This article is a pre-release chapter in Jeff Carlson’s upcoming “Take Control of Your Digital Photos,” scheduled for public release in August 2013. Apart from the, these chapters are available only to ; see “ ” for details.
So much of the information about photography out there focuses (pun intended) on the art and practice of capturing images, but very little addresses what to do with the shots once they’re in captivity. The whole point of taking control of your digital photos is to not just find a place for them on your hard disk, but to work with them later—whether that’s editing a group of promising images the day they’re shot or assembling a slide show three years later.
This is where the work you’ve done so far pays off. Armed with a photo library chock-full of metadata, you can locate images in a fraction of the time it would take to scan through them visually. I’ll show you how to search for specific metadata—such as keywords and ratings, and even camera-generated data such as aperture, shutter speed, and camera model—to track down shots. Then I’ll cover how to make that search capability work in your favor by building smart albums whose contents can change based on criteria you specify.
When I want to track down photos, I almost always start by performing a text search to locate keywords or other data, and then refine the results by specifying star ratings, labels, or flags. Knowing that I tagged my Disney vacation photos with keywords, for instance, I would do a text search for “Disneyland” and then filter the results to reveal only images rated three stars or higher.
Sometimes I look for specific metadata, such as the camera type or a range of shutter speeds. That enables me to revisit only images shot on my iPhone, for example.
Here’s how to take advantage of some of the most useful search features in your photo-management software.
To perform a basic search for text that appears in nearly any metadata field (including keywords, titles, and captions), type a term into the program’s Search field. Pressing Command-F activates the Search field in Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, and iPhoto, and brings up Aperture’s Filter HUD (heads-up display) (Figure 1). To search in Aperture without using the large popover, click the Search field and type your search term.Figure 1: Aperture’s Filter popover can feel like overkill when you just want to search for a term." />
Lightroom and Photoshop Elements also offer advanced constructions for performing text searches. In Lightroom, you can exclude terms from a search by putting an exclamation point (!) before them. Typing
pastry berry brings up all photos tagged with both “pastry” and “berry,” but typing
pastry !berry displays photos tagged with “pastry” and hides those that also contain “berry.” To accomplish the same task in the Elements Organizer, you’d type
pastry NOT berry.
Similarly, add a plus sign (+) before a word in Lightroom to search for text that starts with that word, or append the plus sign after a word to locate text strings that end in those characters.
You can also control how the terms are handled in Lightroom by choosing from the second pop-up menu in the Text filter bar (Figure 2). For example, to find photos that contain the terms “pastry” or “berry,” you choose Contains—instead of Contains All—from the menu.Figure 2: Choose how Lightroom handles search terms." />
After I narrow my results using a text search, I next naturally want to see which of those images I’ve rated higher than others. Lightroom includes a rating filter in its filmstrip: click a star to view photos with that rating (Figure 3). The symbol to the left of the stars indicates whether you will view images with the selected rating or higher (≥), with the selected rating or lower (≤), or with just the selected rating (=). You can also click a flag or label to further narrow the number of visible items.Figure 3: The Filter control below the photo thumbnails in Lightroom searches based on rating." />
Photoshop Elements includes a similar control located just above the thumbnails.
In Aperture, you can select a rating in the Filter HUD, but it’s easier to either click the pop-up menu that’s part of the Search field or press Control and the number corresponding to the rating you want (such as Control-3 to view images three stars and higher).
To search by ratings in iPhoto, click the Search field’s pop-up menu, choose Rating, and then click the star rating you want. You’ll be shown photos with that rating as well as those rated higher.
Since each program organizes photos based on their capture dates, it’s easy to scroll back through your thumbnails to hit approximate dates.
In its Photos view, iPhoto helpfully displays the month and year of the visible photos when you use the scrollbar. To home in on a date—let’s say you’re looking for photos on someone’s birthday—click the pop-up menu that’s part of the Search field and choose Date. A small calendar appears showing the year and months (Figure 4); click a month to display only photos taken during that time. Or, click the button in the top-left corner to switch to a month view where you can select a specific day. (Command-click to select multiple months or days, and Shift-click to select a range of months or days. Option-clicking a date shows you every photo taken on that date regardless of the year.)Figure 4: Choose a date range to view pictures using the Date picker from the Search field." />
Since Lightroom stores image files by date, you can expand the Folders pane and dig through the folder hierarchy to find specific years, months, and days. Aperture offers a List View of your library that makes it easier to see the dates of the photos (Figure 5); press Control-L, or click the List view button above the Browser, to switch to the List View. (Control-G or the Grid view button takes you back to the Grid view.)Figure 5: Aperture’s List view makes it easy to locate photos by date." />
The Elements Organizer includes an interesting variation on scrolling through your photos: a timeline (choose View > Timeline to make it visible) that indicates groups of photos like a bar chart (Figure 6). Click a block to view the photos during that period, or drag the markers at the left and right edges of the Timeline to view only photos within that date range.Figure 6: The Timeline in the Elements Organizer plots your photos horizontally based on date." />
Although it isn’t a common need, you can search for photos based on metadata generated by the camera. For instance, you might want to find vacation photos shot with a specific camera (such as the one your partner used), or want to find all photos shot at ISO 6400 or above so you can apply noise reduction to them.
