This article originally appeared in TidBITS on 2013-08-05 at 2:42 p.m.
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“Take Control of Your Digital Photos,” Chapter 7

by Jeff Carlson

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 introduction [1], these chapters are available only to TidBITS members [2]; see “Streamed Advice for Managing Your Digital Photos [3]” for details.


Organize Photos into (Smart) Albums

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.

Locate Your Photos Using Search

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.

Find Text

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." />

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." />

Figure 2: Choose how Lightroom handles search terms.

Search by Rating or Label

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." />

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.

Tip: iPhoto also includes a keyboard-centric way to search by ratings. Press Command-F to activate the Search field and then type asterisks for the number of stars you want. For example, typing *** displays all the three-star photos. But note that this technique searches for matches only; if you want to find three-star-and-higher images, you need to choose Rating from the Search field’s pop-up menu and click three stars.

Search by Date

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." />

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." />

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." />

Figure 6: The Timeline in the Elements Organizer plots your photos horizontally based on date.

Find Metadata

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." />

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." />

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:

  • tag: (keyword)
  • filename:
  • caption:
  • model: (camera model)
  • author:
  • notes:
  • date:##/## (month/day)
  • date:#### (year)
  • date: (today, yesterday, lastweek, thisyear, or lastyear)

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.

Get Smart about Albums

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).

Create Standard Albums For Specific Purposes

Although I’m pushing the virtues of smart albums, standard albums also have a place in your library. I use an album named “Temp” to store items on a short-term basis, such as when I’m assembling potential photos for a project and need to go back later and choose some of them. Lightroom offers a handy Quick Collection feature for just this purpose: select one or more photos and press the B key (or choose Photo > Add to Quick Collection). It’s like having a pail for collecting blueberries as you pick them—you’ll empty the pail and reuse it later.

What I also don’t like about standard albums, in addition to the manual work involved, is the resulting clutter. You’ll find yourself stepping over a bunch of one-off albums that you may never need to open again. Yes, you can group albums into folders for cleaner organization, but I prefer to minimize the number of albums I create in the first place.

Create Smart Albums

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

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:

  1. In the Library module, choose Library > New Smart Collection. Or, click the New Collection (+) button at the top right corner of the Collections pane and choose Create Smart Collection. A new dialog appears.
  2. Give the collection a title in the Name field.
  3. In the Locations area, select the checkbox and choose the Smart Collections set from the pull-down menu.
  4. Make sure the Match pop-up menu is set to All, which dictates that every condition you set up must be true for a photo to appear. The alternative is to choose Any, which collects photos that match any of the conditions. There’s also a None option if you want to build a search that excludes the criteria you’re defining. Since we want to view images that are marked three stars or higher and were shot in the past six months, stick to All.
  5. The first rule is automatically set to Rating, so click the third dot to the right of the “is greater than or equal to” pop-up menu to define three stars.
  6. Click the Add (+) button to the right of the rule to add a new one.
  7. From the pop-up menu at left, change the second rule from Rating to Date > Capture Date (Figure 9).
    Figure 9: Defining smart collection criteria in Lightroom." />

    Figure 9: Defining smart collection criteria in Lightroom.

  8. Click the pop-up menu to the right and choose “is in the last.”
  9. Change the number in the field that appears to 6, and change the next pop-up menu from “days” to “months.”
  10. Click Create to save the smart collection.

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:

  1. Double-click the smart collection in the Collections pane to edit it.
  2. Click the Add (+) button to add a new rule.
  3. Change the first pop-up menu to Camera Info > Camera.
  4. From the rule’s pop-up menu, choose “doesn’t contain,” and type “iPhone” into the field next to it.
  5. Click Save. The iPhone photos no longer appear in the collection.

Tip: You can also perform regular searches within a smart collection; so you don’t need to edit or rebuild collection settings if you just want to pick out a certain keyword or other attribute.

