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Get Organized With The Organizer, Part 2

By Jeff Carlson  ·  February 15th, 2013

In part 2 of Jeff Carlson’s series, he’ll teach you about how to tag your images, use groups and albums, and how to remove pesky, unwanted images.

3. Tag Images

Ratings will help you find images you deem good or poor, but that’s just one aspect of a photo. You want to be able to quickly locate any photo later, not wade through everything—even if you’re looking at just the good stuff. Keyword tags spotlight the content of your images, not just their quality.

Unlike rating images, however, assigning keyword tags is a bit more work (and a bit less fun), which is why many people skip right past this step. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to tag many images at once, and speed up the process so you gain all the benefits later when you’re trying to find specific images.

I approach tagging in two steps. First, I recommend tagging photos in bulk as much as possible, assigning them broad categories like “vacation” or “camping.” (You can add more specific tags to photos later, if you want.) Then, I enlist the Organizer’s help in identifying characteristics such as poor exposure or blur, as well as locating shots with people in them.

To start, choose Find > Untagged Items and select a group of photos you want to tag.

In the Keyword Tags panel, type one or more tag names, separated by commas, into the Tag Selected Media field (called the Add Custom Keywords field in Elements 11). Click the Apply button to assign the tags to the selected images. Any tags that don’t already exist in your Keyword Tags list are automatically created. If you prefer to use the mouse, drag a tag icon from the Keyword Tags panel onto one of the selected photos to apply it to all of them.


Apply multiple tags to your images at once by typing them in.


Tags appear below each photo thumbnail. In this example, two tag icons appear because the tags belong to separate tag groups.

As always, I want the Organizer to do much of the work for me, so after I apply tags manually, I turn to two features that automatically assign some helpful tags.

First, the Auto Analyzer scans your library and applies smart tags based on what it finds in each image, such as whether shots are blurred, over- or under-exposed, and other attributes. You’ll find the Auto Analyzer option in the Preferences dialog. To access it, choose Edit>Preferences (Mac: Adobe Elements Organizer>Preferences). In the Preferences dialog, click Media-Analysis from the column on the left. Then, under the Auto Analyzer Options, check the Analyze Media for Smart Tags Automatically option. To scan your entire catalog, click OK. If you’d like to scan only a range of photos, select them and then choose Edit>Run Auto-Analyzer (Elements 8–10; Elements 9–10 for Mac) or File>Run Auto-Analyzer (Elements 11). Media analysis takes a while, so it’s probably something you want to run overnight, especially if you’re scanning a year’s worth of photos.

When the analysis is complete, a purple tag appears beneath the photos; hover over the tag icon or double-click the photo to reveal what the Organizer found. You can then select a smart tag in the Keyword Tags panel (called just the Tags panel in Elements 11) to view only photos with that tag, and remove or hide shots that are problematic.


The Organizer can analyze photos automatically.


Smart tags applied.


A list of different Smart Tags you can use.

The other tagging tool I use is the Organizer’s feature for locating people. If you’ve used the Organizer’s people tags before, you may be rolling your eyes that I would suggest a feature that has the potential to suck away vast quantities of free time. If so, I offer a suggestion: Tag only the handful of people who are important to you. Don’t worry about maintaining an encyclopedia of everyone who’s passed before your lens.

In Elements 10 and earlier, click the Start People Recognition button in the Keyword Tags panel, or choose Find>Find People For Tagging. In Elements 11, click the Add People button in the task bar at the bottom of the screen. The Organizer locates photos with faces in them, and asks you to identify them.


Elements 10 tucks the Start People Recognition button into the Keyword Tags panel.


Elements 11 includes a prominent Add People button in the task bar.


In asking to identify people, the Organizer already suspects it might be someone.


Elements identifies people in new photos, so you don’t have to confirm each one.

The advantage of this feature is that once you’ve successfully tagged folks, the Organizer does a good job of identifying them in other pictures—with a little manual work on your part. The next time you add a batch of photos to the library, run the Find People for Tagging (or Add People) command on the newcomers. This time around, the Organizer identifies possible matches and gives you the option of excluding ones that are incorrect. When it asks you to identify other people, you can click Cancel to skip the step (unless you want to include those folks, too). Later, when you’re looking for an embarrassing photo of your brother, you can quickly bring up everything he’s in.


