Photo Collections & Photo Organizing

Since the talk of the serious organizational failings of Adobe Photoshop Elements Organizer and Libraries in Windows 7 I’m thinking about photo collections in particular and ways of doing that. And the broader view of photo organizing.

Tagging to my mind means photo metadata, such as keywords, caption, caption writer, source, copyright, location, GPS, etc. The whole nine yards. Name tags, as they’re offered in Adobe Photoshop Elements Organizer and Picasa just don’t cut it. I’ve already recommended GeoSetter (free) or Photo Mechanic for that purpose.

A collection could be an event like a birthday, all the gravestones in a particular cemetery, all the census records in a county. Whatever your needs are. Any group of files you want to be able to bring up on a second’s notice to either view or work with. Collections can be created out of anything and regardless of where the files exist on your hard-drive.

You can have your files in total disarray on your hard-drive and still use software to organize them into categories. Or you can have a folder structure of your own and use software to categorize your files in other ways.

File Naming

You also need a filing-naming convention. Good photo software will have a batch-renaming tool where you can use the existing metadata to create names and make it much easier for you. Or you can rename by setting a pattern and it doesn’t involve the metadata at all.

For instance, my digital photos are named year-jlb-####. It takes me two seconds in GeoSetter to rename hundreds at a time.

GeoSetter, Rename Photos

This can also be done in a free program called Bulk Rename Utility that can rename files in any way you can possibly imagine. And in ways you’ve probably never imagined.

Bulk Rename Utility

On the other hand, I name my ancestor photos and edits manually. Because of the varying dates there’s no set pattern to them. I could put the dates in the captions instead but I want my thumbnails showing chronologically. That’s why I put the dates in the file-names. And because I do them one at a time, I want the names short. Everything else about them goes into the metadata.

If your files have to be named in an individualized fashion, like I’ve seen in surname filing systems, eg. surname-date-type-event-participants-location, etc, that’s going to have to be done manually. That’s why I don’t do it that way and stand in direct opposition to anyone who says you should. If you have your photo information embedded in your photos you don’t need foot-long file-names.

Obviously, in the case of genealogy files, ‘photo’ can mean any type of image; death certificates, census records, newspaper clippings and so on. They can all be tagged and should be if you want to be able to find them easily.

Photo Collections

I have an old version of ACDSee Pro Photo Manager. (2.5 and the present one is 5.1)

There’s a very easy way to add more organization to my files that are already organized into MRIN folders and other things. In the Organize pane next to the thumbnail browser is a sub-window called Categories. This is where you would create ‘collections’. When you’re choosing categories to look at or work with you can tick off more than one at a time if you want to.

Categories, ACDSee Pro

In the case of ‘Oakland Cemetery’ this is a collection of photos that span several different MRIN folders. I can bring them altogether here. Why would I want to do that? Maybe I’d like to create a slideshow or a pdf of nothing but gravestones from Oakland Cemetery. Maybe I’d like to tour through the metadata and make sure it’s up to speed. Maybe I’d like to upload them all to a web album. It could be anything.

When ACDSee Pro opens a folder it shows you all the files, which might also include audio, video, PDFs, slideshows, text, etc., and the files will open in their default programs from within the ACDSee Pro interface.

Thumbnail Browser, ACDSee Pro

To bring files into a category, just search for the files you want using the built-in search engine or by browsing through folders using the file browser. I searched by using the location metadata that was already embedded. Create a category name, then drag and drop it on your chosen files, singly or in batch mode. That’s it. You’re done. Files can belong to as many categories as you want them to.

Note: Your files are not linked to ACDSee Pro and that’s good. But the Categories function is not embedded metadata in the way the EXIF and IPTC is. You can choose to embed it in your files (Embed Database Information) so it’s available in the future, such as in the case of reinstalling the software.

This video shows how to import pre-made category lists from ACDSee or another ACDSee user.

Image Basket

There’s also a window called the Image Basket and the purpose of it is to collect photos for different projects.

Image Basket, ACDSee Pro

The project options are slideshows, (EXE, SCT and SWF) PDFs (PDF slideshow, single PDF or one PDF for each image) powerpoint presentations, HTML albums in different styles, video or VCD video, archives, (zip, CAB, TAR, LZH, etc) contact sheets and the usual CDs and DVDs.

Photos that have been gathered into a category (or even if they haven’t been) can be dragged into the Image Basket and used for whatever creation you prefer.

When you put photos into the Image Basket it’s only putting shortcuts to them, not copies of the photos. This is good and how it should be.

This way you don’t have duplicates of photos all over your computer and when you create a collection you can keep it forever without cluttering up your hard-drive. Duplicates are a real pain because if you rename the photos or edit the metadata you have to remember to do it in both or several places. Nasty and confusing thing, that. You can also use ACDSee Pro to find duplicates that you may already have.


