Digital Photo Organization
How many pictures do you currently have on your computer? 100? 1,000? 10,000? When was the last time you actually looked at them? The digital revolution has had some interesting side-effects on how we take and consume pictures. We're no longer subjected to Grandpa's 5-hour slideshows, but we also don't have albums organized for our children to look at so they can learn how hard it was 'in the old days'. Photographs have become somewhat disposable. We make sure to take them at big events, and because every picture we take is essentially free, we're taking more pictures than ever - but without a good way to organize this HUGE collection of photographs, why are we taking them at all?
After I had my first digital camera for a year, I had amassed over 1,000 photographs. I threw them in a folder on my computer. Sometimes I uploaded some to a photo service like Shutterfly, but most the time they just sat there on my computer. Perturbed, I went out and found Adobe Photoshop Album. There are a number of alternatives, but I have yet to find a better organization system than the one Adobe has created. I should mention up front that Adobe's brilliant solution is offered for free.
This article will not be a complete exploration of all the features the program offers but rather an overview of how it can breathe new life into your photo collection by making thousands of pictures more manageable.
Getting photos into the program is extremely easy, and you have a number of different angles of attack for initially getting your pictures in and for upkeep after you've gotten things setup. The best way to start is to 'File->Get Photos…->From Files and Folders…'. Then all you have to do is select your main photo folder, check 'Get Photos from Subfolders' then click 'Get Photos'. A couple of seconds later (or hours depending on how large your collection is and how slow your computer is) your collection is displayed in thumbnail form for you to start organizing.
The heart of Photoshop Album's power lies in it's tagging system. I've created a number of sub-categories in my catalogue, but the main categories are People, Places, Events and Other. The basic idea is to create a tag for everything you want to be able to keep track of. I create a new tag for all my friends and family, any holiday or special event (like weddings), every city I've taken a picture in, and finally a couple of miscellaneous types of pictures that don't fall into any other category (like portraits, macro photography, blog pictures etc).
Once a tag is created, all you have to do is drag it to a photograph, and it is applied. At first it takes a lot of determination to bring a large collection up to speed. Correctly tagging 1,000 photographs takes a significant amount of time, but taking making your pictures more accessible is the reason you're reading this article, right? This is where a Tablet PC really makes life easy, because it is so natural to use a pen to select and apply tags to photographs.
Unfortunately there aren't any tablet enhancements built-into Photoshop Album, and actually the TIP doesn't even popup and portrait mode slightly cuts off the tag scroll bar on my X41T's XGA screen because the program doesn't scale well to a 786 pixel horizontal resolution (it was obviously designed with a 800 pixel minimum horizontal resolution in mind). Even with those limitations, I still find tagging with my tablet extremely natural and quick (once your tags are created of course).
After your collection has been completely tagged, how is your life easier? Well, let's say you want to print out a picture for a frame you just got and you know you want to put a picture of you and your significant other while on a vacation in Tahiti. Well, just check the box next to those three tags and you are presented with all the photographs with those three tags attached. Now you can easily pick the best shot for that frame.
But now that you have your picture, you realize that your printer is not up to snuff and you want to get it professionally printed. Rather than having to searching through the hard drive for the picture file you've chosen, so you can upload it - just select it and select 'Print->Order Prints…' and Photoshop Album will automatically upload the appropriate file to Kodak EasyShare for you and present you with the order screen in a browser so you can quickly and easily get your frame filled.
Upkeep - adding new photos
Once your collection and tagging database are up to speed, keeping things up-to-date are extremely straight forward. Adobe includes a utility that launches automatically when a digital camera is connected or a memory card is inserted that can copy all the pictures to a directory of your choice and delete them after they're on your system.
There's also an easy one-click function that launches your scanner driver to bring those shoeboxes full of your old fashioned paper pictures directly into the program.
Other Great Features
Photoshop Album (PSA) has a lot to offer in addition to allowing you simple access to any photo you want. Photos are for sharing, and sharing with PSA is as easy as selecting the pictures you want to offer and clicking 'share'. If mass-sharing isn't your thing, you can also easily link up with your email program and send them in the same why directly to someone's inbox.
PSA also allows you to select your photos and burn them to a CD for archival, because nothing's worse than losing precious memories in a hard drive crash.
The slideshow feature is cool, but the duration between frame changes is too long for my taste and it isn't configurable. It's functional and it works great, and even includes the ability to flag the current picture for printing after the show is over, but it just stays on each picture too long to stay interesting for me.
Rounding out the rest of the major features are simple uploading and creation of Greeting Cards, Calendars and Photostamps so your picture can be on a postage stamp. All the features are just as easy as selecting the pictures you want and hitting 'OK'.
It should also be noted that the program supports some major video formats as well as pictures. So if you find yourself using the video function on your digicam a lot, Photoshop Album also can tag those just as easily as your pictures, so you're totally covered.
Frustrations and Conclusion
I only have a couple of hang-ups with this program. The first will only come into play if you like to edit your photos more than occasionally. There is no 'edit with…' function to send a file to another program to work on it. This really frustrates me sometimes because I tend to tweak nearly every picture I take. Older versions of PSA did have this ability, but apparently they decided that it wasn't a feature people used, and removed it. Nice Adobe, very nice…
Another frustration is that there's no ability to write the tag data to the image files themselves. JPGs can have metadata attached in the form of EXIF data. Think of it like the ID3 tags on all your MP3s that tell your audio player what album the song is from and who the artist is. Most cameras automatically write information like shutter speed, apeture, date etc, but EXIF also has fields for tag information. This is significant because otherwise there's no easy way to take the hours you've spent organizing your pictures elsewhere. Flickr, for instance, has the ability to automatically generate tags based on EXIF data in pictures. My last frustration is similar in that there's no ability to add services to the program, so if you prefer Shutterfly over Kodak.com you can't easily add a module to upload pictures.
The $99 upgrade to Photoshop Essentials that Adobe offers resolves both these shortcomings. Do I recommend it? No. I haven't come across any other programs that I might want to migrate to yet, and it hasn't been a huge deal to find pictures in explorer and open them in Photoshop. I would however really like Adobe to consider supporting these two functions so that I can feel a little more secure with the 10+ hours I've surely spent organizing my photographs with their programs.
These few problems aside, Photoshop Album is still a great program, especially considering it's price point: $0. So check it out, and make use of all those digital pictures laying around your hard drive.