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Step By Step Photo Organization and Tagging Method


Jul 4, 2007
NOTE: If you simply want to see how I organize my photos, go to Step L There are also notes on many of the steps, at the bottom.

Do you love taking photos and now have thousands of them kicking around, but just can't find the one you want to see? This is my method on how to organize photos in a logical way. Some people may already have their own way that they like, others may be sort of half way there, and others are still dealing with photos that still have filenames like 'DSC0384.jpg'. I understand that there people have their own preferences about how they like to organize their photos, but you may like my method. If not, there may still be something in here that you may like to incorporate into your photo storage. I know some of this is extremely basic, but I have two things to say about that: a) There still are some people who are completely lost when it comes to using computers, and/or programs such as these; and b) So many tutorials seem to miss steps that make it so much more difficult to figure out what the author intends.

While I use a Mac, and will be discussing things from the Mac operational point of view; most, if not all of the programs used are also available for the PC (except iPhoto, I believe). Regardless, the organizational method still holds true.

A) Hardware:

1) Camera
2) Batteries
3) GPS (Optional, but essential for "Geotagging")
4) Batteries
5) More Batteries
6) Extra Memory Card(s) (optional)
7) And More Batteries!
8) A whole whack-load of hard drive space!
9) Alternate storage medium

B) Software:

1) Image transfer software (if necessary) to save the photos from the camera to the computer.
2) GPSPhotoLinker - http://www.earlyinnovations.com/ to geotag the photos.
3) iView Multimedia - http://www.iview-multimedia.com/downloads/index.html the predominant program for organizing and sorting your photos.
4) Cameraid - http://www.cameraid.com/ lossless manipulation of photos (ie.: for rotating)
5) iPhoto - for face recognition, and viewing photos based on location (map overlay).
6) GraphicConverter - http://www.lemkesoft.com/ for batch processing photos.
7) Google Earth (optional) - For viewing GPS track and for viewing photos based on location (map overlay)

C) Taking Photos:

1) Install your fresh batteries in your GPS, turn it on, and let it acquire it's signal. (Necessary for geo-tagging and precise time meta-tagging of photos.)
2) Install your fresh batteries in your camera and turn it on.
3) Ensure the date and time are roughly correct (More about this later.)
4) Be ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN you have the desired resolution set correctly.
5) Take a picture of the time displayed on your GPS. (I'll tell you more later, but it has to do with Step C3.).
6) Take photos to your hearts content. Endeavour to always have a good satellite signal to your GPS.
7) If your batteries are running low, especially in cool weather, take them out and sit on them, or better yet, stuff them in your armpit right against the skin. It will warm them up enough to get those last few shots.

D) Transfer Photos from Camera:

1) Set up a 'Drop Folder' on your computer where you are going to save your photos from your camera/device. Mine are in a folder in a directory as follows: Files ---> Graphics ----> Photos ---> Photo Dumpsite ---> CameraNameX (Where CameraNameX would be the name of the actual device the photo was captured with. So in the "Photo Dumpsite Folder" I have folders with the names of all the devices I have that take pictures: "Cannon IS1000", "Olympus 3.2", "Fido Phone", "iPhone", etc.

2) Most cameras, when connected to a Mac, the memory cards will automatically show up as an external drive - cool, eh? Don't know if this works with Vista or Windows 7, but it's one of the things I've loved about the Mac. If your camera automatically mounts as an external drive simply copy the photo files over to your chosen 'Drop Folder'. Otherwise, see Step D3.

3) Some cameras, namely Cannons, require a program to interface with the computer. YOU CAN AVOID INSTALLING THE ENORMOUS SOFTWARE PACKAGE provided with the camera if you simply do a one-time setup of the "Image Capture" application provided on the Mac. One caveat, however. If you are using Image Capture for multiple devices you will need to open Image Capture and set the preferences to the desired 'Drop Folder' if you use a different drop folder for each device. Otherwise, after the initial setup, simply plug in the camera, and press the transfer button on the camera.

4) After you transfer the photos "eject" the USB device if it mounts automatically; or simply unplug it if using the Image Capture application. (Follow the instructions for unplugging included with your equipment.)

5) After transferring the photos to the computer momentarily load them into iView to ensure all the photos have been transferred error free. After ensuring the photos were saved from the camera correctly, you can close iView without saving the album.

