Monday, January 26, 2015

A big project - photography organizing

I started this post more than 9 months ago, when I finally finished my huge digital photo clean out and tagging project.  I mentioned working on that many times late last winter and early spring.  Trying to explain my system, that makes perfect sense in my mind, to someone else is never easy.  Matt thinks my system is complicated.  I think it's simple.  Either way, I'll attempt to do so.

I think it's very important to get pictures off phones and memory cards and somewhere usable and permanent.  I generally transfer pictures from my phone daily (using Dropbox) or at least the next time I turn on my computer.  Same with our digital cameras.  This means, other than vacations or camera happy lake trips, it's never a big chore to take on.  Hardly a day goes by that I don't take a few pictures of Luke being adorable (of course) but transferring and sorting daily means a few minutes at most.  I have a few minutes in my day, everyone probably does.

To keep my tens of thousands of digital pictures organized I keep them sorted first by year, then month, then subject or activity.  Like so:

Within my picture file I have a folder for each decade as well as a few specialty folders:
Desktops is the pictures my computer (and 3 of our other ones) cycle through as the desktop background picture.  I have 100 some of my favorite pictures in there.
Highlights is my bare minimum, these are the pictures I want saved more than any other, if we can't save them all.  These are backed up in the most places.
Instagrams are all my pictures from there (gotten off my phone with Dropbox).  
Projects are where I pull pictures to print or ones I'm considering to frame or whatever else I need it for.  I don't keep any stored in there long term.

The 80s and 90s share a folder since there aren't as many in there, just what I've scanned in.

Within each decade folder there is one for each year:

And then one for each month (this is 2014):
 Then within each month different folders:
01 is always Luke.  Once we have another kid I plan for it just to be "kids".  All the random, pretty much daily pictures I take of him end up here.
02 is always projects.  Pictures I take for my blog or things we're working on around the house.
After that I start numbering 03 and so on for whatever significant things happen: lake trips, holidays, Luke's first time in the sandbox (since there were many pictures), weddings, 4th of July weekend, etc.  Whatever makes sense as it's own grouping.
The free floating pictures in the folder are just other ones that don't really fit in any category.  Like little things I snap during the day (without Luke), or activities that might only have a picture or two (like the Superbowl or our church trivia night above).  

That's pretty straight forward, right?  This is basically how I've organized pictures for years and it was super easy to keep up.  Dump pictures in their folder, delete the obvious duds, rotate as needed, and done.  Sometimes I immediately pull pictures to my "to print" file for the next time I place an order.  Or pull some to my 'desktop" or "highlights" folder.  Sometimes I do those in bigger batches.  Either way, I can generally find what I'm looking for pretty quick.  Need a recent, cute picture of Luke?  I look in his folder in the current or recent months.  Quick and easy.

Then starting in 2013, I believe, I decided to complicate it but also make it so much better.  I started tagging.  I don't know much about how Macs work (really, I just got a new one at work and I'm majorly fumbling around) but Microsoft has this neat thing where you can "tag" files. 

On my computer, it shows up at the bottom of an open folder. After I move pictures to a folder and delete the duds, I go through and tag what is left. I start typing whatever I want to tag and it pops up with what matches:
Then I check off what I want to tag, and type whatever is next.  Depending on what I'm working on, I either tag each picture individually, or select a group and tag all the same.  If I transfer a big batch of Luke pictures then I tag them all as "Luke" and then go and add other tags as needed to each pictures, like "Dad & Luke" or "Mom & Luke" or "lemur" or "jet ski" or whatever.  How frequently I'll use a tag determines if I'll tag each picture or a group.

Keeping this tagging up isn't a big deal most of the time.  Most of my daily pictures are of Luke and I can transfer, sort, and tag in just a few minutes.  It takes longer after a lake weekend or family camping trip.  Sorting through pictures after a vacation takes me days (between uploading from 4-5 sources, sorting and deleting many, then tagging).  But still, I consider the system to be well worth the time.

Last winter-spring I spent a few months going through my 40,000 some digital pictures to first, delete many many pictures (ended up getting rid of almost 1/4 - over 10,000) and then tag them all.  30,000 pictures took me awhile.  But it was a fun walk down our memory lane and it's so so so much easier to find what I need now.