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:

  1. Double-click the smart collection to edit it.
  2. Hold the Option key and click the Add button, which changes from a plus (+) to a pound sign (#).
  3. Leave the first pop-up menu set to “Any of the following are true.”
  4. From the option pop-up menu, choose Other Metadata > Keywords.
  5. Leave the middle pop-up menu set to “contains” and enter your first keyword (in this example, it’s “coffee”).
  6. Click the Add (+) button to create a new rule, which is contained within the nested condition.
  7. Set the second nested rule to read: Keywords contains “pastry” (Figure 10).
  8. Click Save.
    Figure 10: The nested condition tells the smart collection to find images matching the first three rules, but only if they contain the keywords “coffee” or “pastry”." />

    Figure 10: The nested condition tells the smart collection to find images matching the first three rules, but only if they contain the keywords “coffee” or “pastry”.

Tip: Smart collections look through your entire library for results, but you can narrow the source by specifying a folder or an existing collection. So, if you set up a smart collection but want to be able to display a subset of those images, you’d create a new smart collection with a Source selector that specifies the first collection, followed by the additional criteria.

Aperture

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:

  1. Choose File > New > Smart Album, or press Command-Shift-L. A new smart album is created in the inspector and the Smart Settings HUD appears (Figure 11).
    Figure 11: The settings to define a smart album in Aperture appear as a heads-up display (HUD)." />

    Figure 11: The settings to define a smart album in Aperture appear as a heads-up display (HUD).

  2. From the first pop-up menu, choose whether the album looks for images that apply to Any or All of the rules, and, from the second pop-up menu, whether they Match or Do Not Match the criteria. For this example, change the first menu to All.
  3. Choose an item from the Source rule. If no project was selected when you created the smart album, Library is the source. However, I frequently find myself creating a smart album when a project was highlighted, unintentionally limiting the results just to that project.
  4. Select one of the rules listed, such as Rating, and choose a setting for it. In this example, move the slider over three tick marks to the three-star setting. (The slider is initially set at the second mark, which represents zero stars; use the first mark to locate rejected images.)
  5. Since the default rules don’t include Date, you need to add it: click the Add Rule pop-up menu and choose Date.
  6. From the second pop-up menu in the Date rule, choose “is in the last” and then specify 6 months using the text field and the last pop-up menu.
  7. Give the smart album a name by typing over the selected Untitled Smart Album title in the inspector.
  8. Click the Close box (the X in the top-left corner) to save the album.

To add other conditions, such as excluding photos shot using an iPhone, do the following:

  1. Click the magnifying glass icon to the right of the smart album name in the inspector to bring up the Smart Settings HUD.
  2. Click the Add Rule pop-up menu and choose EXIF. The camera make isn’t an option for new rules, because that’s part of EXIF data.
  3. In the new EXIF rule, choose Camera Make from the first pop-up menu (Figure 12).
    Figure 12: Adding the EXIF rule enables you to tap into EXIF metadata such as Camera Make." />

    Figure 12: Adding the EXIF rule enables you to tap into EXIF metadata such as Camera Make.

  4. From the second pop-up menu, choose “is not empty and is not.”
  5. Enter “iPhone” into the text field, and close the HUD.
Photoshop Elements

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:

  1. In the Elements Organizer, choose Find > By Details (Metadata).
  2. To ensure the search is looking for ratings and dates, select the radio button labeled “All of the following search criteria [AND].”
  3. From the first pop-up menu, choose Rating.
  4. From the second pop-up menu, choose “is higher than.” Like iPhoto, Elements does not include an option for “is equal to or greater than.”
  5. Set the third pop-up menu, the number of stars, to 2 (Figure 13).
    Figure 13: Choosing a star rating in the Elements Organizer." />

    Figure 13: Choosing a star rating in the Elements Organizer.