6) Only after absolutely ensuring Step D5 yielded error free photos on your computer, delete the photos from your camera. If there was an error, you can delete all the freshly downloaded files from your COMPUTER, and redo Steps D1 - 6.

E) Transfer GPS Tracks from GPS:

1) This is going to be nearly identical in procedure to Step D, if all else fails follow your GPS instructions on getting your files into .GPX format.

F) Setting the Exif Photo Data:

1) Open GPSPhotoLinker.
2) Click the "Track Files" tray icon and drag and drop any and all .gpx files into the tray.
3) Drag and drop all of the photos in your 'Drop Folder' into GPSPhotoLinker
4) Remember the photo you took of your GPS timestamp? Now is the time to use it. We want to compare the Exif data with the timestamp shown in the photo of the GPS. Click on the "Shift Time" button, and set the time adjustment to get the Exif data to match with the date and time on the photo of the GPS time.
5) Select the rest of the photos you loaded and shift the time on them in one batch.

G) Geo-tagging the photos:

1) Click on the "Auto" button and choose your settings. I have mine set as follow but you can change yours to suit:
'Link to: Nearest recorded point'
'Between points no more than 200 meters apart' AND '200 seconds'.
'Process all loaded photos'
'Ignore previously geotagged photos'
2) Click "Batch save to photos"
3) Close GPSPhotoLinker.

H) Rename Photo Filenames:

1) Drag and drop all of your photos into iView and wait for ALL of the preview (thumbnails) to fully load.
2) Select all of the thumbnails and Press Cmd-Y to batch rename the photos.
3) Choose "Date" and then type "YYYYMMDDhhmmss" for a 4 digit year.
4) Click "Rename".

J) Sort/Organize Photos Preparation:

1) View images as a "List"
2) Click on the word 'Filename' three times, until the files are sorted by file name.
3) Now you can go to the 'Thumbnail' view and start labelling the photos. I label mine as follows, but you can use your own system:
Red (#1 key): Photos to Delete
Pink (#5 key): Photos to rotate left
Orange (#6 key): Photos to rotate right
4) Click outside the photos in the 'Thumbnail' view to deselect all the photos.
5) Sort the photos by label: View ---> Sort ---> Label
6) Select all the photos you labelled to be deleted.
7) To move the photos to the trash click Cmd-Delete, and click "Move to Trash" when the alert box comes up.
8) Select all the items to be rotated left, and drag them to a folder on your Desktop labeled "To Rotate Counterclockwise". Repeat with all the photos to rotate right, dragging them into a folder labeled "To Rotate Clockwise"

K) Rotate Photos:

1) Drag all the files, or the folder of photos to be rotated Counterclockwise onto the Cameraid icon.
2) Once Cameraid opens, go photo by photo and use the Transform ---> Rotate Counterclockwise option for lossless rotation of your photos.
3) Repeat for photos to be rotated Clockwise.
4) Back in iView, select ALL of the photos that you labeled for rotation, and choose Action ---> Rebuild Item.

L) Organize Your Photos!

Ok, here is where the real meat of organizing your photos comes in. Here are two screen shots of how I do it on my computer (the two screenshots are looking at same "directory structure" in two different ways of viewing it:

You will note that I have each location as a folder all nested inside one another. If you want you could even go as far as splitting it down into continents. So an example would be Location Pics ---> North America ---> Canada ---> British Columbia ---> Greater Vancouver Regional District ---> Port Moody ---> Indian Arm ---> Twin Islands ---> North Island ---> East Side ---> Inside Tent. I think the screen shot probably does a better job of explaining it.

Of course you will be doing a LOT of back and forth between iView and the Finder, so if you have two monitors (a HUGE help, here), have iView on the one screen, and your Desktop on the other. You will find yourself making a lot of folders nested in side one another, of course, as well.

Now you have all your photos organized by location, and named by date and time!!

It's not really practical to do a numbered step on the above, as you tend to go back and forth, and back and forth making new folders, selecting files, dragging and dropping, etc. based on your needs. But your final step can be: Look in the "Drop Folder" and "To Rotate" folders, and ensure they're empty. This will be your indication that ALL of your photos have been moved to their appropriate locations.

