If you’ve had your digital camera for more than a few months, chances are your hard drive is overdue for a spring cleaning, despite what the calendar says. It’s much easier to find the photos you need when they’re organized. Programs such as Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel Photo Album are designed for just this sort of task, but you can take control of your digital photo collection without spending much (or any) money, with these low- and no-cost options.
Rename files in batches: Your digital camera assigns seemingly meaningless names like ‘DSCN0001’ and ‘PC000023’ to pictures. Renaming each by hand can take hours. Instead, select a set of photos–say, the 20 or 30 you took at Thanksgiving. Right-click the selection and choose Rename Type a descriptive label such as Thanksgiving-2006 and press <Enter>.
The photos take that name, with a sequential number tacked on to the end, making it easier to find relevant photos by scanning the names or using Search. Rename pictures regularly; if you procrastinate, you’ll have thousands of images to rename, and it’ll never get done.
Try nuclear-powered renaming: You don’t have to depend on Windows to organize your files with smarter file names. The $10 utility Name Dropper enables you to create a slew of name fragments and assign them to a dozen buttons. To rename photos, you simply combine the fragments into descriptive compound names. Siren, a free alternative, gives you access to the metadata associated with your photos–including camera model, ISO, exposure data, lens information, and date taken. You can combine this data into file names to see all you need to know about the photos at a glance.
Rotate easily: You can rotate your sideways images in batches, as well. If many photos on your computer are turned sideways (probably because you snapped the shots with your camera turned on its side), select them and then right-click to gain the option of rotating them clockwise or counterclockwise. Make your choice, and Windows will do the rest.
View their thumbnails: We humans are visual animals. Even if you give every photo you take a descriptive name, you’ll still find it easier to locate a specific image if you can see what it looks like. Windows XP tries to show you thumbnails when it finds folders full of photos, but sometimes the OS gets confused. If XP represents the contents of a folder of photos as nondescript icons, choose
View, Thumbnails (or View, Filmstrip if you want a large preview of the selected photo). If you can’t find those options on the menu at all, select
View, Customize This Folder, and in the folder template menu choose
Pictures (best for many files) (see FIGURE 1FIGURE 1: Force photo folders to show a thumbnail view of your images, by using Windows XP’s folder customization dialog box.). Click Also apply this template to all subfolders, and finish the operation by clicking OK.
Get some free help: When it comes to organizing your photos, Windows XP isn’t especially helpful. Enlist the aid of some freeware to find your pictures more easily. Both Adobe’s Photoshop Album Starter Edition (which is a stripped-down version of the photo organizer that comes with Photoshop Elements; and Google’s Picasa allow you to group pictures with descriptive labels and then place the photos into albums.
Tagging Your Photos is Easier in Windows Vista
If you recently upgraded to Windows Vista–or if you bought a new computer with Vista preinstalled–use Windows’ Photo Gallery application to organize and find your photos. At last, the ability to attach descriptive tags to images is baked right into Windows. Using tags to find photos is easier than relying on file names, because you can annotate the pictures with several terms, such as the people, places, and things in the images. Afterward, browse the tags list in Photo Gallery and click to filter your photo collection instantly by that tag. It’s a fast way to dig up a specific photo–no matter where or when it was taken.
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