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Most people want to just shoot pictures and ignore these crucial steps for organizing their collection of digital photos on their computers. Then they wonder why they are frustrated when looking for photos and trying to do fun projects with them!
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How to organize your pictures for the future

Categories: Organize Pictures    Tags: , , ,   4 Comments

A wise reader has asked me a wise question recently. The question went like this: “How do I organize my pictures for the future? What can I do today so that the pictures I leave for may family will be accessible in the future by my children and grandchildren?” This question made me think and realize that leaving memories for those we love is very important. Actually this is one of the main reasons we take pictures I think. Spending some time to understand new technology and future trends is worthwhile for everyone. If we don’t then we might embrace some tech fad today that will be obsolete in a few years and then all the work done using this “very cool new thing” will be wasted. So, what do you do to organize your pictures for the future?

How to use your image geotags in Flickr
Understand and manage your image metadata
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Invest time in creating an efficient and flexible folder structure for your pictures

File folders have been around ever since computers were invented and they are the basic storage structure for storing anything digitally.

File folders will stay around for a long while regardless of the new approaches to cloud storage (i.e. Apple, Amazon, Google, etc). Even though this might sound “old school”, file folders will definitely be around in the future.

Can you look in the future and know what technology to use today?

Can you look in the future and know what technology to use today?

So, you’re not wasting your time trying to organize your pictures folders. Actually, you should always start with organizing your pictures folders first before doing anything else with your pictures.

Understand and use image metadata standards

An image metadata standard means that there is an agreed upon and consistent set of image metadata fields that always appears as long as the software used to produce it conforms to the standard.

Using image metadata standards to store your keywords, image captions and other data, will ensure that your metadata is future proof.

Currently there are three standards:

  • EXIF – produced by the camera
  • IPTC – human produced
  • XMP – newer wrapper for image metadata encompassing both EXIF and IPTC

EXIF is the default image metadata standard used to capture data produced by the camera. It also contains geographic information (geo tags) that can be added by a camera or by a human using a map as in the case of Picasa.

IPTC – is an old standard containing fields like: description, keywords, country, city, etc. IPTC has been around since the 1980s and it is supported by most decent modern software like Picasa, ACDSee Pro, Adobe Lightroom, XnView, etc. This is the standard to try to work towards especially when saving your keywords. Picasa saves keywords (or tags) in the right place in the IPTC image header, so your keywords are compatible with any other software.

XMP is an Adobe standard which is pretty new and it provides ways to encompass any standard pretty much. It has wrappers for EXIF and IPTC but allows for much more metadata. XMP is a little tricky because if you’re using fields that are not in IPTC or EXIF, then you’re stuck to the software you’re using to generate the data with.

My approach has been to just stick to creating keywords and maybe image captions because these two fields are usually pretty standard and they go in the right place both in IPTC and XMP. Picasa generates both IPTC and XMP image headers with things in the right places. So, as long as you use Picasa to save keywords and image captions, your metadata will be safe even if Picasa disappears at some point in the future.

Do not rely on a particular software package for creating image metadata

I am not saying that you should change the software you’re using. I am saying however that you should not rely on any particular software package to read your image metadata. This means that you should never say to anyone “You need software XYZ to be able to read my image metadata”.

This means that use software that is compatible with EXIF and IPTC…this way you’re not stuck with some software package that will become obsolete. Software comes and goes, but as long as you stick to the standards and to file folders, your metadata will be safe for the future.

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Updated: June 9, 2012  Categories: Organize Pictures
Tags: , , ,    Comments: 4 Comments
Read related articles:
How to use your image geotags in Flickr
Understand and manage your image metadata
2 simple methods for geotagging your pictures

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob January 24, 2014 at 6:32 pm

I’ve been a Picasa user for years and am now beginning to use Lightroom (5) as well. Each has its benefits. The problem I have is moving tags in Picasa to Keywords in the .xmp files that are used by LR.

You say above “So, as long as you use Picasa to save keywords and image captions, your metadata will be safe even if Picasa disappears at some point in the future.” Either I misunderstand something or this is simply ONLY true in cases where the images are .JPG files (perhaps some other file-types, but not RAW).

Please correct me if I’m wrong! If I’m not, I think you need to clarify that you are only talking about .jpg files.


vlad January 24, 2014 at 7:24 pm


You are right…metadata is correctly inserted by Picasa only for jpeg files NOT for raw files. I will make that correction.
Picasa does not deal correctly with raw files anyway…yes you can see them but it internally transforms them to jpeg.
Bottom line is…if you shoot raw pictures you should not use Picasa for editing or keywording.
Thank you for pointing that out.


Vlad February 15, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Rob…one more thing about RAW file metadata…it is best to transform your raw files to the DNG format beacause it supports embedding metadata insode the image and not in a sidecar file. It also saves you some room as well.

MarkEso December 1, 2015 at 1:08 am

Many may disagree with me, but I coseidnr compression, even the lossless kind, to be an act of compromise to the overall integrity of your collection. i totally disagree. lossless compression means exactly that . it’s won’t loose any quality. That means you could open and save it over and over and over again and it will always look the same. not a single pixel will change Lossless compression should not be avoided. it’s a good thing.besides, TIFF files can use LZW compression too, or even lossy jpeg compression. Avoiding lossless compression because it’s a form of compression is pointless.. PNG just has better lossless compression than TIFF. the bad thing about tiff is that it has way more options. way way more. it’s had features added and supported and changed all over the place. i have had tiff files open with pieces removed. layers missing. layers doing something they shouldn’t be doing. because various programs don’t always save TIFF files in exactly the same way. Tiffs are overly complicated. besides if you accidentally have jpeg compression on when your saving your tiffs then your really messing up your images.png being a standard hasn’t been changed very much. Png is ALWAYS a lossless format, and unlike TIFF there are no settings you can accidentally pick that would loose image quality. PNG offers lower file sizes, and you get the exact same image quality that you saved it as, just like tiff with no or LZW compression. And every program that saves a png can open it in exactly the same way because it’s made to be viewable on the web. So in the future you know your image will be supported and openable. i highly recommend PNG for image scans.


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