4. Group Images into Albums

I think of albums in their analog incarnation—paper books that contain a selection of photos pulled from a shoebox (or drawer, or cabinet, or steamer trunk). As such, I find myself creating albums only for specific events that I want to refer to later, rather than trying to organize everything into discrete albums.

When I do create an album, though, I like this trick: Instead of creating an empty album and then dragging photos into it, select all (or most) of the photos first, and then click the Add (+) button in the Albums panel and choose New Album. Everything selected is added to the album, so all you have to do is give it a name and click Done.

A digital album doesn’t need to have the same permanence that a physical one does, however. I mentioned earlier that it’s best to finish rating photos before editing them to avoid getting bogged down. Here’s a tip: Create a temporary album and, as you review, add photos that you definitely want to go back and edit, so you don’t have to scan your library again later on (even if the images are already set apart by their star ratings). This approach lets you stay focused on organizing, and gives you a handful of images you can start editing when you’re done.


Selected photos are automatically added to a new album.


Hovering over the Album icon next to your thumbnails will reveal what album it’s a part of.


5. Remove Unwanted Images

And now we come to the “clean up” portion of the new-year cleanup. You can push toys into the corners of your room for only so long before you run out of space or can’t open the closet door. Although it’s unlikely you’re going to run out of disk space for your photos (and you can easily buy a larger hard disk), the clutter can get in the way.

Using some of the techniques I’ve outlined, identify the photos that can be deleted, hidden, or archived. If you want to deal with the rejects in one step, create a temporary album into which you can sweep the photos you locate using the following options:

  • If you haven’t already, locate duplicates.
  • Use the smart album or saved search you created to view all unrated photos.
  • Click the name of a smart tag, like Blur, to review only those shots to see if they’re keepers (with interesting potential) or just shooting errors you want to remove.

How you act on these files is a personal choice. I used to think I should keep everything, just in case that out-of-focus shot of the top of my shoe might turn out to be a masterpiece of surrealistic color. In that case, hiding the photos is the solution: Select the images and choose Edit>Visibility>Mark As Hidden. This command effectively removes them from your library without actually trashing the files.

However, even in an age when hard disk storage is relatively cheap, I realize I don’t need to keep all my crummy photos. To remove them, select them and press Delete. You’ll be asked to confirm that you want to remove the images from the catalog and given the option to also delete them from the hard disk.

Or, there’s a middle-ground option. Create an archive by dragging the photos from the Organizer’s window to a new folder on your desktop (or on another disk or network volume) and then delete the originals from your catalog.


Clean Sweep for a New Year

Whether you’re actually sorting photos at the start of a new calendar year or just stealing time during a long weekend, you’ll end up with a cleaner library that contains the photos you want to see, organized in ways that make it easy to locate specific shots. Most important, you won’t have a chaotic library waiting for you when you start importing new batches of images.



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.

12 Replies to Get Organized With The Organizer, Part 2:

  1. John

    February 21, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Hello. Reference TAGS

    I find it almost impossible to click on my tagged photos without also including numerous other unrelated photos that have crept into the tag usually these have a white circle with a black diagonal across it. I am very careful to only select the photos I want for a specific tag so as not to include others into the tag but my efforts seem to fail and always I find the tagged items alongside photos from a different tag Its as though they become mixed up in some way. Maybe an expert will find the White circles and black diagonal cross on top right of the stray photos as diagnostic?? Can anyone help as this largely spoils the use of tags.

    I am also mixed up as to whether Photoshop Elements Techniques, and Photoshop Elements user are the same magazine ?? as I have 2 different passwords for each.

  2. Ed

    February 21, 2013 at 9:49 am

    I upgraded from pse 9 to pse 11. I imported photos and tags. I am unable to retrieve those photos by clicking on arrow; unless I first exit the organizer and then come back.
    Can you help with this?

  3. Steven

    February 23, 2013 at 3:36 am

    Two day’s ago I upgraded from 9 to 11. I don’t understand the organizer at all. It”s as if all my photos are all mixed up. I don’t like this new organizer at all. Have been with pse for years.

