Workflow Step #3 – Image File Organization

General Overview >>> What is it? Why should I bother?

Image organization addresses the means for locating and retrieving image files. Can you locate an image within a collection of 200,000+ in a few seconds? I can – read on.
Image organization uses software to catalog your files and store the file information in a database. Later, you can retrieve images based on a seemingly infinite range of criteria combinations – limited only by how comprehensively you tag and categorize your images. Certain criteria such as dates, file names, EXIF data (lens, shutter speed, ISO,….) will be done for you automatically (see examples below) by most cataloging software – the more personal aspects such as location, job, subject matter, etc. are up to you (see examples). A typical system will allow you to do retrievals such as –

  • Show me all images taken while vacationing in Maine, or
  • Show me all images taken while vacationing in Maine but just in 2008, or
  • Show me all images of my wife taken while vacationing in Maine but NOT in 2008, or
  • Show me all of my floral images
  • Show me all of my rose images
  • Show me all of my B&W rose images
  • Show me all of my B&W rose images taken with my 105mm macro lens in 2007 while in California
  • Show me all of my B&W rose images EXCEPT those taken with my 105mm macro lens in 2007 while in California OR Maine
  • Show me all of my rose images EXCEPT those taken with my 105mm macro lens in 2007 while in California RAW format only and no B&W
  • You get the idea……

If you only have a few hundred (or thousand) images, this step may not be important to you. However, if you wake up one morning to discover that your photograph collection has grown to 10,000 or more it will matter. Further, if you waited too long to do any organization beyond dumping the image files into folders, then catching up may be daunting. I have over 200,000 images in my photo database. It typically takes less than 10 seconds to retrieve the images based on a database query. Occasionally it’s longer but it’s rare – and it’s because I failed to categorize the image properly. (If it’s an image on my website that I’m having trouble finding in the database, a quick solution is to take a screen shot of the website display on my monitor and tell the database – find the image that looks like this one. Sweet! Of course, not many image database programs can do that trick.)
Organization goes hand in hand with file management -the use of the computer’s operating system for naming of files and folders, arrangement of these hierarchical folders, and handling the files in these folders. It also goes hand in hand with the backup of our image files (and their related folder structure, and the database if we choose to use cataloging software – the database does not store the images, just data pertaining to the image plus a thumbnail). As I noted in the last post Step 2.5, Download.Organization, the time to take care of the folders, file names, backup and similar house cleaning chores is while the image files are being downloaded from your camera’s memory card to your computer.
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In the next post I’ll discuss some of the image organization related hardware and software options together with examples of what’s possible in terms of image retrieval. I’ll close now with this example

I was contacted by a community newsletter editor who wanted a pair of images comparing the same outdoor scene in the community – one in the spring and one in the winter – for an upcoming spring issue. I had 16 pairs for her to select from within 10 minutes (out of 209,118 total). This is what Image Organization allows.

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