There are dozens of metadata fields. For the IPTC I generally use caption, caption writer, keywords, location, source, copyright. Sometimes I also use credit, copyright url and contact email. I also add GPS to the EXIF. You don’t have to use them all, just the ones you need. A lot of that can be done in batch mode. If you have software that allows you to create and save templates it’s easy to do. Sometimes it’s as easy as Select All and throw a Source or Copyright on hundreds at once. GeoSetter saves location templates and I use them constantly.

Because ACDSee Pro also covers the gamut of photo metadata you can also include that in some of your project creations. Just look under ‘Insert Metadata’ and it will present a menu of EXIF data, all the IPTC fields and more. You can add whatever parts of that information you want to each image caption, header or footer.

Insert Metadata, ACDSee Pro

You can’t search or use what you don’t already have. ACDSee Pro will either read metadata put there automatically such as the EXIF, or that you put there by using other software (like GeoSetter or Photo Mechanic).

IPTC Properties, ACDSee Pro

Or you can enter it in ACDSee Pro, either singly or in batch mode, (Batch Set Information) as well as manipulate your images in other ways such as batch renaming.

Batch-Mode, ACDSee Pro

There is a lot to this software. It’s very thorough and it also includes a photo editor at least as good as Adobe Photoshop Elements, except for the ability to work with layers which is kind of serious. The difference is that you also get a functional multi-faceted organizer in the deal.

Adobe Photoshop Elements is built on the concept of ‘have fun, fun, fun with your photos’ so every year they sell you a new batch of cheesy graphics and scrap-booking templates to amuse yourself with. The Editor is good but the Organizer is a bad joke and a blot on Adobe’s good name.

ACDSee Pro is geared toward those looking for a high level of functionality and efficiency.

You may not consider yourself a professional photographer. I don’t consider myself one. But I use the same organizing software the professionals use because with 20,000 images, many of them genealogy source files, I want something that works.

So, it depends what you prefer. Right now, ACDSee Pro is available for $100 instead of the usual $240 and that’s a phenomenal deal.

Watch the intro video tour on the ACDSee Pro page if you have time so you can see what I’m talking about and the changes since this earlier version I’ve demonstrated. Then scroll down the right side of the page and take the 30-day free trial. The $100 deal might not last that long so don’t wait 30 days if you’re planning to buy it. I think you’ll find it a great relief if you’ve been fussing around with Adobe PSE Organizer.

The new Adobe Lightroom 4 (its closest competitor) has dropped its price to $150 instead of previous $300 and is also bound to be an improvement over Adobe Photoshop Elements, (although I’m not personally acquainted).

Any other graphics software you already have sitting around on your hard-drive that has the option to create categories will at least do the photo ‘collection’ part for you and it’s a handy option when you have thousands of files and you need alternate ways of organizing them.

2 thoughts on “Photo Collections & Photo Organizing

  1. nancy

    thanks for this post.

    After much research I FINALLY decided on Elements 10.
    and was floored when I had to go to the Editor to be able to add a “source”…

    I was sure I was missing something in the organizer.
    why would they do that?

    I was hoping to quickly tag a lot of pictures with facial recognition and keyword/metadata like I did in Bridge.
    But doing this one at a time thru the editor is beyond crazy.
    Is this for real???

    I’m considering going back to Bridge as a “labeler” and import to iphoto…using referenced files.

    or…and maybe you know…if I tried Photo mechanic…does it leave the photos where they are on the HD and ex. HD…?? where then…do I search and make an album of say “Aunt Mary” for a birthday video.

    also…do you use photomechanic to organize, name and tag your scanned pictures?

    still shaking my head in disbelief at PSE…wow.


    oops. meant to put this comment over on the page about photoshop elements.
    going there to read the other comments and recommendations : )

    1. JL Post author

      Yes, it is for real. It’s one of the many reasons I recommended not using it.

      Photo Mechanic does leave the photos where they are on your HD. It’s excellent for adding the whole range of IPTC fields; captions, keywords, copyright, source, etc. I use it quite a lot because I also like its search function. I just like it, period. It’s a real classy piece of software. You can use it for renaming as well and GPS and a host of other things.

      Making ‘collections’ – hmm, maybe not. It depends what you mean by that. You could by using color tagging or keywords. You can search photos and copy them over to a folder for your video project; it depends how you’ve annotated and what you’re able to search for. You can’t search for what’s not there.

      All of the above can also be done in GeoSetter and I prefer it for GPS and renaming. Not anything against Photo Mechanic, just the groove I’ve settled into.

      Some software allows you to make permanent collections, like APSE Organizer, (except I wouldn’t use it) or ACDSee Pro. Possibly also in other ACDSee programs I haven’t tried. Say I wanted all the gravestones in Oakland Cemetery. (As described above.) I do a search across my whole hard-drive and then add them (links to) into an ‘album’ that stays there. Likewise with anything else that I want to bring together. It saves having to create duplicates to do this.

      ACDSee Pro does keep your pictures on your hard-drive in the original locations but certain things, including ‘collections’ or albums, as they call them become part of the ACDSee database and this should be backed up regularly. It’s something they remind you about and it’s easily accessible so really not a hassle but just to point out the difference between embedded information and other things you might create external to that.


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