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Picture This

Our chief photographer shares his insights.

By Earl Nottingham

Organizing Your Digital Images

Face it. Digital photography is here to stay. Its ability to provide immediate imagery, ease of transferring and outputting files and image quality rivaling or exceeding traditional film make it a valuable (and fun) tool in the fast-paced world of personal and business communications. Even a photo purist such as myself, with a devotion to the traditional darkroom and with D-76 in his veins, has embraced the new digital technology, comforted and absolved in the knowledge that even Ansel Adams, shortly before his death, said that he looked forward to using the electronic image.

Thankfully, most of the basics of photography still apply in the digital environment. Things like shutter speed, aperture, focal length and ISO remain the same. In fact, many digital cameras look and feel just like their film-based counterparts. The biggest difference comes after the photos have been taken and multitudes of digital files take up residence on your computer’s hard drive. At that point you have reached the digital equivalent of stuffing all of your old family snapshots and slides into shoeboxes and envelopes, with the best intentions of someday organizing them into albums or indexed files.

To the rescue comes the digital photographer’s best friend: the image management program. While there are many variations of this type of software (see suppliers below), most enable you to download, browse, rename, edit and organize your photos. In fact, your computer probably came preloaded with its own proprietary image viewing/management program. Most digital cameras come with some type of management software to install on your computer. Some programs are more full-featured than others; the better ones allow you to add keywords and caption information to your images and perform searches based on those keywords and captions. For instance, if I want to find all images of my son, Adam, I just enter the search term “adam” and every digital image I have with him in it will instantly be displayed. Try doing that with a shoebox.

To make best use of any image management program, it helps to establish a consistent workflow when organizing digital files. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Download images from the camera to a folder on the computer. Some programs will automatically launch and download the images when a camera or memory card (via a card reader) is connected. Some download programs give you the option of renaming your files at this point. Renaming a file from a camera-generated naming convention such as “DSC022.jpg” to a more practical name such as “Vacation2005.jpg” makes for easier searching and organizing.
  2. Cull. Now is the time to delete any duplicate or unwanted images. Otherwise they will take up valuable disc space.
  3. Edit. Use the features included with most management programs to correct exposure, color, contrast or cropping. Do not size your image down! Keep this original at its maximum size for archiving. You can always down-size a copy for later use.
  4. Archive. Currently, burning to a CD or DVD is the most practical way to archive your images. For irreplaceable images, it’s best to make two copies of your archive disk, keeping each at a separate location in case of fire, flood or other disaster.

Check out these providers of image management software. Costs and features vary. Most have free trial versions available for download. Picasa is free.

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