I have a lot of tags.  656 at current count.  That seems like a lot to remember and there are some I've probably used inconsistently through this project but there are still plenty I use often.  Here are some things I tag:

-people: Luke, Matt, myself, all our parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, friends who pop up often, cousins, etc.  People that recur a lot all have their own tag
-places: the lake, church, some local parks, some national parks, some cities, the drive-in, places we frequent often besides our current house (because that would be too many pictures)
-holidays: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, 4th of July, Memorial Day weekend, Labor Day weekend, Valentine's, Halloween, all their own tag
-events: weddings in general, sister weddings, each vacation we've taken has it's own tag, bridal/baby showers, etc.
-groups of people: Luke & I, Luke & Matt, all three of us, my immediate family, Matt's immediate family, all of my nieces/nephews as a group, all (or most) Matt's nieces/nephews as a group, my cousins on each side, my 5 sisters and I all together, all their own tags
-activities/things: jet skis, reading, blueberries, boats, birds, insects, flowers, morning glories, garden, churches, driving, flights, flamingos, pizza, frozen cokes, each of our cars, and so on and so on.
All pictures get at least one tag.  Some pictures have A LOT more.  More than 20 for some family group pictures. 

Now the part that made it work all the time (besides saving many gigs of hard drive space and the hours spent looking at memories), how incredibly easy it is to find exactly what I need.  Once I open a folder I can choose to have the files arranged by tag instead of folder.  I can do this when I'm in my general picture folder or within any subfolder.  Say I'm looking for a picture of Matt, Luke, and I to frame.  I go to my "03-10s" folder, arrange by tag, and then they are displayed, in alphabetical order, regardless of tag, as above.  I click on my "DML" (Di, Matt, Luke) tag and get all the pictures taken of the 3 of us:

All 203 pictures we've taken (and kept) are right there.

If I want to get even more specific I can arrange by tag, select a tag, and then arrange by tag within that tag.  So...if I want a picture of Matt, Luke, and I on the jet ski at the lake together I go to my 2014 folder, select "arrange by tag" and then click the "Lake Pleasant" tag, "arrange by tag" and click "DML", then "arrange by tag" and click "jet ski".  That sounds complicated but takes about 3 seconds. 
There are all the pictures of Matt, Luke and I on the jet ski together (I didn't include them all in the screenshot).  (And I realized when typing that I didn't need to include the "Lake Pleasant" tag since all the jet ski pictures we have as a family are there but oh well.)

If I want a picture of Luke and I together on the front porch I do the same thing:

I have tags for groups of people because just selecting "Luke" and then "Diana" would give me every picture each of us are in.  That would include pictures of Matt, Luke and I; pictures with my whole family, pictures with Matt's whole family, etc.  I use the group tags when it's just those people.  If we take a picture of my whole family I don't include the "6 sisters" tag.  I just use the family tag.

Picture of Matt & I together at the drive-in?  Select two tags and boom, got it:
There are a lot more than just this. 
I started tagging current pictures in January 2013 and after a year of that I knew it would be useful to go back and get all my past pictures.  It was.  The time saved looking for a picture versus the time I spent on this project...ok, probably not going to make that all up BUT I think it's so cool to look at the different tags and see how different things pop up.  I like seeing comparisons shots all together.  This works better for some of the lesser used tags  (uhhh...I'm not going to mention the THOUSANDS of pictures I have of Luke.  Averaging a couple hundred a month for his whole life...we kinda think the kid is adorable).  For instance...I have a tag for "new baby" which is from every time we've met a new baby.  Pretty cool to see all those little ones together.  Or "bride and groom" for every wedding we attend and take a picture with the newlyweds.  Seeing stuff like that as a group is just handy and neat. 

I just got really distracted trying to finish up this post by going through and looking at different tags.  It makes me feel so blessed to have such a wonderful life.  Which really has nothing to do with organizing pictures, at all, but just getting lost in them makes me happy and grateful.  This is why the months of tagging work were worthwhile and why I didn't mind doing it.

Regardless of how you organizing your digital pictures, I hope you do take the time to get them off your memory card or phone and in some sort of order.  Like everything, it's much easier to maintain a system than to implement one.  So if you haven't started yet there is no time like the present.

Next time I'm writing about actually getting pictures off your hard drive and somewhere besides social media.  That's really important as well.  Pictures aren't doing many people good if they are just sitting on your hard drive. 

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