Storing your pictures in folders? Consider switching to Picasa or iPhoto.

One of the fun parts of genealogy is collecting photos of your family ancestors, and with computers we have a lot of options beyond putting them into photo album books.  For many people this means storing their digital photos in folders on the hard disk, but if you are doing that I’m going to recommend an alternative method, which is to use photo album software such as Picasa (Windows or Mac) or iPhoto (Mac only).

The main benefit of photo album software is tagging, which makes finding and organizing your folders much easier.  The typical way to organize photos in folders is to make a folder hierarchy, with levels such as family, vacation, holidays, etc.  The problem is that a picture can only be categorized one way.  For example, say you have three photos:

  • Uncle Elmer and Aunt Fern taken in front of the house on the family farm in New Hampshire.
  • Uncle Elmer as an infant with his parents on a trip to New Jersey.
  • Aunt Fern marrying Steve in Las Vegas after Uncle Elmer passed away.

There is a lot of information in these photos, but a lot of it gets lost if the pictures are saved in folders on the operating system.  The typical way would be to put them under family, perhaps in an Elmer and Fern folder.  That’s fine, but then what do you do with the following?

  • Buildings: There might be pictures of the house on the family farm with other relatives, but there won’t be a way to search for them.
  • People: Uncle Elmer’s parents might have their own folder, since they are your grandparents.  Where do you then store the picture so that you can find both Elmer and his parents?
  • Locations: What if you want all of the pictures taken in Las Vegas?  People in other folders might have pictures there too.
  • Events: Maybe you want to search for wedding pictures, such as Aunt Fern’s wedding with Steve.  Since the pictures are organized by family members there isn’t a way to search for weddings.

Photo album software such as Picasa and iPhoto solve these problems by allowing you to tag photos.  The concept is that you organize the photos in a general structure, perhaps the one you are already using.  You can then add extra information to each photo in the form of tags.  Here is how you might tag the three photos I mentioned above:

  • Uncle Elmer and Aunt Fern taken in front of the house on the family farm in New Hampshire.
  • Uncle Elmer
  • Aunt Fern
  • Family farm
  • New Hampshire
  • Uncle Elmer as an infant with his parents on a trip to New Jersey.
  • Uncle Elmer
  • Grandpa
  • Grandma
  • New Jersey
  • Aunt Fern marrying Steve in Las Vegas after Uncle Elmer passed away.
  • Aunt Fern
  • Steve
  • Las Vegas
  • Wedding

Now that you have the tags, you can search by any of them, giving you a lot more power over viewing your photos.  Also, you now can’t go wrong on your folder structure, because you can always add more information to your photos with tags.

One big thing to keep in mind is that if you already have your photos laid out how you like in folders then the photo album software will keep that structure, and if you end up not liking the software you can always stop using it and go back to using the folders.  You shouldn’t really need to do this, though.

I’ll give examples of how to tag in future blog postings, but in the meantime give Picasa or iPhoto a try if you are still using folders to organize your pictures.

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3 Responses to Storing your pictures in folders? Consider switching to Picasa or iPhoto.

  1. This is one of the challenges I have. I use a server with more than one desk top. It seems picasa can’t be used that way. :(

  2. That can be a problem. I found a couple of links on how to work from multiple computers but am an iPhoto user so I haven’t tried their advice. http://www.cloudave.com/911/how-to-guide-picasa-multiple-computers-multiuser-network-nas-shared-1/ and https://sites.google.com/site/picasastartersite/users-guide/dropbox-setup.

  3. Great article. I’m often stumped at how best to store and tag my images. There’s so many ways you can do it, but all tend to rely on some folder hierarchical choices early on, that always rely on you having an idea where something is filed before looking for it.

    At least with tagging in iPhoto (i’ve not used Picasa) you can go to it knowing little/nothing, and it will yield results.

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