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Organize photos with your OS in 5 easy steps- DLS Imaging Tip

If you've had a digital camera for any length of time, by now you have thousands--maybe even tens of thousands--of digital pictures of anything and everything. And if you're like most people you've cheerfully imported them into photo management software of some sort. Maybe it's something like NikonView that came with your camera or maybe it's the copy of Photoshop Elements that came pre-installed on your hard drive. Perhaps it's Picasa. If you're on a Mac it's almost certainly iPhoto. Or maybe you're a pro, or just really into digital photography, and you hopped on one of the Adobe Lightroom betas or shelled out some cash for something like ACDSee, iView, or Aperture.

Whatever you're doing it's probably time to stop. Photo gallery and management software is a wonderful way to arrange and display pictures you want to use for something. Most of of the time, the "something" is printing, displaying on screen as a slideshow or screensaver, or uploading to a photo sharing service like Flickr. For most people, that describes a very small fraction of the pictures they take. The rest just sit around in the photo library collecting dust and causing trouble, mostly in the form of slowdowns. Your library has to load all those thumbnails every time you open it, whether you ever look at the pictures or not. When you add new photos, the software has to scan the pictures, add the appropriate information to its database, create thumbnails, probably copy the images to its own directory, and sometimes even convert the images to its native format. And again, it has to do that even if you never even look at the image.

That takes time. Often it takes a lot of time, and for nine tenths of digital photos, it's wasted time.

On the other hand, you don't really want to just delete all those other pictures. The sheer quantity is part of the fun of digital photography, right? And you never know when some of those truly horrible shots might come in handy. Maybe that horrible shot of your uncle making that silly face will turn out to be the only picture of him anyone can find for a scrapbook later. Maybe you'll want something in the background of a blurry shot of a friend for reference later. Who knows? But since storage is cheap these days, there's no reason to delete all that stuff, even if you don't want it clogging up your workflow.

Fortunately, your Operating System comes with some of the best organization software ever created built right in: the filesystem. Using it to your advantage will help you kepp a smoother, cleaner, and ultimately faster archive of your digital photos.

Step 1: Every time you go to download pictures from your camera, create a folder in your "My Pictures" or "Photos" folder with a meaningful label. Some people simply use the date the pictures were taken or downloaded. I personally like a descriptive title like "My 30th Birthday Party." The important thing is to be consistent.

Step 2: Create some other folders with descriptive names of categories you want to organize your photos into. Maybe you want to have all the pictures of your pets handy in a folder called "Pets". Whatever the important or useful categories for you are, make folders for them. If you want, you can subdivide. Maybe you want all the pictures of a particular pets in "Pets/Cats/Beatrix" and "Pets/Cats/Richard." Go wild.

Step 3: Create links (Shortcuts on Windows) from the pictures in your main date or event download folders to whichever category folders you think they belong in. A given picture can be linked in as many places as you want.

Step 4: Go through your photos and decide which ones you may actually want to print, share, or use for a slideshow. Just click through to the folder you want to look and use your Operating System's preview feature. Both OS X and Windows show thumbnails of picture files in icon view, and larger previews in ist view, like in the screencap below.

Windows picture viewer

Step 5: Import just the pictures your interested in into your photo software. Most programs make this easy by installing a "send to" or "edit with" entry in the right-click menu.

Now you have easy access to all your pictures grouped in any arbitrary way you want. And because you've used the filesystem and not your photo software, you haven't lost time indexing and creating scalable thumbnails of everything. And because the number of pictures and links in a given folder should be relatively small (in filesystem terms) you should be able to navigate to any picture you want almost instantaneously. Even if you create some large folders that take several seconds to open, you still won't have to wait for your photo application to start and your photo library to load every time you need something.

If you've been at all selective about the images you choose to put in your photo software, you will have significantly increased the performance of library, too. That will make dealing with the percentage of photos you actually want to edit and work with in some way faster, stabler, easier, and just generally more pleasant.

Tags: DLS Imaging Tip, DlsImagingTip, imagingtips