Monday, January 12, 2015

Where did Great Grandma GO?

Photo Organization - Stuff you NEED to Know, but Probably Didn't Think About.

Note: the illustrative screen shots are of ACDSee Ultimate 8, and are relevant to ACDSee Pro 8, as well.

The Organizer section (The "Manage" tab) of ACDSee Ultimate 8

A Logical Progression

Organizing your photos is not usually the first issue you need to address as a photographer. Most of us don't even think about this sort of thing until we realize that finding our stuff has become a major headache. At that point, we post a message on our favorite photo forum website asking other people what THEY do for organizing and WHAT SOFTWARE do they use?  

Understanding Your Search Needs.

I believe this is the worst first step you can make to get yourself organized  photographically. Instead, I recommend that you first THINK about what it is you need to organize and WHY.  If you don't understand your organizational goals, how will you know when you've met them?

Do you tend to search most on events, on categories of photos, how you originally shared your photos? Understanding this information is priceless, it not only controls how you organize your database and keywording system, it can even control WHICH software you buy to do it. Anyone who tells you that one, and one only, software title can handle anything you want to do with the greatest level of efficiency possible is an idiot. Do not trust their advice.

Work backwards. Understand your most common search, and the 2nd and 3rd most common searches as well. Then try to break down the data you need to know in order to do a fast and an efficient search.
  • Is the data you need most, dates? What kind of dates? Date taken? Date Edited? Date Sold?
  • Maybe the data you need is actually Events. Do you need to search on "The Lee Wedding" or "Aunt Mary's Birthday party"?
  • Perhaps what you need to search on is a given photo's status and place in your over all workflow such as "Imported but not passed culling status", or "Editing in progress", and "Completed", or "distributed".
  • Geo tagging? Do you need to search by location? IF so, how accurate does that data need to be? Do you Need "latitude & longitude", or is a place name enough? (i.e "San Antonio, TX and NOT San Antonio, Chile")
  • Maybe you need to know which photos have a model's release attached.
  • If you know at this point, that you are going to need keywords, try to identify the major keywords you will need to search for.  The goal isn't to identify them ALL, but instead to identify the major ones and to identify any hierarchies of key words and/or categories you might need.  For instance, you might need a category of "Vacation Destinations", and within that category, you might decide that there are keywords like "Caribbean", "Canada", "Europe", etc.  You may also feel the need for keywords like "Beach", "Mountains", or "Urban".  You need to ask yourself if, for your needs, if "Beach" is a valid subset of "Caribean" or if it should stand alone as a separate entity.  There are no wrong answers, just what constitutes YOUR needs.
 The point is, until you know what you will be looking for, your choice of software is irrelevant, and your proposed database design is useless. Another important point to remember is that you might have multiple search goals.  For instance, you might need a date search and an event search; the important thing is to make sure you understand what you need.

ACDSee Ultimate 8 Selection by Calendar Date

Setting the Desired Design Rules

Once you have done that, you are ready to design your theoretical database. Since I am writing about ultimately selecting commercial or open source and other free photo organizational tools, many, if not most, true database design issues will be decided by the developers of that software. So, for our purposes this is really just some more questions about how you want the physical database to behave and display your data for search and display purposes.  In other words, how do you want your software to work?

  1. Now that you know what you want to search for, you now need to how you want to search for that info. For instance, do you want to enter a keyword in a text based search window? Do you want to select data from a pre defined drop down window? For dates, would you like to click on a day in a calendar and see all the photos that meet that date criteria or is the above mentioned search window enough?
  2. Will you NEED boolean logic (i.e. I need "This", but not "That") or will some other method that provides a functional equivalent without boolean logic going to be adequate.
  3. Do you need to keep Imported but unculled data physically separate from your work in progress, or your completed photos?  Would a flag of some sort be enough, logically?
  4. Is the built-in database of your theoretical organizing software going to be enough to store your database enough for you, or, will some of the data need to be embedded within the data portion of the photo image file itself?  If so, what data needs to be permanently embedded in the photo?
  5. Will you be shooting jpg, raw, or raw converted to dng? Do you know what sort of data can be stored in the data fields of those file formats?
  6. Will you need to have a tightly integrated backup process for your images and the database, or will this be handled by external third party software (not really a question for the database design, but it wouldn't hurt to think about your back up medium and disaster recovery needs at this point)

Software Selection

NOW you can start listening to other people!  Now is the time to post a question on your favorite photography forum as to software.  However, you need to assume everyone who posts an answer is only telling you half the story. They are either assuming your needs are exactly like their own, or they are pushing their favorite software for reasons unknown to you and will not tell you the REAL problems they have encountered.  You will always get the most suggestions for Lightroom.  So many, in fact, that you will begin to wonder if any other software ever gets used.  

Trust me! Other software DOES get used, and other software is every bit as good as Lightroom.  Different design philosophies, and user interface to be sure, but just as good, nonetheless.  

Posts detailing problems a user had with a given piece of software has value, but only limited value.  You probably don't know at this point if that particular problem is going to be a problem for you. So I would suggest if the software intrigues you, make note of the problem and test it out once you download the trial software.

Either way, all you  really want from them are some name of candidate software and a rough idea of what they cost in relation to each other.  Then I would suggest downloading 2 or 3 trial versions of the most likely candidates and installing them at the same time.

Create a small database of the same 5 or 6 photos in each software, add the database elements for each photo to each database and test out the searches you know you are going to need with certainty for each one sequentially but within the same testing session.  You want to get a feel for how each piece of software works with the same data.

This will be an interesting learning experience for you.  Not only will you get to test out what it is you think you need (and if you REALLY need it), but you will be able to compare the software with data and photos you KNOW you will want to be able to find.  

My advice is to take notes so you can remember stuff. Personally, I use a PC based notes software called "All My Notes" 

I really like AllMyNotes, It is a tree based notes taker but with a LOT of options not found in most inexpensive notes software.

Sample view of AllMyNotes

If one of the candidates totally fails your test and is unsuitable, then uninstall it and then download and install a 4th or 5th candidate software and compare it to the others installed.  Delete the ones you know you won't be buying and keep testing. Eventually you will know which software is right for you.  Buy that one.

That's it.  It takes a little work to find the software you like to use and which fits your needs.  But a logical planned approach will make it as easy as possible.

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