Storing Digital Photos > Tag Your Photos

Tag Your Digital Photographs

Important photos won't get lost when they have categories

Digital photos are easy to lose.

I'm not talking about total loss due to computer or camera failure. Legitimate photos that have nothing wrong with them get moved to your hard drive and vanish.

Before you rush out and file a missing photo report, consider assigning categories (also called tags) to your digital photos so that they never get lost again.

Tagging Basics

Tagging your photos is essentially an exercise in library science. The whole idea is that when all of your photos are assigned to meaningful categories, it will be very easy to find every one of them a year from now.

Digital photos can get out of hand pretty fast. You're not spending any money on film processing, and most hard drives today can store in excess of 20,000 photos. Can you imagine trying to shuffle through 20,000 images just to find your favorite shot of your pet?

Tagging, if done at the time you edit your photos, will let you find any photo quickly.

Assign Multiple Tags

The most important thing to remember about tagging is that you should assign multiple tags to a photo whenever possible.

The more tags you assign, the more you increase your chance of finding the photo again. This is because you never know how you might search for the photo in the future. Say that you have a shot of your dog on the beach at sunset. When you view it in your image browser, it immediately becomes one of your favorites. Now you can assign the following tags to it: dog, sunset, beach, favorite.

When you do a search in a couple of months for all of your sunset shots, this one will turn up. But maybe you don't remember it as a sunset photo — you think of it as a photo of your dog. Since the dog category has also been assigned, this same photo will show up if you search for all of your dog photos.

Tag Hierarchy

Most computer software that lets you tag photos will also let you create groups of tags and hierarchies.

The great thing about hierarchies is that anything assigned with a specific tag also gets assigned all of the other tags that represent broader terms.

Let's go back to that dog on the beach. I'm going to focus on the dog category for this example. You start out by creating the broad category Animals. Under Animals, you create a category for Dogs. Under dogs, you create a category with your dog's name (Ruff for example). Your category hierarchy now looks like this: Animals > Dogs > Ruff.

When you tag the photo with the Ruff category, the other higher categories are also assigned. Now when you search for all photos of Animals, or all photos of Dogs, the photo tagged with Ruff will be found (even though you didn't specifically assign it to the other two categories).

Tagging Software

Digital Asset Management

If you are really gung-ho about classifying every single photo you take, then you might want to consider a digital asset management (DAM) program. These programs are specifically designed to classify and categorize thousands of photos, documents, videos and anything else you might want to find again.

Digital asset managment software is fairly complicated, so only consider this option if you are willing to spend some time with the software manual. Once you get used to the software, it is remarkably easy to use, and very powerful. It gives you the capacity to sort and organize your digital photographs in any way you can imagine.

You can group, tag and cluster the images in any way that makes sense to you. You can add captions to your photos and create slideshows and web pages.

These are two economical digital asset management programs:

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