This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Wrangling with countless photos on your hard drive? Follow our tips to organize the chaos.
Digital cameras let you take pictures with impunity. You no longer have to buy film, think in terms of 24exposure photo sessions, or pay to process any of the crummy shots lurking in your camera. That probably means you've started taking more photos than ever before. You shoot the same scene from three different angles, take extra "insurance" photos of special situations, and generally get a lot more creative than you did with your film camera. That's great, but all this photography has a downside: Your hard drive probably looks like a digital version of the back of your garage. It's filled with hundreds--perhaps thousands--of photos. Some are titled, but many others still say stuff like DSC030256.jpg. Some of them live in logically named folders; others are strewn all over the place, virtually impossible to find. Here are ten tips that will help you thoroughly organize your digital photo collection. So the next time Uncle Ned asks you for a picture from his cat's 2001 birthday party, you'll be able to find it in seconds.
1. Let's See--Was It DSC044653 or DSC044654?
Nothing--and we mean nothing--will help you get organized faster than simply renaming your photos. When you download images from your digital camera to the PC, they usually come with file names that only an alien's mother could love. As soon as you move a set of images to the PC, right-click the first file, choose Rename, give it a meaningful name, and do the same for the rest. Later, you'll be able to search for that file by part of the name. If you have a lot of pictures to rename at once, it can get tedious. You might want to try batch-renaming-a way to give files new names in bulk, instead of one at a time (see Save Time With the Batch Tool, below). Try this once your picture files are renamed for easy searching: If your system runs Windows XP, click Start, Search, choose the Pictures, music, or video option, and enter the word cat in the 'All or part of the file name' box. Windows will display thumbnail images of every picture on your hard drive that includes the term cat in the title. If you have Windows 2000, Me, or 98, you can't drill down to search images as easily. You'll have to do things the old-fashioned way. Click Start, Search, For Files or Folders (Me) or Start, Find, Files or Folders (98). In the field that appears under 'Search for files or folders named' (Me) or 'Named' (98), type *cat* (note the asterisks before and after the search term). Of course, your search results could include other files, like your Word and text files, with the word cat in the title. If you know the file extension, you could add, say, .jpg to the search term. If you don't, you can type in all possible graphics file extensions, separated by commas and with the search term in front of each of them, as in *cat*.jpg, *cat*.bmp, *cat*.gif, *cat*.tif. But make sure you rename your pictures right away. If you procrastinate, you'll end up with hundreds of images to rename, and it'll never get done.
2. Save Time With the Batch Tool
If you're in a hurry but want to label your photos before you forget, you can rename them all in a single batch if your system runs Windows XP. Select the images, right-click, and choose Rename. Type a new name for the images and press Enter.Windows renames all the selected files, but also attaches a different number at the end of each name to tell them apart. What good is that? If you don't have time to rename every image, at least you can name them all after the trip you just took (like "Yellowstone") so they'll be easy to find when you do get around to renaming or editing them. If you have an earlier version of Windows, you can still perform batch operations on photos, but you'll need a specialized program like ACDSee from ACDSystems (free trial, $50 to buy) or Jasc's Image Robot (free trial, $90 to buy). Both programs let you make the same changes to a large batch of photos, so you
can go off and do something else while your PC toils without you. Other image editors also offer this feature, such as the full version of Adobe Photoshop ($609).
3. Rotate the Easy Way
Even simple stuff like rotating pictures sideways can be a pain if you have a lot of photos. Windows XP makes it a snap to rotate many pictures at once through a technique called batch processing. Here's how: In Windows XP, open a folder that includes some digital images and select several of them. (To select photos that aren't adjacent to each other, click each photo while holding down the Ctrl key.) Now rightclick the selected images, and you should see the option to rotate them clockwise or counterclockwise. Choose one, and Windows will do the rest. Windows 2000, Me, and 98 don't offer the batch-rotation trick, but you can rotate your photos in an image-editing program, such as Jasc's Paint Shop Pro ($109) or Adobe Photoshop Elements (free trial, $99 to buy). In Paint Shop Pro, click Image, Rotate; in Photoshop Elements, select Image, Rotate Canvas, then choose 90° CW or 90° CCW.
4. Be Ruthless: Delete the Trash
When it comes to digital photos, we all become terrible packrats, saving pictures of people without heads and images that contain ghostlike blurs that we suspect might be someone's toddler from back in the Ronald Reagan era. If you want your digital photo collection to be useful, though, you need to mercilessly discard the terrible shots--all those that appear out of focus and just poorly composed. If you have half a dozen photos of your cousin's new home, pick the best two and throw away the rest. If you're honest with yourself, you'll agree that your photo collection is more useful, easier to search, and less intimidating to maintain if it's pared down to a reasonable size.
