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The best way to organize your photos

The best way to organize your photos
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

If you're a photography nut like me, your hard drive probably has thousands of digital photos floating around in it. That doesn't even take into account what you have on memory cards, flash drives and external drives.

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As I'm sure you've discovered, this leads to an important question. How do you keep your photos organized?

Grouping them in folders is a basic solution, but that only lets you organize them one way. What if you have them organized by date or event, but you want to only see ones with certain people in them? You're back to square one.

Rummaging through dozens of folders and hundreds of photos to find the one you want isn't a very good way to spend your precious time.

What you need is a program made to organize images. It will help you tag your photos so you can re-organize them in seconds. You won't have to be locked in to just one system.

With that in mind, here are some free organizing programs you'll want to try.

Let's start with the ones that come with your computer. Microsoft has the Windows Essentials Photo Gallery for Windows 7 and 8 that makes it easy to tag and sort your photos. You can even do basic editing with cropping, color adjusting, and red-eye removal.

Macs have iPhoto, which provides much the same function as Photo Gallery, with tagging and sorting available as well as editing. Click here to learn the details of how that works.

There are also third-party programs available for both systems if you want to do more organizing with your photos. One of the best is Google's Picasa.

When you use Picasa for the first time, it will scan your  hard drive and build a collection of thumbnails from your images. It automatically organizes the thumbnails by date. From there, you can organize your photos into event albums or sort them by the people in them.

Adding photos to an album is as simple as dragging and dropping selected photos. Remember you can move multiple files at once using the Shift key and clicking with the mouse to select multiple photos to drag and drop. Click here to learn more handy keyboard and mouse shortcuts.

Once the pictures are in an album, just drag them around to put them in order.

Identifying people is simple with Picasa's facial recognition. You can name a person once and Picasa will tag them in other photos where they appear. You can then select their name in the left column to see only photos of them.

Additionally, you can give your photos titles other than the default file name. "Aunt June, 1949, Chicago" will be a lot easier to find later than "IMG00602.JPG."

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Tagging your photos is a good practice. Tags are descriptive keywords that describe what's going on in the picture.

Keywords for the Aunt June picture might include "white dress" or "in the garden." That can help narrow your search when you're thumbing through 125 pictures of Aunt June.

One thing many people have trouble with in Picasa is that albums only appear in Picasa. So if you uninstall Picasa, your organization goes away. Your pictures will just be in folders like they were before.

However, you can use the File>>Export Album feature to send your organized album to its own separate folder on your hard drive. You can even tell it to number the files so they stay in the right order.

Yes, this creates duplicate files on your drive, but if you're putting files on an external drive to share with family or using them for another project like a photo book, it's a handy feature.

Once the images in your library have descriptive titles and tags, get in the habit of creating titles and tags for photos as you import them to the collection.

Of course, if you want to organize your photos on a smartphone or tablet, you'll need an app. iOS and Android have built-in photo apps, but they might not be as powerful as you'd like. Instead, take a look at the simple yet powerful Tidy app.

Photos are priceless. They're snapshots of time and events that will never happen again. So the last thing you want is to lose them in a computer crash or disaster.

That's why you need to be making a backup. Moving them to a DVD or external drive is a good first step, but that still leaves them vulnerable to thieves, floods, fires and other catastrophes.

Personally, I recommend using a cloud-based backup service like my advertiser Carbonite. I've used it for years, and it's the service I trust with all my precious data.

It backs up your photos - and other important files - automatically to a secure, remote location. You know your precious memories be there no matter what, and you can access them from any computer, smartphone or tablet.

Don't leave your irreplaceable memories vulnerable another minute. Click here to sign up today.

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