Organizing Photos with Adobe Photoshop Elements
We've been using Adobe Photoshop Album to catalog and organize our photo collection since it was first released a few years ago. It's a great piece of software that easily lets you sort, search and manipulate any photo. Plus, it's a piece of consumer-oriented software that--in some regards--does a better job than some "professional" packages costing 10 times as much.
Unfortunately, Album hasn't been updated in more than a year and doesn't support files from a number of cameras, including my 20D. Adobe Photoshop Elements 3's Organizer incorporates all of Album's features (even improving on some of them) and is the natural upgrade path. A side effect to getting Elements is that you also get a very capable editor, but that doesn't interest me; I use Photoshop CS.
Photoshop Elements 3 has been available for quite a while, but before buying it I again wanted to evaluate several of the other photo management programs. The conclusion I came to is that Elements is the best available, and at a very reasonable price, too!
With more than 10,000 photos, organization is a big task, and being able to find a single photo quickly and easily is important. While your collection might not be this big, it's never too early to start sorting your photos into a manageable archive.
The following sections more-of-less follow the basic workflow ideas that are used in Elements' Organizer and Album.
I like how easy it is to get photos from our cameras into the Organizer: just click the Get Photos button and select From Camera or Card Reader. In the screenshot at the right, I've highlighted the Get Photos button, and you can see it importing photos.
Photos are copied into folders named based on date and time. Photos imported today, for example, go into a folder named
2005-07-23 1307-12/. This helps to separate and organize all of the photos, but the real benefit of using a program like this is that you don't need to be concerned with the file's location anymore--the database that manages the Organizer knows where everything is.
Tags Let You Organize
The heart of Elements' Organizer (and Album's) is "tags." You create and apply tags to your photos to make finding them easy. A tag is assigned by dragging it to the photo. Applying multiple tags lets you cross reference photos. For example, clicking the tag "Dan" will show all photos with me in it. Next, clicking the "Sherree" tag will show all photos with both Dan and Sherree in them. It's a very simple but very effective way of working with a large photo archive.
I try to apply three categories of tag to every photo: people (who was there), places (where we were) and events (what we were doing). Assigning three categories of tags allows for quite a bit of cross-referencing and documents the photo fairly thoroughly. Of course, some photos--nature and wildlife, for example--get tagged quite a bit differently, but always with at least two or three tags. I also apply a tag to every photo with the name of the camera that was used to take the shot.
Protecting Your Photos
Probably my favorite thing about Photoshop Elements and Photoshop Album is the approach they take: saving the original photo is of utmost importance. With either program as soon as you try to edit a photo, a copy is made. The copy is what you actually edit, while the original stays safe and unaltered.
This is a very important step for several reasons, but the first thing to understand is this: any edits you make throw away some piece of information; and once lost, there's no way to get it back. The original file is like the film negative; keeping an unaltered copy will let you always go back to repurpose an image for whatever needs might arise. As well, when your photo editing skill and tools improve you may want to go back and do a better job of tuning a photo done in the past.
Elements handles this task better than Album by creating Version Sets. Versions will keep edited and unedited copies of photos together but can be expanded to let you see all the photos in that Version--including the edited and unedited photo. The screenshots below show a Version Sets' identifier icon and an expanded Version Set. Version Sets are created automatically.
As a side note, another feature is Stacks. Stacks work just like Version Sets except that you control what photos go into them. That makes them useful for combining three of the same shot, for example, with your favorite on top.
Getting a photo into or out of an editor is easy. I normally hit ctrl+H or choose Edit with Photoshop--the for-editing copy of the photo is opened in Photoshop, I make edits, then save and close it. Elements' Organizer recognizes that I've done this and creates a Version Set without my help. There's also an option to edit with Elements' Editor and a Quick Edit tool (part of both Elements and Album) with basic editing functions like brightness and saturation control.
Backing up the Archive
A photo cataloging solution would be useless without a way to reliably backup all of your photos. A good solution is provided that will backup to CD/DVD, a hard drive, or any other media to complete full or incremental backups. Just point the backup tool in the right place and it goes to work.
I suppose this screenshot highlights that I really need to get an external hard drive to make a backup to! 82 GB will require 18 DVDs!
Assorted Features I'd Be Lost Without
There are a lot of features in Photoshop Elements' Organizer and Photoshop Album that are invaluable, but really don't require much explanation.
The thumbnail size slider let's you adjust how large the photos appear in the photo well. Sometimes it's most convenient to have tiny thumbnails so you can fit many photos on-screen, making it easy to select and tag large groups at a time. Other times, I find it convenient to have only four photos on the screen to help decide which is best. The slider makes this easy.
The Export tool allows for an easy way to export photos from the Organizer for uploading to the web or for e-mailing. Part of what Export can do is resize and save as a .jpg. The flexibility of the tool also makes it a great way to export high-resolution .tif files for us to put on CD to get printed.
The timeline view is an easy way to jump to anywhere in the photo archive based on date--just click a month. It's also a quick indicator of the relative number of photos taken in that month--a higher bar denotes that more photos were taken. (As a side note, a great feature would be if I could mouseover the month and see a count of the photos in that month as a tooltip.)
The Properties window gives a lot of information about the selected image. The "general" information can be seen here. Also available is a list of all the tags associated with the photo, a history of what has been done with the photo, and complete metadata (EXIF, IPTC).
There are quite a few other little things that all fit together to make this such a good program for cataloging a photo collection, but I think these are the major points as far as I'm concerned. Between the features, simplicity, and price, I highly recommend Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 for anybody with a digital camera!