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How to organise digital photos?
August 20, 2006 9:08 AM   Subscribe

How to organise very messy folders of digital photos?

My grandmother has on her computer a large number >1000 of photos, some old photos scanned in, some taken with her digital camera. They are in a terrible mess, with no kind of folder organisation to speak of.

She has recently started using Picasa to label by person etc, but the folders on her hard drive are still in a bad state. How would you recommend she sorts them? Very few have dates, so it would be impossible to sort by event. She has tried sorting by family, but this of course creates problems when there are photos with mixtures of people in.

Any suggestions are welcome!
posted by Lotto to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well, the way you phrased your question doesn't leave a lot of room for an answer -- if "sort by date" and "sort by content" are both out, where does that leave you?

I would argue for ordering the pictures on disk by date as much as possible (folder names such as "2006_08_14 fred+ginger wedding". Or if she is scanning a lot fo old pictures, even by year or decade. Beyond that, let Picasa's labels take care of all the other tagging of people, events, etc.

I guess I am starting with the assumption that she can identify events etc. (so that you can assign approximate dates) in these images. If it is really just a sea of people out-of-context, I might argue for some other approach (but I don't know what that would be)
posted by misterbrandt at 10:36 AM on August 20, 2006

Pity about the lack of dates. Since the "natural order" is basically irrelevant, you'll need to tag them for content instead. Unfortunately, the actual file structure becomes irrelevant, since a third-party program (or database) is keeping track of things. Just throw them all into a single directory and let your "organizer" (iPhoto/Picasa/MySQL+some frontend/whatever) do the legwork.

I'd highly recommend a system that adds your context tags or description to the meta data of the image itself (in the EXIF header, for instance) -- future-proof the images just in case of lost (central) repository. Or in case Google/Apple/whomever you're relying on as the middle tier decides to obsolesce your file structure and require payment for the (new and improved!) system.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:38 AM on August 20, 2006

Yeah, C_D said it better than I. I guess my point is that if you are examining the images for content ("Oh, here's Aunt Cathy at Fred+Ginger's wedding") that you can assign dates, or at least approximate dates, as you go.

I am starting my own scanning project shortly, and I actually began by making a timeline of major events, so that as I find images I can really quickly look up who got married when, etc. (only because I am bad with those kinds of data)
posted by misterbrandt at 10:55 AM on August 20, 2006

If she is labeling them in Picasa, why do the folders have to make sense? Labels/tags are a better way than folders to organize/sort/find digital photos, IMHO.

If Picasa doesn't do everything she needs for organizing the photos, she should stop using it (before she puts too much time into it) and find something that does. Trying to use two different systems (e.g. both folder+filename and Picasa) would be hellish, I think.
posted by winston at 11:51 AM on August 20, 2006

I use general folders... 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, etc, with folders inside each for specific events that I have a bunch of photos for.
posted by kdern at 12:12 PM on August 20, 2006

I'm going to piggyback and ask if there is a way to assign tags with Picasa, or indeed any other similar software, in such a way as you can with MeFi; in other words just typing them out, rather than having to select one by one?
posted by Orange Goblin at 12:42 PM on August 20, 2006

I agree with kdern for the older photos - organize by decade if possible.
posted by LadyBonita at 12:42 PM on August 20, 2006

Since Picasa tags photos, since I started using it, I just label the camera-dump folders on the HD by date: 20060814, and like that. I would, if I were you, break them down by creation date, if you have that, in groups small enough to backup to a CD-ROM (or DVD-R, if you have that). Remember that if you move them outside of Picasa, it may become confused, particularly if you've already edited things...
posted by baylink at 1:16 PM on August 20, 2006

All digital cameras mark pictures with date & time in the EXIF metadata. You can probably use jhead to rename all the files to a date-time.jpg format and sort them into appropriate directories (note: if the date on the camera was not set, jhead can also mass-adjust it).

That just leaves the scanned photos.
posted by alexei at 2:04 PM on August 20, 2006

Here's my standard media-organizing rant.

I hate media organizers. Photo organizers, music organizers... I *hate* them.

The reason I hate them is because they get obsoleted, or they're incompatible with each other, or they're buggy and eventually eat their own databases, or they think they can do *everything* and don't play nice with each other, or they're just downright cheesy. I have yet to meet one I like.

If I had your grandma's photos to organize, here's what I'd do (assuming Windows XP):

First, I'd run a search for images, to get all her pictures accessible in one window.

Then, I'd click Stop Search to make it not update itself while I fiddled about.

Then, I'd make a new folder under My Pictures, called Unsorted Pictures, and turn on Thumbnails view inside that folder.

Then, I'd do Select All and Copy in the Search Results window, and Paste in the Unsorted Pictures window, and go make myself a cup of coffee while all the photos got copied.

Next, under My Pictures, I'd make a folder called Shortcuts.

Inside Shortcuts, I'd create a folder called Fred (assuming she has at least one photo of Fred) and turn on Thumbnails view inside that too.

Then I'd look through the thumbnails in Unsorted Pictures, and use Ctrl-Click to select all the photos containing Fred.

Then I'd use right-click-drag to drag all those into Shortcuts\Fred, and select Create Shortcuts Here to create shortcuts to all the Fred pictures.

Then I'd make another folder inside Shortcuts called Weddings, and put shortcuts to all the wedding photos in there.

And another one called Ginger, and put shortcuts to all the Ginger photos in there.

In effect, each subfolder of Shortcuts works like a tag; and because you can make as many shortcuts as you like to any given photo, you can tag each photo as often as you want. A photo of Fred and Ginger at the 1987 wedding in China could easily get shortcuts inside Fred, Ginger, Weddings, China and 1987 subfolders.

Also, the shortcuts themselves can be renamed completely arbitrarily, which gives you a limited but useful captioning ability.

Plus, you can have shortcuts to other media besides photos inside any given Shortcuts subfolder, if that's a sensible thing to do. The Weddings shortcut folder could have shortcuts to wedding videos as well as wedding photos, for example; or Fred's shortcut folder could have shortcuts to Fred's favourite music as well as photos containing Fred.

Windows is even smart enough to fix up shortcuts if you move what they link to, as long as you're not too radical about it. If you end up wanting to impose some kind of folder structure inside Unsorted Pictures, perhaps to make archival easier, you can do that, and Windows will adjust all your shortcuts as needed.

While on the subject of archival: you will often see recommendations to burn treasured photos to CD-ROM or DVD-ROM for archival storage. In my opinion, that's a mistake. Both those media have limited data lives, and will become obsolete. In my opinion, the right way to do longterm data storage (as opposed to offsite backup, which has a different purpose) is just to buy a new hard drive every two years, at the $0.50/gigabyte price point or cheaper; transfer *everything* off your old hard drive to the new one; and keep the old hard drive around for backup. If you keep two generations of hard drive installed at any time, and make sure there are copies of all your important stuff on both, then your stuff is safe, easily accessible *and* future-proof.
posted by flabdablet at 8:11 PM on August 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

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