If you’re like me, last year’s photos are cluttering up your Elements library, the good shots buried amid those you probably don’t want to scroll through—or even keep. You probably never rated and tagged all those shots when you imported them, putting it off until another day when you’d have some free time.
Well, that day has arrived. But it doesn’t have to be the massive undertaking that it seems. Here’s a five-point strategy for cleaning up your library in the Organizer that will make it easy to locate good photos, hide or remove unwanted photos, and begin a new year of capturing images. Feel free, however, to skip those parts of the process that aren’t important to you. The goal is to make it easier to find the photos you care about, not to have the process overwhelm your life.
Throughout this article, I’ve assumed you’re using Elements 10 or another fairly recent version. For those of you who’ve upgraded to Elements 11, which features a revamped look and feel, I’ve also noted where commands or interface items have changed.
1. Find and Remove Duplicates
One goal in cleaning up your library is to reduce the number of photos you need to examine. If you suspect that some photos are duplicates, versions 10 and 11 of the Organizer include a helpful command to locate them. This feature also helps you group similar shots, such as those captured in bursts using your camera’s continuous-shooting mode, into stacks.
In the Organizer in Elements 10, choose Find>By Visual Searches>Search For Duplicate Photos. In Elements 11, choose Find>By Visual Searches>Duplicate Photos. Suspected duplicates appear in rows.
It’s easy to tell which photos are true duplicates and which are members of a succession of shots (especially when you use the Zoom slider to increase the size of the thumbnails). But here’s a trick to tell if a suspected duplicate is actually unique: Hover the cursor over the thumbnail to reveal the filename. This becomes especially important if you have an original photo (ending in .JPG, for example) and a version you’ve worked on in the Editor (ending in .PSD). In Elements 10, hovering displays the file’s location, so you can tell if the duplicates reside in different folders or drives; in Elements 11, select a photo and find its path in the Information panel.
To remove one or more photos, select them and then click the Remove from Catalog button. Elements asks if you also want to delete the file from the hard disk; click OK.
To remove clutter without deleting photos, select a range of similar shots and click the Stack button; the images disappear behind one photo. (You can always Unstack them later.)
When you’re finished sorting through your duplicates, click Done to return to the library.
2. Rate Photos
For me, rating photos is the fastest and most enjoyable part of cleaning up my library. I get to re-experience all the photos I took, remembering snippets from vacations or just idle moments that caught my eye. In the process, I assign valuable information to the shots: Which ones are worth editing or sharing? I almost always find a forgotten treasure, or see something in photos that I didn’t notice at the time. (On the flip side, rating is also when I’m most likely to get bogged down because I see a promising shot and want to start editing it. If your aim is to clean up your entire library, resist that urge for now.)
You can start at the top or bottom of your library and work through the images, but I prefer to let the Organizer give me a boost by displaying only unrated photos.
Choose Find>By Details (Metadata). In the dialog that appears, select the second radio button (All Of The Following Search Criteria[AND]. Then, choose Rating from the first drop-down menu, Is from the second menu, and 0 (zero) from the third menu. You can also add another criterion to restrict the search to the past year by clicking the Add (+) button (to the right of the word “stars”). This will produce another row of drop-down menus. Choose Capture Date from the first drop-down menu, Is Within The Last from the second menu, 12 from the third menu, and Months from the fourth menu (or whichever range you prefer). Click the Search button.
Now the fun part: Double-click a photo to view just that image. Or, better yet, switch to Full Screen mode. In Elements 10 and earlier, click the Display button and choose View, Edit, Organize In Full Screen; in Elements 11, choose View>Full Screen. To apply a rating, either click a star in the Quick Edit pane or press the number key (1–5) that matches the rating you want to assign. Using the left and right arrow keys to access the next photo, you’ll find you can blaze through this process.
A rating scheme is highly subjective; you can assign stars any way you want. Here are the general guidelines I use for my shots:
1 star: The photo is something I don’t want to immediately delete. Anything unrated is ripe for removal, so a single star represents my baseline.
2 stars: The picture has potential, is in focus (if that’s important to the shot), and is worth keeping. I also use two stars to mark photos that are worth revisiting in subsequent review passes.
3 stars: The shot is definitely a keeper and is worth touching up as needed in the Editor. Often a three-star photo will become a four- or five-star photo after editing.
4 stars: The photo is something I’m happy publishing online or sharing with friends.
5 stars: I want to see this picture every day of my life, or it’s something to revisit on those days when I feel like I can’t capture anything worth viewing.
After you’ve rated your photos (and exited out of the Full Screen mode, if that’s where you did your rating), it’s easy to bring up just the good ones: Click the stars in the search bar above the library to view only images matching that rating.
Check back in a few days for Part 2 of Carlson’s ‘Get Organized With The Organizer’ article!
Jeff Carlson is the author of Adobe Photoshop Elements 11: Visual QuickStart Guide (2012; Peachpit Press) and all editions of the book back to Version 5, as well as The iPad for Photographers. He’s also a columnist for the Seattle Times and believes there’s never enough coffee.