Lightroom provides four panels of metadata from which to choose to narrow your search. Click Metadata in the Filter bar and then choose the metadata setting you want (Figure 7). Clicking a panel’s label reveals the types of metadata you can use.Figure 7: Lightroom’s Metadata filter lists how many photos match each attribute." />
Aperture, once again, charges ahead with its Filter HUD. Click the Add Rule pop-up menu, choose EXIF, and then pick a setting from the EXIF bar that appears at the bottom of the HUD (Figure 8).Figure 8: Aperture reveals all sorts of information in its Filter HUD." />
In the Elements Organizer, choose Find > By Details (Metadata), specify which type of metadata to use and what information to look for, and then click the Search button. (This is also the route for building a smart album, which I cover soon.) However, you can also use text searches to identify metadata such as
make: nikon. Other search tags include:
iPhoto’s options are limited, as expected, but not completely absent. The Search field can pull some metadata; typing
6400 displays photos with an ISO of 6400, for example, but you don’t get the same granularity found in the other applications. Typing
2.8 to find photos with an aperture of f/2.8 will also yield images at different aperture values shot with a 105mm f/2.8 lens.
Performing stand-alone searches is good when you’re looking for one or two photos, but you’ll often want to revisit (or create) a collection of photos. In the analog world, pictures would be mounted in photo albums or sorted into envelopes. In the digital realm, applications have adopted the “album” metaphor to denote a virtual organizational space.
The problem is, albums tend to be dumb containers—you manually update them by dragging items in or out. It’s enough work that I’ve only sporadically used regular albums over the years. Instead, I take advantage of the benefits of smart albums, whose contents change depending on the criteria I specify. For example, I created a smart album that collects all photos tagged with my daughter’s name and captured since her last birthday, and that I’ve rated three stars or higher. As I add more photos—and believe me, I will—they appear automatically in the smart album so I can view and share the best shots of her.
You can build smart albums using almost any criteria. Other examples could include a collection of all four-star-and-higher landscapes, photos shot this time last year, or images containing specific people (circumventing the facial-recognition features in some apps; see Skip Facial Recognition in the previous chapter).
As you might expect, each application implements smart albums in a different way. Here’s a rundown of how to create them, taking into account some of the programs’ special features.
Lightroom, which refers to albums as collections, includes a handful of pre-made smart collections such as Five Stars and Past Month. You’ll find them in the Collections pane inside a Smart Collections set. New smart collections can be placed anywhere in the Collections pane, however. As an example, the following steps create a smart collection that displays three-star photos taken within the past six months:
You can add additional rules to further define the smart collection. For example, if you want to exclude photos captured with an iPhone, do the following:
But wait, there’s more! Lightroom supports nested conditions in smart collections. In the collection we just created, all rules needed to be met for an image to appear. But suppose you want to narrow those results to view images tagged with the keywords “coffee” or “pastry”? Do the following:
Aperture takes a similar approach to smart albums, but the results appear in the background as you build the album’s query. Here’s how to create the same smart album as above, which finds photos rated three stars or higher from the past six months:
To add other conditions, such as excluding photos shot using an iPhone, do the following:
When it comes to smart albums, Photoshop Elements is a special case. You can create a saved search in the Elements Organizer, which queries metadata the same way a smart album does, but you can’t go back and edit it once it’s made. (In version 11, Adobe even removed the name “smart album” from the application, and stuck with “saved search” instead.) It’s a little odd, and I’ve never figured out why Adobe doesn’t just implement smart albums like other applications do. Still, the functionality is there, but concealed.
Here’s how to create our example query to locate photos rated three stars or higher taken in the last six months:
Ideally, at this point I’d tell you how to edit the saved search and add more criteria. But that would be too easy. Since you can’t edit a saved search, instead, do this:
iPhoto doesn’t expose as much metadata, so its smart albums aren’t capable of the granularity possible in Lightroom or Aperture. Still, they’re just as capable in most respects. To set up our sample smart album, which locates photos rated three stars or higher captured during the past six months, follow these steps:
If you want to edit a smart album, such as to add another rule excluding iPhone images from the search, do this:
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