M) Upload to iPhoto

1) In the menu, go to iPhoto ---> Preferences. Click on the Advanced tab, and UNCHECK Copy items to the iPhoto Library. Close the window.
2) Drag and drop your photos into iPhoto.
3) Wait copious amounts of time for it to determine Faces and Places.
4) Go through and check the Faces.

N) View and Share

There are a couple things that are super great about iPhoto:
1) You can very easily share your photos on Facebook with iPhoto's uploader.
2) The face recognition software helps (but is by no means perfect) in finding photos of the people important to you.
3) This is the greatest part: Places. You can now view on a map where your photos were taken.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this prose (even though it may have been extremely basic for some), and it's been of some use to you. You may like my organization method, you may not, but that's ok. The pros to this method are that if you remember WHERE you took a photo, or want to see all the photos of a particular area, you simply navigate through your folders to that location. In addition if you remember WHEN a photo was taken, you can do a search of your hard drive for that date (For example a search for "20101020*" will find you all the photos taken on October 20, 2010). Further, you can know WHEN a photo was taken simply by looking at the filename (especially useful if you take pictures of/in a certain area on many different dates.) This also is great for when viewing the files in any sort of slideshow where you enable the option to show the filename overlaid on the photo. The other advantage is all the ways you can view and share the photos.

The cons to this method are... well... just look at how long this process is! (Though, really, it doesn't take very much time after you've set up a bit of a folder structure, and have done it a few times). The other disadvantage has to do with handling locations, specifically what happens when you are traveling from one location to another. This is especially true when on higher speed conveyances (airplane, or car in some cases) or when it is difficult to determine what region you are in when taking the photo. I've sort of come to the point where I will make folders for 'in transit' photos. For example paddling from Twin Islands to the Cave I have made a folder named "Twin Islands - Cave" which contains all the photos that are taken BETWEEN, but not including either of those two locations. Of course this leads to the question should I make a folder for photos from the "Cave - Twin Islands" for my return, and if I'm only going to do it one way, what is a good convention to follow (ie: Name North to South, and East to West, or from closest to home to further away -but then what if I move, etc.- and the debate goes on.

Anyway, that's where it's at, I love being able to find a photo very quickly, and easily amongst my 13000+ photos that I have. I have found that this method provides the speed and ability to find those photos. I look forward to hearing your responses and how you organize your photos, and if you think it has advantages to mine, but tell me why you think so.

After all of this I want to say something about backup media. I EXTREMELY recommend both a backup hard-drive, and "hard copy" (CD/DVD) storage. I use a program that automatically backs up my photo folder to the backup hard drive every hour, but you can choose a different time interval. Once you have your photos sorted EXACTLY how you want them, save them to the more permanent CD/DVD storage.

Also, be careful when manipulating your photos. I always make a copy, and work on the copy if I'm concerned about damaging/losing the original. I store the originals in a folder titled (you guessed it) "Originals" (also sorted by location within that folder!).

More Notes:
(References to above steps)

C3a. While it is good to have your date set roughly correctly, it is not ESSENTIAL, as we will be able to adjust the photo capture date later when we sync with the GPS. If you DO NOT have a GPS, or take a photo of your GPS displaying the date and time (with seconds), then I recommend you set the time on your camera as accurately as possilble.

C3b. I haven't quite solved the problem when taking a series of photos across a time zone change, or a DST change. I am seriously considering changing to the UTC time to avoid this issue. I also am not certain what occurs when your GPS goes through a DST change. Any input would be appreciated.

C5. Do this each day, or each time you are ready to take your first photos after you have cleared your memory card.

D5/D6. You may wish to run the iView slideshow and see that each and every photo loads fully, and correctly.

F4. Careful here, you are trying to figure out the TOTAL adjustment +/- needed to get the ORIGINAL Exif data to match the timestamp on the GPS. Only then should you batch change all of the photos. This will set the "capture" timestamp of the photo to the precise time of the very accurate GPS clock.

H1. Your photos WILL NOT sort correctly if you do not wait for ALL of the thumbnails to load.

H3. We, of course, are naming each photo to be the date and time the photo was taken. Naming the files in this exact format allows you to sort the photos in your Finder chronologically. It is a very passionate belief of mine that this date convention should be an international standard. If you think about it logically, it is the only way to sort dates properly using conventional alpha-numeric sorting schema.