  6. Click the Add (+) button to add another rule to the search.
  7. Choose Capture Date in the first pop-up menu of the new rule.
  8. From the second pop-up menu, choose “is within the last.”
  9. Set the time to 6 months.
  10. To create a saved search, versus just performing a search, select the Save This Search Criteria as Saved Search checkbox and give it a name (Figure 14).
    Figure 14: Save the criteria as a saved search so you can view its results again later." />

    Figure 14: Save the criteria as a saved search so you can view its results again later.

  11. Click Search to view the results.

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:

  1. Click the pop-up menu that’s part of the Search field and select Saved Searches (Figure 15). The search results appear in the browser.
    Figure 15: The backdoor method of loading saved searches in Photoshop Elements 11." />

    Figure 15: The backdoor method of loading saved searches in Photoshop Elements 11.

  2. Click the Options menu at the top-right corner of the browser and choose Modify Search Criteria. The Find by Details (Metadata) dialog appears.
  3. Click the Add (+) button in the last rule to add another one.
  4. Choose Camera Make from the first pop-up menu.
  5. Set the next pop-up menu to “Does not contain.”
  6. Enter “iPhone” in the text field.
  7. To use this search later, select the Save This Search Criteria as Saved Search checkbox.
  8. Enter a new name for the search; you’re actually creating a new saved search with the modified criteria, so choose a different name from what you used before. The Organizer will let you use the same name, but then you end up with two identically-titled items in the Saved Searches dialog.

Note: If you’re using the Elements Organizer in Photoshop Elements 10 or earlier, the saved searches show up as smart albums in the Albums panel. However, you still have to create a new saved search if you modify an existing one.

iPhoto

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:

  1. Choose File > New Smart Album (or press Command-Option-N).
  2. In the sheet that appears, enter a name for the album.
  3. From the first pop-up menu, choose My Rating.
  4. From the second pop-up menu, choose “is greater than.” Note that there’s no option for “is equal to or greater than,” which makes the next step seem counter-intuitive.
  5. To view photos ranked three stars or higher, you need to click two stars in the rating field that appears (Figure 16). You’re directing iPhoto to find images ranked higher than, but not including, two stars.
    Figure 16: To choose three stars and higher, you must specify a rating greater than two stars." />

    Figure 16: To choose three stars and higher, you must specify a rating greater than two stars.

  6. Click the Add (+) button to add a new rule.
  7. Choose Date from the second rule’s pop-up menu and specify that it is in the last 6 months.
  8. When the smart album contains more than one rule, the option to match any or all conditions appears; choose All.
  9. Click OK to save the smart album and view its results.

If you want to edit a smart album, such as to add another rule excluding iPhone images from the search, do this:

  1. Right-click (or Control-click) the smart album in the sidebar and choose Edit Smart Album.
  2. Click the Add (+) button to insert a new rule.
  3. In the first pop-up menu of the new rule, choose Camera Model.
  4. Set the next menu to “is not.”
  5. Choose the camera from the third pop-up menu (Figure 17).
  6. Click OK.
    Figure 17: iPhoto tracks specific camera models." />

    Figure 17: iPhoto tracks specific camera models.

Tip: Although iPhoto has the option to include a specific album among the criteria, that applies only to standard albums, not other smart albums.

Read More: About [4] | Chapter 1 [5] | Chapter 2 [6] | Chapter 3 [7] | Chapter 4 [8] | Chapter 5 [9] | Chapter 6 [10] | Chapter 7 [11] | Chapter 8 [12] | Chapter 9 [13]

[1]: http://tidbits.com/article/13883
[2]: http://tidbits.com/member_benefits.html
[3]: http://tidbits.com/article/13882
[4]: http://tidbits.com/article/13882
[5]: http://tidbits.com/article/13883
[6]: http://tidbits.com/article/13884
[7]: http://tidbits.com/article/13901
[8]: http://tidbits.com/article/13925
[9]: http://tidbits.com/article/13949
[10]: http://tidbits.com/article/13965
[11]: http://tidbits.com/article/13992
[12]: http://tidbits.com/article/14014
[13]: http://tidbits.com/article/14035