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Get Organized With The Organizer, Part 1

By Jeff Carlson  ·  February 10th, 2013

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.


In Elements 10, the file’s location appears in the tooltip.


These two photos look the same in Elements 11, but you don’t want to accidentally remove the edited .PSD file.

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.

The Information panel in Elements 11 displays the file’s location.

The Information panel in Elements 11 displays the file’s location.

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.


Select photos to stack, or combine all shots in a row into one stack.


Click the arrow icon at the right edge to reveal the photos in the stack.


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.


Using this criteria, only unrated photos from the last year appear for review.

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.


Rating photos in Full Screen mode gives you the best view of your images.

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.


Click the stars in the search bar to narrow the visible photos by 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.

22 Replies to Get Organized With The Organizer, Part 1:

  1. Paul

    February 13, 2013 at 11:37 am

    That blog is worth five stars thank you Jeff, I will be watching for the next one

  2. Craig

    February 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    I’m not a fan of the Organizer b ut I thought I’d give this article a shot. Got stumped right at step 1. Using PSE11 and choosing Find>By Visual Searches>Dup[licate Photos brings up a screen where your only option is to group rows of photos into stacks, which isn’t even mentioned in the article. There is also no visible Remove fromCatalog button, nor is there any apparent information panel.

    • Norman

      February 2, 2014 at 9:02 am

      Where do I find the answers to all these questions. I have the same questions. I have Elements 9 and have had problems using it ever since I bought it. Can’t seem to get answers to the get started basic question about working with videos..

  3. Scott

    February 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    I like both of your fresh ideas that you talking about cannot wait to try them. This brought up a question I have had for a long time… Jeff have you written an article about “Get Organized with the Organizer, Part 0 (zero)”? The initial set up of files, folders and pictures from the general point of view of a family, school, sports, holidays to find the pictures. I started with one catalog, folders for any day to shot pictures. Help, any better ideas?

  4. Marianna

    February 16, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Where is Part 2?

  5. Joseph

    February 25, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I have a question about the (?) mark in my photos. It seems I am doing something that makes this recur and I don’t know what that is.

  6. Tom

    March 29, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    I have used elements since version 2 and never cared for the organizer and definately have no use for the star rating system.

  7. Terri

    May 7, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Looks like no one ever replies to these questions. Is that the usual for this site?

  8. Nathan

    July 30, 2013 at 6:25 am

    Thanks Jeff,
    I gained a couple of helpful tips out of this article. I often feel my PSE Organizer is underutilized, mainly because I don’t know how to use it effectively.

  9. Joanne

    April 2, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    If I use the organizer does this mean I will have my photos stored in two areas? Meaning I’m storing it in the organizer and in a folder on my laptop and therefore I’m using up twice the amount of space?

  10. Annette

    June 29, 2014 at 1:21 am

    The Q+A’s are pretty stupid as there are few if any answers. The Organizer does not work well at all. It has so many glitches, seldom does as advertised. Not impressed with the Organizer nor the article.

  11. Cecile

    July 14, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    I do not have a website. PSE10 Organizer works for me. I did a lot of reading before I started using it and I downloaded the manual, which also helped. I’m a casual picture/photo taker. My biggest challenge is to get my old physical photos scanned and imported into a catalog. any suggestions or articles on that would be helpful. Thanks

  12. Paul

    March 11, 2015 at 8:22 am

    I would like set my organizer back to initial stages and start over. I imported from iphoto and got tons of folders with only 1 photo in them. Can I delete photos or is it best to start over. I tried uninstalling organizeer and reinstall and it just went back to what I had. Is there a file I was missing?

    Thanks for the help

  13. Norman

    June 30, 2015 at 10:34 am

    Where do we find the answers to all these questions? I have elements 9 and am thinking of buying the newest version, Elements 13 or when is the newest and best version coming out???

    • Mike Rodriguez

      June 30, 2015 at 5:36 pm

      Hi Norman-
      Which questions, specifically, are you referring to? Often I and several others monitor the comments regularly, and reply inline, just as I’m doing now. To answer, Adobe doesn’t announce the dates of future releases of Elements. Anyone who might know is not able to say, due to the non-disclosure agreement. But you could do a Google search and find the history of past release dates.

  14. Elbert

    July 11, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    When starting work in refine edge at one point the brush came up, but now it isn’t visible. I’m sure i’ve pushed a wrong button at some point but can’t seem to find it. Can you help with this problem?

    • Mike Rodriguez

      July 11, 2015 at 9:38 pm

      Hi Elbert-
      Are you working through a specific tutorial or project, or just asking about Refine Edge in general? As this particular article is an older one on the Organizer, I’m not sure many people will see it. In terms of your question, are you talking about the Refine Radius Tool, which is the button with a brush icon on it on the left side of the Refine Edge dialog box? Make sure that the button is pressed, and if it is, make sure your Caps Lock key isn’t pressed. Caps Lock will cause the brush to appear as a crosshair icon instead of the normal brush icon (BTW, this applies to other tools that use a brush as well).

      • Elbert

        July 12, 2015 at 8:35 am

        Hi, Mike,
        Thank you for your response. I have clicked the brush tool as well as the eraser tool and gotten no response. I have rebooted my computer as well. In the lower left place on the monster where the Brush slider should be, instead there is a % sign but no brush slider. I was given Photoshop cs6 and in thatI can use refine edge but since I have had Elements from the beginning I am more comfortable there. I find transferring from Photoshop to Elements inconvenient. I am at a loose as what to do.

        Thank You for any help you might be able to give me.


      • Mike Rodriguez

        July 13, 2015 at 10:36 am

        Hmm. I’m a bit confused as to what you’re seeing. This may be better to finish off via email. I’m going to send you a message with a couple screenshots, and see if that’s what you’re seeing.

      • Elbert

        July 14, 2015 at 6:14 pm

        I seem to have lost your email nut do remember it. The dialog box is the same as I get with the % sign in the lower left corner of the Monitor. . From there I should be able to push the brush button and get the brush… Yet when I do nothing happens. I remain at a loss. Yet I can get it in Photoshop cs6

      • Mike Rodriguez

        July 14, 2015 at 7:43 pm

        Can you send me screenshots of what you’re seeing in both Elements & CS6? Also, I’ll resend my email to you. Assuming the address you used to register here is the one I should use?

  15. George

    September 14, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    I like to put my 3 stars and above in the cloud in Amazon Prime. The storage is unlimited. Dropbox is easier to use but I have not decided yet to spend $10 a month for all the files. That will happen before too long. Ease of use is important and the price is still very reasonable. It’s just that you only do it for photos rather than a bunch of things like you can do for Amazon.

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