by Wren McMains
(This is one of many pages of tips on Organizing Your Images.)
- Adding keywords to images makes it easy to find a particular image in the future. The problem is most of us think it takes too much time to add the keywords, so never bother, and therefore, can never take advantage of all the programs that build keyword databases and can help you find the image you're looking for in an instant. (I know, I'm one who has never bother with keywords before.)
- The truth is that if you add the keywords as a step in downloading, organizing, and backing up your images it will probably only add a couple of minutes to the whole process.
- Pretty soon a good portion of your images will be keyworded. You don't need to go back and add keywords to old images until find you can't live without them.
- What's great about keywords is that you define the ones that make sense to you given the images you shoot.
- One thing to avoid: adding keywords using a program that puts the keywords in their own database, but not in the actual images files themselves. (That's one of the reasons I never bothered with keywords, I knew they were just going into program X's database, and weren't going to help me unless I kept using only that one program the rest of my life.)
- This is what makes this topic interesting. I haven't found any perfect solution, but I'll tell you what I've learned and make some recommendations. Check back, I'll continue to update this page as I learn more.
Adobe Bridge seems nice. I like the way you can define keyword sets (or sub-keywords). For example, if I were into shooting birds I could have the keyword "Birds", and under this I could have a sub-keyword "Herons", and under this I could have keywords for each individual type of heron:
As you can see, I got a little carried away and added all the herons seen in Florida, along with all the Wrens. (In fact I will have a complete list of all the Florida birds in a format that can just be merged into any keyword list you might have, e-mail me and I'll give you a copy.)
- The nice thing about Bridge is that it's easy to keyword tag the images. Highlight all the like images, fill in the little check boxes for all the keywords that apply any you're done.
- But my problem with Bridge is in the way it tags RAW files. It doesn't store the keywords in RAW image files, instead it stores them in the associated XMP file. (Also beware that if you rate RAW files, the star rating is also stored in the XMP file, not the RAW file.)
- On the other hand if you use Bridge to assign keywords to JPG images, it stores the keywords within the JPG which is where it should be. In fact Bridge even stores the keyword hierarchy (showing which keywords any specified keywords are a sub keyword of).
- There's nothing wrong with storing the keywords in the XMP, as long as everyone knows to play by the same rules. The problem is that many programs don't consider the associated XMP file to be part of the RAW file and ignore it. I want to be able to tag my images immediately after downloading and expect every program that makes a variation of the image to carry the keywords along (until I explicitly tell some program to make highly compressed version for the web that contains no EXIF information).
- My problem is I next want to make quick and dirty JPGs of all my images. In the past I've used Bibble for this, I've tried Bridge CS3, and at the moment, my favorite program for doing this is Nikon Capture NX. But Capture NX ignores XMP files and keywords added with Bridge are lost.
- For me the solution seems to be to add keywords with Capture NX. The advantage is they are stored in the NEF (Nikon RAW) files and never get separated from the image. When I make JPGs from the keyworded NEF files (using Bridge, Photoshop, Capture NX, or Bibble), the keywords are carried over as part of the JPG.
- What I don't like about Capture NX for keywording is that it has no keyword hierarchy and doesn't really let you edit the list of keywords you can assign. It does have a pull-down where you can choose keywords you've assigned before, but you have to select them one at a time and press "Add". New keywords you just type in and it remembers them (along with any spelling mistakes you make). Since it has no hierarchy, none is stored in JPGs it creates, but this doesn't seem to be a problem ... when you later look at them with bridge, they are placed correctly.
My advice is to:
- Build your own list of keywords
- Enter them into Bridge
- Build a keyword hierarchy as appropriate in Bridge
- Use Nikon Capture NX (or the equivalent Canon tool) to keyword tag RAW files
- The first step is to develop a set of keywords that makes sense based on the shooting you do. What I did was to take a look back at all the images I've shot in the last two or three years and make a list of keywords that might describe most of them. Group these keywords into categories. At that point you have what you need to build you keyword hierarchy in Bridge.
- I recommend against using apostrophes or other special characters in keywords. (Bridge converts them to XML escape sequences which may not be recognized by other programs.)
- Before you assigning keywords to images spell-check your keywords. See Using an Editor to spell-checking Keywords; sometimes you may even find this a better way to add keywords.
Typically you will download images right after a shoot and all the images will usually have several things in common. My list of keywords includes locations (cities, states, countries), particular places, events, activities, etc.
