Saturday, June 13, 2009

Digital Photo Organization

I take a lot of pictures, sometimes as many as a hundred in a normal day, more if it’s a big event. Digital photography is so freeing, because it allows us to snap that shutter as many times as we want without fearing astronomical processing fees. I only print the ones that I intend to scrapbook. It does create a logistical problem, however, as I attempt to control the chaos that ensues. I’ve developed a system over the years that works really well for me, and I’d like to share it. It is especially helpful this year as I am doing a 365 project, which means that I’m taking even more photos than ever.

I am somewhat sporadic about transferring the pictures from my camera to the computer. Sometimes I will take them off immediately, other times, I wait until the end of the week. I never wait more than a week because it would be far too overwhelming! My camera card will hold so many photos that if I filled it, it would be impossible to deal with. I’m also anxious to see if they look as good on the computer as they do on the little screen (and sadly, some are not!). I use Windows XP, so just be aware that some of the details may be different if you are using another software platform, but the general idea will work.

My file structure is quite simple. I have an [Images] folder, under which all photos will be filed.

When I move photos off of my camera, I move them directly into a folder named [Sorting]. I then immediately rename them by event or topic.

1. Click on the last image in a series, then hold your shift key and click on the first image in the series.
2. Right click on that first file and then select Rename. I name them something that relates to the content, such as Graduation, GY Cache Party, Backyard Antics, Florals, Sunrise, etc. After the name of the series, add the following: “(1)”. Make sure that you do not remove the “.jpg” at the end of the file name; your computer needs this information so that it knows how to deal with that file.
3. Press [enter] when you are done. The computer will then rename each subsequent image Name (2), Name (3), etc. This ensures that all like items are kept together, and in chronological order! (important for event photography) I don’t rename them one by one…first, because it takes too dang long!, but also because I want them to stay together on my computer. I want all of the Graduation photos to be in one big group, rather than spread out throughout my folder. If I named one of them “Hat Throw” and another one “Tassel changing”, they would be filed alphanumerically in H and T, respectively. In between, I might have “Last Day of School” or “Memorial Day BBQ”, and that just bugs me.

At this point, I go through them one by one in the Windows Image Browser, rotating them as necessary, and jotting down numbers of the ones that I will be using so that I can edit them. I delete any absolutely bad photos at this time, but I must say that this rarely happens. I keep even unfocused or otherwise inadequate photos, because they may have captured a moment.

When I’ve completed that, I highlight the ones that I want to edit by holding the [Ctrl] key and then clicking on them. I either right click and select to open it with Photoshop Elements, or I open Photoshop Elements and then drag them into it. You can use any editing software that you choose, but I use Photoshop because it gives me the most professional results.

Once the images are opened, I begin to edit them. I won’t go into a lot of detail here, other than sizing. (that gives me something to talk about in another post!) When I have made any edits that I wish, I choose “Save as” option, then rename the file. I always leave the name and number, then add the following after:

E if I have edited it in any way (contrast, saturation, etc)
C if I have cropped it to true 4x6 or other printable size
A if I have done something artistic to it, like a filter or glow.
S if I have made it a small file for viewing on the web.

Here’s an example. I have pictures from Graduation, and I am saving Graduation (13).jpg as Graduation (13).jpg as Graduation (13) ec.jpg. That way, I know that it is a 4x6 format, edited, and ready for printing. I also wanted to vignette this photo, enhancing the focus on my subject. I made those edits, then save the photo as Graduation (13) eca.jpg. This artistic version is the one that I want to post on websites such as MyFamily, Facebook, Myspace, or my blog. I then resize the image to about 600 pixels on the longest side, then save as Graduation (13) ecas.jpg. I would now have 4 versions of the same photo on my computer, but that’s okay. It is easier to reference them later.

If I get interrupted and I cannot finish my edits, I always save the file in PSD format, instead of JPG. Every time you save a JPG, it loses quality, and you also lose the ability to edit layers, because they will be flattened.

I never NEVER overwrite the original file. I want to be able to go back and start from scratch if necessary, if I am unhappy with edits. Because I work on both a desktop and laptop, I have found that photos edited on my laptop are too saturated or too sharp, and I like to be able to start again. This is why I use the “save as” option always.

Now I can start categorizing the photos by usage. I have additional folders that I use for this purpose, so that nothing gets lost in the shuffle. You will note that I copy the files, rather than moving them, at this point.

I copy the small web-viewable files into a folder called [to be posted], so that I know what has been uploaded and what has not. Once I have uploaded them to wherever they are going to be posted, I delete them from this folder.

I copy the edited and cropped files into a folder called [Print] if I am going to print them in any format. These are usually the ones that I intend to scrapbook, so we’ll come back to them later.

I copy any photos that will be used for the week’s 365 pages into a [365] folder, so that they are easily found when I have a moment to scrapbook them. I’ve been doing this digitally, rather than with conventional scrapbooking, so they don’t need to be printed. Otherwise, I’d copy them into the Print folder.

I then copy any files that are going to be used in any other way…for instance, if I am sharing them with someone else, I’ll copy them into a folder to be burned to CD or copied onto a flash drive.

Once I have disseminated the copies, then I MOVE all everything out of the [Sorting] folder to it’s final archiving area. I have folders for each month of the year, named [2009.1], [2009.2], etc. This naming convention, again, keeps things in chronological order. I may have subfolders inside this monthly folder such as photos of collections or events. You can have a weekly folder, if you would like, numbered by week, but monthly works well for me. I used to keep them by season, but it was too many photos in one place and I could never find anything.

Now, back to the scrapbooking photos in the [Print] folder. I go through these to decide how I am going to scrapbook them, and if they need to be resized. I can make changes to these files, because I know that my originals and the edited versions are safe in the monthly folder. So I may crop them to 2x2, for example, and include 6 of them on one 4x6 file. I usually have a sketch, of sorts, that I will be working with, so that I know how big I want the photos.

Once they are ready to print, I move the file into a [Ready] folder. Then I upload them to my favorite printer and order the prints. I personally use Wal-Mart, because I’m cheap, but I’ve also been very happy with Shutterfly.

Once I have uploaded my photos to be printed, I can then delete them from the Ready folder, and everything is where it should be!

I use Carbonite, a backup program that immediately begins to back my files up to the internet. There are many companies that do this, but Carbonite came well-recommended and is really cost effective.

Once I have enough to fill a DVD, I will burn the image files on to DVD for safekeeping. It used to take me a year to fill a DVD, then six months…now I am filling a DVD every two months! I make two copies of this DVD. One stays at my desk for reference and the other is kept offsite. You may choose to keep a copy at someone else’s house, or at your office. I keep mine with my 72 hour kit, so that I have a full backup of my photos should we ever have to evacuate. (peninsula prone to tsunami damage, remember?)

I hope that this helps you to develop your own system for dealing with your precious photos! I’d love to hear if you come up with something that works for you! (there is NO wrong way, as long as you are not just deleting the files after you print them..the digital equivalent of throwing away negatives!)

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