The full text of Jeff Carlson’s book on digital photo management, released chapter by chapter for TidBITS members. If you’re a member, log in using your TidBITS account (click My Account on the left) to be able to read everything beyond the first chapter. The final book is available in PDF, EPUB, and Mobipocket (Kindle) versions for $15; TidBITS members can save 30% on this and all other Take Control titles (start at your Member Benefits page to get the discount).
If iPhoto — or whatever photo management app you use — has become nothing more than a virtual shoebox into which you import photos, we have advice that will help you take control of your digital photos coming over the next 6 to 8 weeks.
We’re drowning in digital photos. Too often, the shots are dumped into a computer with the best of intentions of sorting and organizing, but are then left scarcely examined or enjoyed. Life intrudes, more photos are captured, and time passes until you need to locate some shots that you vaguely remember taking. It doesn’t have to be that way, as Jeff Carlson explains in the introduction to “Take Control of Your Digital Photos.”
It’s easy to think that taking control of digital photos begins when you import the images into your computer, but the truth is that the process starts before you capture your first shot. For example, time stamps are the foundation of photo-management software, making it essential that your camera records the correct time. It is possible to fix errant time stamps later, but doing so throws a roadblock into your workflow. (And if enough roadblocks appear, you may decide to turn around and abandon the endeavor altogether.) The advice in this chapter isn’t complicated, but it goes a long way toward ensuring the photos you shoot will be cleanly imported.
Although it’s possible to dump photos into a folder and call that “organization,” I don’t recommend doing so. My photo-management strategy relies on software to organize images and apply essential metadata. The time you save when tagging and searching for images justifies the price of a good photo-management program. But which one? I’d love to say, “Go get this one program and you’ll be set,” but that’s not realistic. The good news is that there are several interesting options for managing photos. Because it’s impractical for me to list every program out there, I focus on the features that I consider most essential for managing your photo collection and the specific programs that meet these criteria.
Moving photos from a camera or memory card to the computer seems like mere transportation: bits captured and stored in one location are copied and saved to a new location. But your computer can do more than just shuttle files from one location to another. By taking advantage of software’s capability to assign metadata during the import stage, much of the drudgery of organizing photos is handled upfront with minimal interaction required by you.
You need to be judgmental about your images. Why? Judging your photos achieves two goals. It sets up a practical workflow for later, so you know right away which shots you want to share with others and which ones need work in an image editor before being ready to be made public (and which should be deleted or hidden). Judging also helps you become a better photographer, because it helps you look at your shots critically to determine what you’re doing right or wrong, and in what areas you excel or need to improve. In this chapter, I offer a system for judging and flagging your photos to make them most useful in your library. I also discuss what to do with the shots that don’t make the cut.
A previous chapter talked a lot about adding metadata during the import process because that’s the easiest way to apply it. Assigning keywords and other information during that initial stage takes some prep time, but when you click the Import button, the metadata is applied with a broad brush across all your incoming photos. After import, though, you still have some touch-up work to do. To make your photos easily searchable later — the ultimate goal in our organization project — you also need to apply more-specific metadata to individual photos. This might include identifying people and landmarks, or describing shots. In this chapter, I look at how to choose good keywords and how to apply them smartly. I also discuss how to fix incorrect dates and times, how to apply geolocation information, and why it may not be worth investing the time in your program’s facial-recognition tools.
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. This is where the work you’ve done so far in terms of shooting smart, assigning metadata at import, and applying keywords and other metadata later on 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.
An old printed photo is precious often because it’s the only copy that exists. In the digital age, that type of scarcity isn’t a problem. You can easily make copies of a photo or have inexpensive prints made. And yet, digital photos suffer from a different type of scarcity: one hard drive failure can wipe out your photos — all of your photos — in an instant. The solution is to ensure you have a solid backup system in place. You also want to make sure you can view your photos in the distant future. Unfortunately, as I discuss at the end of this chapter, that isn’t an easy guarantee given how software and hardware will change over the years.
If you’ve been using iPhoto for years and want to switch up to either Aperture or Lightroom, this final chapter of “Take Control of Your Digital Photos” is for you! In it, Jeff explains how to migrate your photos from iPhoto to Aperture, which is incredibly easy, before showing you how perform the same task with Lightroom, where the migration requires more effort if you want to retain all your metadata from iPhoto (which you do).