Managing Your Photo Collection

A few months ago I decided to rework my workflow for importing, managing, and sorting my photo collection. Since our daughter was born the number of pictures we take with digital cameras and iPhones has exploded. Previously my workflow consisted of tag all the faces when the photos are imported, flag the good ones, and create smart albums in iPhoto that included a date range for every month.

Unfortunately that just wasn’t sufficient with the number of photos being added to my iPhoto library. Friends and family want to see baby pictures, but when hundreds of new photos showed up with no real sorting between quality and crap it’s too much. When you have a new born baby in the house this simple, share everything workflow might be all you can manage.

Fast forward three years and I’m still using the “I’m getting no sleep with a newborn” workflow. Now that I’m better rested, it might be time to improve things.  My first rule of tagging faces immediately after importing photos into iPhoto was a good one, and that part of the workflow remains. I abandoned the flagged photo idea entirely and cleared all flags from my photos.

My new workflow starts the same as my old workflow. Import photos and tag all faces in those photos. To improve photo management from this point, I decided to use iPhoto’s star rating system. Each of my photos is given a rating. I made up a number of rules for defining what makes a 3 star vs. a 5 star photo. The goal of rating every photo was to have a way to sort out the good from the bad. iPhoto can use photo ratings in Smart Albums (Saved Searches), so I could keep the strategy of creating smart albums that matched faces and date ranges, but also include the photo ratings so that only good photos appear in the albums that get shared.

To start, I needed to decide what each star rating would mean. I came up with this:

  • 1 Star Rating: This is a bad photo. 
  • 2 Star Rating: Not horrible, but not worth sharing. 
  • 3 Star Rating: Average Photo. It can show up on screen savers, but it won’t be shared. 
  • 4 Star Rating: Above Average and worth sharing with family and friends. 
  • 5 Star Rating: Sharing this is a no brainier. This should be in a museum.

Photo Rating Rules

  1. Start with a 2 star rating. 
  2. Add one star for a known face (of someone you like) in the photo. No extra star for people you know but don’t like, and no stars for complete strangers. Add two stars if there are two or more likable people in the photo. This rule adds a maximum of two stars, so no additional stars for three or more faces. 
  3. Add one star for artistic, sentimental, or other positive photo attributes. For example, a photo of my Grandfather who passed away a few years ago usually get an extra star. 
  4. If the photo has something extra special in it, add a star.

Now each photo should have a rating of three stars or higher. Time for deductions.

  1. Remove a star for out of focus photos unless this is intentional or adds to the artistic value of the photo.
  2. Remove a star for motion blur unless this is intentional or adds to the artistic value of the photo. 
  3. Remove a star for finger covering the camera lens or other items that detract from a photo and can’t be cropped or edited out of the photo. 
  4. Remove a star for other things that can’t be digitally corrected such as red eye, digital artifacts, random stranger photo bombs, a dogs butt in the photo, etc. 
  5. Remove a star if if you only see the back of the main subject’s head. This is optional, but I’ve found in most cases it’s a good idea. 

The ToDo Albums
In addition to rating photos, I also have a number of “ToDo” albums created in iPhoto. When I’m importing photos I may not have time to do the retouching, cropping, etc. Instead of worrying about these tasks as I’m rating my photos, I add these photos to one of my “ToDo albums.” When I have time and the inclination to work on photo fixes, all I have to do is look at the ToDo albums to find photos that need some work.

Example ToDo Albums:

  • TODO: Retouch
  • TODO: Crop
  • TODO: Incorrect Date

Dealing With No Rating Photos
My iPhoto library has thousands of photos in in, and because I’m implementing a new system those photos will not have star ratings. I could create a smart album to simply show me all my photos with a rating less than one star, but that would have shown me my entire photo collection. That would be a daunting task.

To get past what would otherwise appear to be an impossible task, I used smart albums to break up this task and create obtainable milestones. I started with early years before having a child. There were fewer photos taken in these years so doing an entire year was an obtainable milestone. For the years after my daughter was born I went with my month by month strategy for rating photos. Bit by bit my photos are getting rated and the new system is working out quite well. As I knock out a month, I simply update my Unrated Photos Smart Album and work on the next milestone.

Example Criteria for Unrated Photos Smart Album:

  • Rating is less than one star
  • Date is in the range 10/1/2010 to 10/31/2010

So far my new workflow is working out quite well, and sharing the new four and five star photos with friends and family has gone over well. No more dumps of hundreds of photos into an online photo gallery, only the best photos in my collection get seen.

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