i. e., Easter_2010*.jpg. Remember that Windows file names can be up to 128 characters long.

Create a set of general tags to embed in related photos: "Family", "Grandchildren", "Dog", "Landscape", etc. Adding a general tag or two to a photo can help you narrow the search when you can't quite recall the tags you invented at the time the photo was taken. Keep this list of tags someplace handy.

Free Image Management Software

If you're not happy with the photo manager program that came with your camera, there are some excellent free and shareware image management programs that can help you organize, edit and share your photos with ease. Here are some you can try:

Windows has a built-in Image Management Wizard but it's rudimentary compared to the free and shareware apps out there.

Google's Picasa software is a favorite of many users. Picasa will scan your hard drive for photos and group similarly named photos into virtual folders. It also has a cool face recognition feature that helps to automatically tag and organize photos. Editing features include crop, resize, color, contrast and brightness adjustment, and red-eye reduction. Picasa can make slideshows, and interfaces well with online photo printing and sharing services.

The free version of Cam2PC is customizable to create datestamp folders; ask for captions/tags; and even automatically rotate images. The shareware version (30 day trial; $15 to $20) includes batch processing of image name changes, resizing, and other adjustments; a Print Wizard that can help you get sharp, high-fidelity photo prints; and album, slideshow, or Web site gallery creation.

Online photo management is one way to keep your hard drive uncluttered and your computer secure while sharing photos with distant family and friends over the Internet. Windows Live Gallery is a free plugin for Windows Media Player that catalogs, tags, uploads, and shares your images via Facebook and other social media. Photobucket, Twitpic (for Twitter users), and many other photo-sharing Web sites are all free, but most lack good editing features.

For Mac users, the Apple iPhoto app is very popular. It does much more than the organization chores described above. It can make slideshows; email photos; posts them to Facebook, helps you create printable albums and cards, and more.

Do you have a favorite image management program? Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Digital Photo Image Management"

Posted by:

31 Dec 2010

I liked Google picassa, but the deal breaker for me was the inability to restrict its actions to a specific hard drive. Is that still the case or is there a way to specify which drives you want to give it access to? Is there similar functionality in any program that does allow specifying which drives or partitions the program can access?

Posted by:

31 Dec 2010

"The file does not have a program associated with it for performing this action. Create an association in the folder options panel."

And ever since that malady struck my otherwise perfect machine (running XP Home)I had no access to My Photos or My Documents. After reading this piece it dawned on me(Duhhhh!)that perhaps a photo imaging program, such as Picasa, could grab my pics -- about a thousand in all -- and I would once again have access to them.

It worked! Picasa gathered them all up and I've done an end-around on the registry issue.

Now, if I can figure out how to get at My Documents, I'll be in high cotton. Thanks, Bob.

Posted by:

Frank Scherr
31 Dec 2010

For freeware, I like Picasa. It's easy to use and has plenty of options for sharing with various SocNets.
However, My inventory of photos goes well beyond the ability of Picasa to manage in a manner that I need; do you know of any freeware, shareware, or commercial software that will sort pics based on their meta data?
As ususal, I find your articles straight-forward and written so even I can understand their content! Thnx for a gr8 read everytime!!

Posted by:

31 Dec 2010

My favorite is FlashStone Viewer. The best free editor I have used.

Posted by:

01 Jan 2011

Thanks for the great management tips. As an amateur photographer, I use an easy naming convention for my photos which I've found gives me good access to my images. I download photos from my cameras to dated subfolders (YYYYMMDD + 1 descriptive word) within an "Imaging" top folder. After weeding obvious errors I use the free version of FastStone imaging software for first level editing then move to Photoshop for more complex edits. When I edit photos ("Save As", keeping the original as is) for different purposes, e.g. resized for web or email use - the results are saved in secondary folders - 'Photos for Web' jpegs or 'In Process' TIFF images. Periodically, these are moved to category folders and sub-folders ('Family', 'Travel-USA', 'Architecture', etc.) for easy access, keeping each sub-folder relatively small, as you've recommended. The entire Imaging folder is regularly archived to an external hard drive. There are too many photos to bother tagging all of them, (however, my photos on Flickr are always multi-tagged) but I scan thumbnails occasionally to see if there are any 'gems' that might have some extra life in them and move them to 'In Process' folders. This format has worked for me for over 5 years and may be useful to others who are setting up photo files.

Posted by:

01 Jan 2011

Picasa is the only way to go. If you have a problem, go to their help website, type in your question, and you will have an answer shortly. I am an amateur when it comes to computers, so I have geatly appreciated the help that Picasa has been able to give me. And, the photo organization in Picasa is great.

Posted by:

Peter Ballantyne
13 Mar 2012

Well, I wrestled with what software to use for several years, and my image collection is reasonably large - I am not a professional but a keen amateur hobby photographer. Time and again I wished I could combine the best out of two or three separate apps and put them together into my dream app. After spending about a year with Photoshop Elements I doscovered Zoner Photo Studio. Tyere is a regularly updated free version that is mainly an organiser with basic editing. Ten the Home ediotion with more editing, and finally the Professional version, which I upgraded to a few months ago. But frankly, even in the free version, its management capabilities are almost perfect for my needs. It writes captions and tags directly to the files, but also extablishes a database for fast searching. It habdles metadata better than any other app I have tried. If you are looking for a good photo management app I recommend you try the free version. Tyhere's nothing to lose and I have certainly found it perfect for my needs. It is literally a photo management app designed for photographers by photographers. Oh, and by the way, I am not connected in any way to the company.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Digital Photo Image Management (Posted: 23 Dec 2010)
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