Personal computing: How to organize digital photos on your computer |

Personal computing: How to organize digital photos on your computer

Mitch Bain

Taking pictures with a digital camera is fun and, since it is virtually free, your computer will soon be full of hard to find pictures. Time to get organized!

A popular method of organizing pictures is to add tags (keywords or labels) and using the tags as a basis for searching. Free software is available ” Google’s Picasa2 or Adobe’s Photoshop Album 3.

There is an alternate approach ” simply give each picture file a meaningful name and store the pictures in easy to find folders. The tools are Windows Explorer with help from readily available freeware such as IrfanView or FastStone.

Photographic files

Digital cameras compress the images in a file called JPEG. Some quality is lost so professional, or serious amateur photographers prefer to work in photographic files TIFF or RAW. These are the three file types written to the camera’s chip.

Make the extensions visible.

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For some reason Microsoft hides the three character file extensions, such as .doc, .jpg, .tif, etc. Make them visible:

On the menu bar in Windows Explorer click Tools>Folder Options…

Select the View tab.

Remove the check mark next to “Hide extensions for known file types” and click OK.

An example of organizing in folders

Create a folder in the My Pictures folder and name it 2007Photos. Open this folder and create 12 folders named: 01Jan, 02Feb, 03…, 12Dec.

Within each of the month folders create folders that describes events where you took pictures. The photos will be copied to your computer, archived, edited, prepared for e-mailing (or uploading to a Web site) and printed.

Let’s say that in January 2007 the family had a ski outing at Squaw Valley on the 12th through the 16th. Then in the 01Jan folder create a sub-folder labeled SquawValley_12-16.

Within the new SquawValley_12-16 folder create four subfolders labeled: Original, Edited, E-mail_web and Print.

Work flow

Using Windows Explorer copy photos from the camera or chip reader to the Original folder. View and rename the files (see below).

Open an original picture in your editor. Brighten, Contrast, Red-eye, etc. Save at the highest quality (TIFF or the editor’s native format) in the Edited folder.

Open an edited picture in your editor. Crop, reduce the pixel count and save as a lower quality JPEG file in the E-mail-Web folder.

Open an edited picture in your editor. Crop (to snapshot size 6 X 4 inches?), brighten, sharpen, etc. Save at a high quality Pixels-Per-Inch (PPI) in the Printing folder.

Rename files and archive

In the Original folder click View>Filmstrip in the Windows Explorer Menu Bar. Step through all the pictures, right-click and select Delete for the obvious losers.

The camera file names can be obscure: IMG_0123, DSC-4567, etc. Rename:

Select all the files in the Original folder (Ctrl + A).

Right-click the first file and in the context menu that appears select Rename.

Type a new name “SkiTrip.jpg.” Be sure to include the .jpg extension. Tap Enter.

Burn the folder to a CD-R disc. Label the disc.

The original picture files are now in three places: The camera’s chip, in a folder on the hard drive and on a safely stored CD or DVD disc with a thumbnail printout (see below). You are now free to place the chip back in the camera and erase the pictures.


Photoshop Elements (version 3 or above) is a complete solution to the problem of editing, organizing and finding pictures. The latest version (version 5) lists for $100.

For many digital camera enthusiasts the free tools IrfanView, FastStone and Picasa2 may be sufficient. In addition to editing these programs are capable of printing many thumbnail images a on a single sheet of paper.


Mitch Bain is a teacher at the Gold Country Community Center’s computer lab.

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