Ix. Yes, I know I missed "I". I did it on purpose!

J2. I find that simply clicking on it once does not ALWAYS sort the photos properly. Click it twice, and it sorts them in descending order. So click it three times so that they are in ascending order.

J3a. You may want to switch back and forth between Thumbnail view and Media view if you want a closer look at a particular photo.

J3b. You will also find yourself going forward a back a fair bit trying to find all the inferior pictures you can delete. I have found that I am getting WAY too many photos on my computer, and they are taking up a HUGE amount of space. If I have 3 nearly identical pictures of the same thing, I will try and throw out the 2 most inferior ones.

J8. I used to save my originals for fear that the rotation process would cause a degradation of quality. I am not so paranoid anymore, and Cameraid DOES claim to be lossless, so I don't save the orginals anymore. On some cameras it's a non-issue, anyway, as they automatically detect when the photo is taken in the portrait orientation, and save the photos already rotated vertically.

K2. I have NOT figured out how to get it to do all of them at once. Grr.

Lx) Once I have drag and dropped a photo or series of photos into the folder location I want, and while it is still selected in iView, I hit the backspace key (NOT Cmd-Backspace as this will send the photos to the Trash can) and it clears them from the iView program but does not delete them. Alternatively, you could re-label them to another colour, and choose to hide all items of that particular label colour.

I continue until my iView window is empty of photos.

M. I'm not really going into too much detail with iPhoto, you can find enough tutorials around to help you with this.

Man, this took FOREVER to type out.


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lomcevak said:
and others are still dealing with photos that still have filenames like 'DSC0384.jpg'.

(raises hand) That's me. ^^

WOW, thanks for taking the time to type that up. I've been really lazy with my photos, and this should come in handy for future reference!

I learned a lot! :big_thumb :clap:
Have just got my first imac and dumped a few pictures from two cameras in there and played around a bit. Next effort to extract photos from laptop and get them onto imac. Perhaps a job for dear son?? Some of these photos were taken (according to camera!) in the year 2057! Should be fun filing those...
I learned a few things, like the existence of software that adds the GPS location. Cool. I've been doing this the hard way.

Your system highlights why I get so frustrated with my wife who NEVER sets the date/time on our older point and shoot camera (Olympus Stylus Verve) which always forgets the date when the battery is run down to empty before changing for a charged one. The Pentax Optio W90 we got each other does not have this issue, it seems. It also does a lot of other things better too.

Suzy said:
Have just got my first imac and dumped a few pictures from two cameras in there and played around a bit. Next effort to extract photos from laptop and get them onto imac. Perhaps a job for dear son?? Some of these photos were taken (according to camera!) in the year 2057! Should be fun filing those...

I'm pretty sure with GPSPhotoTagger you can manually set the 'capture date' of photos individually. But don't quote me on it.

If your laptop is a Mac there is a simple method via the FireWire cable to connect it to the iMac via 'Target Disk Mode' (do a search on that). Alternatively, if it is a WinDoze computer and you have it and the Mac connected via a router, set the folder on the WinDoze machine to be shared and then simply hit Cmd-K from the Finder on your Mac and type "smb://" (no quotes) or whatever the ip is of the laptop, preceded by the "smb://"
lomcevak said:
Do you love taking photos and now have thousands of them kicking around, but just can't find the one you want to see?

Very comprehensive writeup lomcevak, you should be commended for your post and all the time it took to write it. I have used a DSLR in my kayaks, but it can be somewhat awkward and a P&S camera is much easier. The image quality is still much better with a DSLR but Point and Shoots are getting much better, are waterproof and much smaller.

I am a profesional photographer using 4 Nikon bodies, this is my work flow. I will safely store all my images on my RAID system so I have several backups, I make copies of all images and copy them to another folder named something more intuitive. I then use my Nikon software to rename all my photos in that folder.

I use a Nikon GP-1 GPS that automatically geotags all my photos. This is much easier if you have the capability, and eliminates much of your workflow. An example of this is is at http://www.pbase.com/windancer/novascotia, each image has the option of "View Map" and will show you where I took the image. I believe Canon is now putting GPS in many of their DSLR Bodies.

One nice thing about Pbase, it allows you manual geotagging if necessary.

Hope this helps, I can answer any questions if you have them.