So what I do is select all the images I've just downloaded and add keywords to describe the location and any place, event, activity or other keyword that might apply to ALL the images in the shoot. That may be all you need to do, but sometimes you'll see a group of images (they're usually pretty close together) that you know you have a keyword to describe so you'll select them and apply that keyword to the group with a couple more clicks. It's quick any easy, you needn't get too carried away.
- If it's a Portrait shoot, I'll probably just add a couple of keywords, "Portraits" and the person's name (which I make a sub keyword under either People or Portraits). Note: if you want one or more if the parent keywords to appear in the keyword list you have to check them all in Bridge or add the parent keywords in Capture NX as well as the sub keyword. (There is an option in Bridge Preferences to "Automatically Apply Parent Keywords", but I don't always want to do this.)
- It's easy to edit your keyword hierarchy in Bridge, just click and drag any keyword into any other keyword set.
- I'm adding keywords to everything I've shot this year to get some experience. The real test will come next year when you ask me if I have continued to keyword everything I've shot.
If the only graphics programs you use are Bridge and Photoshop CS3, there's nothing wrong with using Bridge to apply keywords ... just beware that the keywords and ratings for RAW files are stored in the XMP files; be sure you include them in any backups. Also be aware that FastStone v3.5 doesn't copy and/or move XMP files along with the image, nor does it show them do it's easy to delete them by accident when you delete a folder that looks empty. (I just pointed this out to the author of FastStone and am sure a future version of FastStone will copy/move the XMP files along with the image.)
Check back, I'm going to add sections on editing your keyword list, copying it to other machines, etc. I also need to experiment with Elements and Lightroom ... I'm really not sure what Elements does, it may just keep keywords in it's own database (since I know someone who lost their keywords when they transferred their images to a new machine).
First Update: Well, I just keyword tagged 32 GB of images. What did I learn?
- First I followed my own advice and reorganized this year's images getting rid of separate folders for each camera and just putting all my images in chronological folders.
- Was also reminded how important it is to set the date/time stamp on multiple cameras so they match. I had last set one camera to the local time in Africa, so it was several hours off from my new camera. Now that I've set them to match, hopefully next time I shot with two cameras at once I can just sort a folder by date and have all the images in the order I shot them.
- With my D300 (12Mpix RAW), folders that would fit on a DVD only had 350-400 images. I've started leaving more room in each folder, not only for XMP files, but I've also discovered it's good to keep Bridge Thumbnails local to each folder. That allows Bridge to quickly display a folder, even after you copy it to another computer or a DVD.
- Next I added keyword tags all the images in each of the folders. Since there were several shoots in a folder, it took me 5-10 minutes per folder. I still think my estimate of 1-3 minutes for a shoot is accurate (most being at the low end, it takes longer when you want identify people, or types of birds or animals in each shot).
- Bridge has a much better interface for tagging than Capture NX (although I just saw comments in another forum that version 2.0 of Capture NX is available, I'm using version 1.3). With Capture NX is was often faster to type the first few letters of a keyword name (it fills in the rest) rather than using the pull-down (since my list of keywords is longer than will fit in one column on the screen). (And since I wrote this I've now tried a trial version of Capture NX 2. Its keyword tagging interface hasn't changed much, except that now you can make the thumbnails much larger which is a big help when keyword tagging. Another improvement in Capture NX 2 is that when you use it to batch convert JPGs it will read keywords added to raw files by Bridge and stored in XMP files, and output the keywords as part of the JPGs.)
- One disadvantage of putting the tags directly into the RAW files is that it takes some time to read and re-write (with the keywords) such large files. If I selected a couple hundred files and applied all the same keywords I'd have a minute or more for Capture NX to finish the re-write.
- Capture NX was able to Batch Convert a folder of NEF files and create JPG versions at the same time I was using it to keyword tag the files in another folder. (It had a little window showing the number remaining in the batch process, but much to my surprise I could ignore it and continue tagging.) I'm using a dual processor machine, so it didn't really slow down either process.
- FastStone was able to reset the date/time modified to when the image was taken for the JPGs, but not my NEF files. (I was able to then reset the date/time on my NEF files from the JPGs using a DOS based program I wrote years ago; if you need this program e-mail me, I think you always download to a "film" folder and batch convert to the same folder we can setup a shortcut so you can use it directly from Windows.)
- You're often going to find the need to add new keywords. Don't be afraid, do it. However, in my case where I'm doing the initial keyword tagging in Capture NX I have to also go back and add the keyword in Bridge so it appears in the correct place in the hierarchy.
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