Organizing your photos Pt. 2--Metadata and Tagging

Hopefully everyone had a really nice weekend.  Weather here in VA was spotty.  Nice on Saturday, monsoon like on Sunday.  I’m in the middle of scanning 50 years of slides from my family; it is a long and tedious labor of love.  Color correction and scratch repair are all potential future topics, but we want to get to the real power of today’s photo management software, the ability to actually find the photo or photos you are looking for.   

Not wanting to take anything for granted a brief definition of what people mean when they use the word “Metadata”.  It is information about the content of your data.  In our case, it is all the bits relating to what is in your picture.  Today’s cameras capture a lot of the stuff automatically.  It is called Exif data, for all the geeks that is Exchangeable Image File Format, and it includes the date, time, shutter speed, aperture, focal length, what camera, what lens, etc.  Some cameras also capture the GPS coordinates.


If you are interested in the gory details here they are: (


When you import your pictures you can also automatically add such important information as your name and website and really importantly—your copyright data.  Roger will be doing a whole segment on why you really want to do that.   So now, you have the pictures in your computer, you’ve named them all something meaningful, you’ve applied the automatic information, you are all done, right?   Nope, the fun is just beginning.


Tagging or Keywords

A picture can represent many different things.  It could be a photograph of your grandmother, in Wisconsin, at a dairy farm, wearing a hot pink mini-skirt.  Each of these attributes may be something you want to be able to find later on.  


The power of keywords starts in the fact that you are completely in charge—there are no wrong answers.  Most of the applications let you build Hierarchies or nests of keywords.  I have four top level categories

  1. Events
  2. Other
  3. People
  4. Places


Inside “Other” for example, I break it down further

  1. Animals & Birds
  2. Flowers & Nature
  3. Science and Technology
  4. Themes


Inside Themes I further divide it into some of the things I like to shoot

  1. Abstracts
  2. Clouds and sky
  3. Colors
  4. Seasons
  5. Sunrise & Sunset
  6. Textures


Roger also is his family’s genealogy resource, so his People category goes into far more roots and branches than does mine.  I have Family, Friends and Strangers with a few more levels, but he goes into cousins who should have been removed far more than twice.  You can tailor it to suit your needs.


So each photo can have multiple tags, which allows you to find it in a multitude of ways.  You can search for photos tagged with Grandma, or Wisconsin, or Dairy Farms, or pink or mini-skirts, if that is how you have defined your criteria. 


I recommend you try to keep the branches to the minimum which will suit your needs.  If after a while, you find you are not using some of the tags you’ve created, prune them back.  Most of the apps will let you do that quite easily.


People say “I don’t have time to do all that.”   Our experience suggests that if you do it as you are importing, it adds 15 minutes to the process.  You can apply keywords to multiple photos at once, which speeds up the process.   Ah, but what about all the photos which already exist on your hard disk?  Well don’t eat the elephant all at once.  Import them in small enough batches to allow you time to tag them. 


Next time, we’ll talk about ways to build little collections of pictures without having to have multiple copies on your system. 


Have fun.