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Tagging your Digital Photographs

Over the years I have built up a collection of around 9,000 photographs that are stored on my hard drive. Keeping track of any number of digital photographs is pretty difficult.

Windows XP goes some way to letting you organise your photographs without acquiring extra software. You can rename the photos from a jumble of numbers to something more sensible. You can organise these into folders and you can see thumbnail views of all your files. Unfortunately renaming photographs takes a long time and which system should you use? You could have chronological folders for each month of each year and then rename the photographs with the names of the people in them, but what about photos of 'things'? What about locations?

I would like to be able to specify that I want to see a photograph of my friend Alex. Or have a look a photos only taken in June 2000. Or photographs taken on Louis' 23rd birthday, photos taken in Suffolk, taken on my 2001 holiday to Rhodes, photos that feature good sunsets, have road signs in them...

Adobe Photoshop Album

I used to use a system of folders and carefully named files until I downloaded Adobe Photoshop Album (version 1). This program had a lot of technical problems but now they have released version 2 and those problems are mostly gone.

Setting Tags

Adobe Photoshop Album (APA) 2 lets you 'tag' your digital photographs. When you download your digital photos to your computer (using USB or a memory card etc.) they appear in APA's database of pictures. The program can tell you lots of very useful information about the photograph including the time and date it was taken, as well as the camera's shutter and aperture settings, whether the flash fired and so on. It can't tell you who the picture is of or where it was taken but it's really quick and easy to tell it.

The three areas of Photoshop Album

This is what Adobe Photoshop Album looks like. I have highlighted three distinct areas.

Area 3 (the blue box) shows you photographs, as thumbnails, in chronological order or by which folder they are in on your computer.

Area 2 (the red box) contains a slider control that lets you jump from month to month to see photographs taken at the time.

Area 1 (the green box) contains the tags that are dragged on to the thumbnails in area 3, or used for Tag filtering (I will come to that later).


Positioned down the side of your screen is a list of 'tags'. They appear in different categories and here we've got 'Places', but there is also 'People', 'Events', 'Favourites', and 'Other'. You can also create your own sub-categories so under 'People' I have 'Friends', 'Family' and 'Pets'.

When photographs are imported into APA they appear as thumbnail images in a similar way to Windows XP. To attribute a tag to a picture you simply drag the tag to it. So for a picture taken in Bristol I just click and drag the bristol tag to the picture. Then if there is a friend in the photo I'd go to my people tags and drag and drop their tag on to the picture as well. If there's more than one person then you can drag more than one tag. If there is a good sunset in the background I might add that in too.

Tags are really easy to make so if it's the first photo you've taken in a specific place or of a specific person then you can make a new tag in no time at all.

Filtering Tags (or looking for pictures)

By filtering the tags, one can easily retrieve photographs that match fairly strict criteria. To see all photographs I have ever taken in Bristol, for example, I would click on the little white box next to the tag (see the screenshot above) and APA would immediately work its magic and show just those photographs.

You can also combine filters from tags. For example my friends Don and Jenny are in a relationship. I've got photographs of each one on their own and with other people but if I want to I can select both the Don and Jenny tags to see photographs only containing both people.

It works with places and events as well. If you want a photograph of Louise in Tarifa then simply choose the two tags and it will filter the resulting photos down just to ones taken in Tarifa that have Louise in them.

The tags, along with the sliding timeline along the top of the thumbnails allow easy retrieval of photographs that you might even forgot you'd ever taken!

Other features

Adobe Photoshop Album also allows you to easily fix red-eye, reframe, automatically adjust levels and colours, and view slideshows. The clever thing about Photoshop Album is it uses very basic principles to perform amazingly powerful tasks. It'd one of the easiest programs I have ever used.

Where to get Adobe Photoshop Album 2

Photoshop Album is free - sort of. There is a version that you can download that is termed the 'Starter Edition'. This does everything that you'll need it to do, but there is also a full version (not free) that does more. Unfortunately the Start Edition constantly reminds you how great it would be if you bought the full version.

Adobe Photoshop Album 2 Starter Edition (5.6 Mb - about 15 mins over a standard dial-up connection)

The upgrade to the full version costs around $40 and has the following improvements:

  • Create slide shows, cards, etc.
  • Enhanced tagging allows for more flexible and customized searches and archiving.
  • Share precious moments with family and friends on a CD or DVD.
  • Pinpoint photos with similar colors and characteristics.
  • Backup your precious photos, tags, captions on a CD or DVD to keep them safe.

A full comparison of the two versions can be seen in a handy table on Adobe's website.

I fully suspect that Adobe, Photoshop Album and so on are all trademarks of something or another. Best to check before you use these in some way.

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