Searching and Searching...
Organizing and finding digital image files—it all seems to be a forever challenge to many people. They set up all kinds of folders to try to keep things straight. The problem is that cataloging photos is a complex thing and trying to shoehorn images into a rigid file structure is a pursuit destined for utter frustration. One must be able to find and view images in fluid ways and organize them instantly according to the needs of the moment. This cannot be done by stuffing them into the static categories of folders.
The hierarchical file structure has been with us since the beginning of the personal computer. But, it's on the way out now. Oh, there will always be a need for ordered structure to our files, but the reliance of that structure to find things like text document and digital images is archaic. We'll be relying more and more on finding our images via the metadata assigned to each image. A rigid file structure organizes our images in one way, with one perspective. But we might want to sort our images in ten ways within ten minutes. Thankfully, today's asset-management software has the tools we need to sort and organize in myriad ways. Smart collections can keep track of all kinds of criteria and enable you to view your collection in unlimited ways. Sorting and searching tools are now intuitive and painless.
This seems to be boring stuff and I can see most eyes glaze over when I start talking about it. But, once your photo collection comes alive with possibility you will begin to see how incredibly important all this is. Every photo library has lost gems within it. Every collection benefits from new perspective. We become inspired when we can organize and sort and play with our photos.
The only way to accomplish this is to apply and maintain accurate metadata to your images. Thankfully, the same software that automates sorting and finding for us, also does a great job of lessening the tedium of applying keywords, ratings, labels and IPTC metadata. Lightroom, Aperture, and Bridge all have efficient ways of tagging our images with loads of important information.
From my experience and perspective, here are the most important metadata to include in your images:
- Location: Lots of people organize their rigid, traditional files by location but it's far better to fill in the location fields in your IPTC metadata structure instead. Be consistent. If you are lucky enough to have a camera that geotags (with GPS coordinates) you will find that information useful as well. But, you should still fill in the location information on all your images.
- Ratings: Most asset-management software will allow you to give your images a star rating (1-5 stars). Keep it simple and be consistent. I usually use 1 or 3 or 5 stars and I have specific rationale for each. Don't be arbitrary here or you'll end up with a mess and will then ignore your rating system.
- Labels: Labels are very useful and you might consider using them in any number of ways. I use labels as a production tool and assign labels according to the utility of my images from a production perspective. But, you might use them for anything important to you. Labels give us a nice, visual tool of organization.
- Keywords: We addressed this important topic in the last post. Keywords are immensely important.
- Contact and Copyright: If you distributing your photographs in any way, you simply must be sure to add this important information. People need to know how to contact you and that your work is copyrighted (if it truly is).
Like any other pursuit in life, the more you do this, the more you'll discover. Once you become fluent with metadata you'll never rely upon old-fashioned file management again. So, what do we do with file structure once we free ourselves from it? Well, that's a topic for another day. We'll address that in an upcoming post.