  4. Lanis B

    February 25, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    A couple of great tips I didn’t know before. Love discovering new things in this app. What a bargain.

  5. Ed

    March 2, 2013 at 10:17 am

    I upgraded from pse 9 to pse 11. I imported photos and tags. I am unable to retrieve those photos by clicking on arrow; unless I first exit the organizer and then come back.
    Can you help with this?
    I’m sorry I may have missed the reply. Can you resend?

  6. Craig

    March 3, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    I’ve been a big fan of the organizer since version 5. Now I’m up to version 11. I wasn’t too excited at first about big change in format when version 11 was introduced, but overall I’m getting to like version 11 more than the earlier versions. I’m a little disappointed that they are starting to put articles in the Elements Techniques magazine about Lightroom. I like Photoshop Elements because it has a lot more to offer than Lightroom, with the exception of a few additional features in Lightroom. There’s things in CS6 that I would like to see in Elements also, but let’s stick to what we have. If the magazine starts growing, maybe then. But the magazine has been at 36 pages for a long time. Plug-ins, I love them. Let’s grow the magazine and talk about them, Lightroom, or whatever. Okay time to get off of this horse.
    I have a lot of photos that I have stacked, and it really helps getting rid of some of the clutter. One thing that I have noticed though is that if I have any stacked photos in an album, I can’t un-stack them and move them around if I want to reorganize them unless I take another step. That step would be to select all the photos that was in that stack, right-click, go to stack, remove photo from stack. Well I guess that’s more than one step, but that’s what I did. Then I can move them around and re stack them.
    I’ve had the same problem that John has had finding unrelated photos in my tags. I think the problem comes from having a series of pictures from a download, then trying to tag them into different places. For example I shot a wedding where the groom was a fireman. And they had an old fire truck in front of the church. I must’ve shot 25 or 30 pictures just of the truck it was so cool. Later, I tagged the fire truck into a category where I put all my cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Problem was, here’s all these wedding pictures with my cars and trucks. The only way I could make it right was to put the fire truck images on a flash drive, then delete the fire truck images from the hard drive, then download the images from the flash drive back into Elements, then tag them. This problem doesn’t happen every time, or with every download, which makes it puzzling.

  7. Tom

    May 20, 2013 at 8:34 am

    I am trying to decide how to continue to use elements. I hate change, I guess. So PSE7 works for me and LR3.4. Now I am being told I have until June 18th to change or lose all my PSE7 organizer? I know my images are on my HD (and an external HD backup). But something is going to change so that my tags and albums will not be available next month?

    If that is so, would switching to PSE 11 and or LR4 solve my problem? I have read to many comments in user forums that users have lost their metadata, tags and or albums when they upgrade. Is this necessary?

    The help lines have ignored requests for answers. Their answer is just “upgrade”. But they are reluctant to assure that I won’t lose all my previous “organizer” efforts. They say that they don’t support PSE 7 or earlier versions.

    The continuity of Adobe’s product line has always been a strong feature for me (vs its competitors).


  8. Annette

    October 24, 2013 at 12:06 am

    I do not see answers to the questions. John, Feb. 21, has a question I would appreciate an answer for. This is pointless without answers!

  9. marlys l

    October 26, 2013 at 11:14 am

    I just went from PSE 10 to PSE 12 — what a disaster. Can’t access any of my photos. They are in crazy places. Are you trying to force me into using Lightroom so I will have a decent organizer again? My frustration level is over the top !!!

  10. Robyn

    February 26, 2014 at 3:39 am

    I’m just learning PSE 11 at the moment. I’ve never used the Organizer, and going by these comments, I doubt I ever will.

  11. Thomas

    April 1, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    New an learning elements and organizer. Created an album. Now I would like to delete. I can not seem to find a way to delete album from albums tab. Is there a way?

  12. Gayle

    April 28, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    I have been rating all of my photos in PSE 11 organizer, and all of a sudden all the stars are gone below the thumbnail pictures and I can not find a way to get them back. Please help! I have spent many many hours doing this rating.

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