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.
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 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.
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.
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.