Photos scattered all over your computer? Here's help.
Do you know where to FIND every digital photo or film scan you've ever made? If so, you're either incredibly organized, in deep denial, or don't have a digital camera or scanner. For the rest of you, with too many images tossed in virtual shoeboxes (hard drives, memory cards, CDs, etc.), here's how to put them within reach.
1. Save your originals.
For example, if you've just shot a birthday party, name a folder "Andrew5Bday" and copy the images from the card into that folder. If multiple subjects are on the card, name a folder "May29_07." This keeps your computer from getting cluttered with automatically generated names like 107NCD40 or 102_PANA.
Keep your folder names as short as possible, and avoid symbols that could create problems if you change your computer or operating system: Don't use dashes, periods, or pound signs; underscored spaces are fine. These should be stored in a master folder called "My Pictures" (on most PCs) or "Pictures" (on Macs). Some programs, such as Apple's iPhoto, automatically copy your image files to a Library folder, but you'll always have the option of creating and naming a unique folder when you transfer from a memory card.
2. Create thumbnails.
Image preview tools included in your operating system give you a quick look at thumbnail photos of JPEG, TIFF, and some RAW files without having to open them. Plus, dozens of image retouching and organizing programs are sold (or included with your camera or computer) that make permanent thumbnail libraries or folders filled with low-resolution previews.
The benefit of this second approach: You can copy and view these thumbnails on a variety of devices (including TVs) without being forced to copy the originals. Some programs let you rotate or make minor adjustments to thumbnails without touching the original. (Serious fixes are best left for later.) Or you can upload your images to an online photo site, to view thumbnails from any internet browser.
3. Rename and tag images.
After making thumbnails, fine-tune them to quickly locate your favorites based on the subject, date taken, or even star rating. You can ease this process by renaming the original image files or embedding permanent information into them (also known as tagging).
You can rename and tag using low-cost software such as Pinnacle's Mobile Media Organizer ($40, street; pinnaclesys.com), freeware such as Kodak's EasyShare 6.2 (kodak.com), or bundled software such as Apple's iPhoto 6 (apple.com). You can also create picture collections, automatically convert and resize images, batch process and retouch, and do far more with more sophisticated programs such as ACDSee Pro Photo Manager ($150, street), Adobe's LightRoom ($199, street), or Apple's Aperture 1.5 ($270, street).
No matter which tool you use or strategy you adopt, the minutes spent organizing your photos now will save you hours of searching for them later -- or worse, the heartache of losing track of them permanently.