5. Organize Your Life with Folders
Windows gives you a great place to store your pictures--a folder that's actually called My Pictures. However, packing thousands of images into one big folder is a lot like storing several years' worth of tax receipts in a single size-11 shoebox. There's an easier way: Open My Pictures and right-click anywhere on the folder background. Choose New, Folder and give it a name appropriate for your current batch of photos. Make as many folders as you need (you can make folders within a folder) and drag your photos (and folders) around into logical places. If you file your photos by criteria like year, event, subject, and topic, they'll be extremely easy to find anytime you need them.
6. Slim Down Your Photos
Do your photos need to go on a diet? It depends on how you plan to use them. If all you ever plan to do is attach your pictures to e-mail messages or paste them into digital documents and online photo albums, you're wasting a lot of hard drive space by keeping images in their 3-megapixel glory. Reclaim gigabytes of storage space by resaving them as 640-by-480-pixel photos. You can do that by hand in an image editor like Jasc's Paint Shop Pro (choose Image, Resize, then enter the pixel size you want in the Resize dialog box), or automate the process with a program like Jasc's Image Robot, which can batch-convert hundreds of images into a different size and file format while you go watch TV. Just remember: Don't throw away your high-resolution original images if you think you may need them for a different purpose some day. If you might want to print particular photos at 5 by 7 inches or bigger, for instance, keep the high-resolution versions around--you'll need them. For additional tips on how to make your images e-mail-ready, see "Top Photo-Editing Tips."
7. Danger! Don't Hurt the Originals
The real joy of owning a large digital photo collection only becomes apparent when you can easily find photos anytime you need them. You can choose a photo of your sister's baby at holiday time and turn it into an edible gift--like cookies with photographic frosting at Club Photo, for instance, or print enlargements of photos you took at your parent's 50th wedding anniversary on your ink jet printer. Compressing photos you're only going to use for e-mail or other online purposes is fine, but for all other images, remember not to delete, resize, color-adjust, or otherwise mess with the original images. You'll want them pristine for the next project, so only save changes to copies of your originals. (Use your image editor's Save copy as option--if it has one--from the File menu to make sure you don't overwrite your original.) Remember this step, and you won't be kicking yourself in decades to come.
8. Get a Fancy Photo Manager
When you need to find a certain picture in a hurry, rifling through folders and waiting for thumbnail images to gradually appear on screen can be the slowest way to track it down. Instead, consider using one of the many excellent programs that are available for managing your photos. Jasc's upcoming Paint Shop Photo Album (formerly known as After Shot) and Adobe's Photoshop Album ($50) are two excellent alternatives. (Note: You can download the beta version of Jasc's Paint Shop Photo Album now, and preorder the final version for $39 until March 2003, when the final product is supposed to be released.) Paint Shop Photo Album lets you enter multiple keywords for your photos for easy text-based searches, so you can search for a photo even if you don't remember its exact title. Photoshop Album, on the other hand, uses visual "tags" that you associate with photos. You can link photos to tags based on places, people, and events, which helps you track down a photo in seconds just by clicking the right tags. Clicking the 'Thanksgiving' and 'Family' tags, for instance, would display just the photos with those criteria. Want to get organized without spending any money? Try Preclick Photo Organizer, a free download. This basic program will help you locate and sort your photos.
9. Show Off Your Pictures
When it's time to share your pictures with friends and family, don't just copy a handful of them to a CD-R or floppy disk and send it off--make something with a bit of panache. Programs like PhotoParade Maker (starting at $20) and PhotonShow ($49) let you grab a bunch of photos and painlessly incorporate them into a fun slideshow that plays right on the desktop. You can add your favorite MP3 tunes as a soundtrack and specify titles, captions, closing credits, and other elements. Depending on which program you choose, these presentations can usually be sent to friends and family via the Internet or on a disc. Of course, the original images stay safely on your PC for use in other applications.
10. Save Your Hard Drive!
Who said you need to keep all of your digital images on your PC's hard drive? We certainly didn't. Archive your old photos on CD-Rs using your computer's CD-RW drive, especially if your PC's hard drive is on the small side. Don't use CD-RWs; they're more expensive, and you might accidentally erase important pictures, since those discs can be reused. Storing stuff on CD-R is about as close to permanent as you can get in the computer business, but even CD-Rs get damaged. Make yourself two copies if you want to play it extra safe. Most CD writer software -- like Roxio's Easy CD Creator ($100) and Ahead Software's Nero ($69) make it easy to copy a huge number of images to CD-R for posterity. Label the disc and store it on a nearby shelf for easy reference, then delete the original images from your PC. CD copies of your images will also come in handy if you ever have a hard-drive failure--at least your precious images will survive. For more tips on how to enhance your expertise with your digital camera, sign up for PC World's Digital Focus, Dave Johnson's weekly newsletter. For back issues, go to the Digital Focus archive. And check out our Top Image Editing Tools to download some shareware image-editing utilities.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?