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I filled up my memory card. Now what?

When you get your first dSLR, it’s easy to go overboard with the picture taking. Eventually you’ll learn that just because your camera can shoot in continuous mode at  4 frames/second doesn’t necessarily mean that you should!

How do you sort through all those pictures and organize them so that you stand a chance of finding them in the future? Well, you’re going to need to figure out a system AND possibly get some software.

The System

By a system I mean the filing system on your computer. Your first step is to get your pictures off your camera’s memory card. The fastest way to do this is by using a memory card reader like the Sandisk MicroMate Memory Card Reader.  You simply insert your camera memory card and then plug it into your computer’s USB port (just match the plug on the card reader with a corresponding port on the side, front or back of your computer or laptop).  Most computers will recognize that you’ve inserted the card reader and will automatically popup a dialog box asking you what you would like to do. Without any additional software this will allow you to copy the images from your memory card onto your computer’s hard disk.

How to set up your directory structure

I organize the photos on my computer by year within the “Pictures” directory. Under each year’s folder I then create a subfolder called “SOOC”. This stands for “straight out of camera.” That’s where I store all my photo originals.

In addition, under each year I create another directory called “Edited.” Here’s where I save any edited photos (more to come on this topic.) This allows me to preserve all my originals so I can always go back to them.

Next, I  organize my pictures into file folders by their capture date. Here’s what the directory structure looks like.

 

 

 

 

If you don’t have software that automatically creates these directories for you, an alternative is to create directories for the months (January, February, March, etc.) and copy your files into these folders. You can always sort the directory by the file creation date to get a chronological view of your photos.

 

 

 

When you’re uploading your pictures, your computer may ask you whether you would like to delete the photos on your memory card. Typically, I say no. I prefer to delete the photos on my memory card manually by reformatting the memory card AFTER I’m positive that the images are safe and sound on my computer’s hard drive. You can format the memory card once you pop it back into your camera. See your camera instruction manual on the exact steps but its generally accessible off the Menu and very easy.

Selecting the Keepers

I know how tempting it is to simply keep all those pictures you’ve just taken and uploaded.  I did, until my hard disk filled up and spent hours searching for that one great picture out of the series of 20 shots that looked identical! Get into the discipline of sorting through your images. Trust me, there are very few times that you will actually use those time lapse shots of Jamie riding his bike. If you take a series, picture the 3-5 photos max that capture the best expressions, light, etc. and delete the rest.

Sorting through the images can take time and here is where having some software that makes it easy to tag the keepers will save you time and frustration.

The Software

Undoubtedly your camera came with some photo editing software. This software not only allows you to do some basic editing like red-eye reduction, cropping, and converting to B&W, but it may also manage the file import process for you. The software that came with your camera may also help you in the sorting and tagging process. Typically, there are three things that you’ll want to do when it comes to organizing your pictures:

1. Flagging the keepers (and ditching the rest)

2. Rating your favorites

3. Adding any keywords or capture notes

My process is to complete these steps completely. First I flag the keepers and delete the others so that I can narrow down the number of pictures to rate and add keywords for. Usually you can run through these pretty quickly using keyboard shortcuts.  Most software applications have a way of  “flagging” your files to keep and automatically deleting those that aren’t flagged.

Next I rate the photos but rather than rating each individually  I rate pictures using two numbers: 5 and 1. I use “5” to identify all my favorite pictures. Typically, out  of 50 pictures, I may have 3-5 favorites. I use “1” to identify which pictures I intend to use for future projects. Your software may let you also tag your pictures using color flags. If it does, rather than rating your pictures a “1” you can assign them a consistent color like green. That way you can include your “5s” . The reason I don’t use any other numbers to rate is 1) since I”m already just working with just the images I intend to keep, and 2) I have yet to run into a situation where I want to differentiate a 4 from 5 rated photo. By rating my “5s” I make it easy to find the photos that are worth printing or framing.

The final step is keywording your photos so that you can easily find them in the future. I have to admit, I’m still working on building up my discipline for this step. What I have learned is not to get too granular with this process so that it doesn’t become overwhelming. For instance, rather than keywording by individual names, I now assign any pictures with any of the kids grandparents as simply “grandparents.” Another shortcut is to assign broad keywording whenever I can as part of the import process. Check to see whether your software allows you to do that and use it to capture events like “family vacation 2011.” It will save you time.

A Word About Free Software

A word about the software that comes with your camera. Just because it came with your camera does not mean that it is your only solution.  I would highly, highly recommend that you check out an application called Adobe Photoshop Elements. This very easy to use application costs about $50-70 and you can download a free trial on Adobe’s website. It can be used for all your photo organizing as well as some pretty cool photo editing. It’s a mini-version of Photoshop for a fraction of the price! No kidding. It’s also great for digital scrapbooking and photo book making with plugins that make it incredibly easy to print these projects through your favorite photo websites like Shutterfly or Kodak.  Try it out. I’ll put together a post of some great websites that also offer tutorials to get your started in a future post.

An alternative application if Picasa from Google. It’s free and downloadable. Picasa is incredibly cool. It has more limited photo editing capabilities than Photoshop Elements but it does have the advantage of 1) It’s Free and 2) It’s free! All kidding aside, it’s a great tool that does make it very easy to tag your pictures and upload them to your favorite sites.

Final Word About Organizing Your Photos

It’s really important to have a system. Without one it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. The hard part is figuring out what works best for you. The system I’ve proposed works! Don’t try to get too granular with your organization. Stay focused on the big picture of why you’re doing this. It’s about capturing the moments and being able to find them – easily!

Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to back up! More on that in another post.

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