Organizing your photos.. it's about time

My wife and mother-in-law recently went on a three-week trip to Morocco. They visited a lot of cool places, and they each took a lot of photos. When they came back we went through each of their pictures as they told me all about the trip. But we ran in to an interesting problem trying to match up their stories because her mom's photos were all taken five years, three months and 11 days before Edna's.

"Did we visit the market in Fes before we saw the mosque in Rabat, or was it after we drove to Essaouira?" It may seem like you'll remember every detail of that dream vacation for ever and ever, but in my experience that's not how it works. Sometimes I can't remember when we did what even as I'm sitting on the plane coming home.

This isn't just a problem for hobbyists. Real pros in the field very often have to figure out just when they shot something: one of the problems I regularly face is having to mix together photos taken with several different cameras to put them in order.

When I would come back from a wedding with 35 rolls of film I sometimes spent hours trying to sort the prints in chronological order,because I thought it would be a bad thing (by which I mean, "I would look stupid") for my clients to be going through the pictures from the ceremony and find a few prints of the cake-cutting interspersed with them. This was made more difficult by the fact that I shoot with multiple cameras at an event: I may make a few pictures with one body and then use another camera for 15 minutes before using the first one again. What a pain it was untying that knot later on.

Fortunately, with digital cameras, there's a very simple solution for this.



All digital cameras embed the date and time that you clicked the shutter in to the image data that acompanies the pixels themselves, whether you're aware of it or not. In the "old" days of film cameras some models had the HORRIBLE option of actually burning the date and time in to the image itself. The result? You ruined every shot you took, much in the same way I have here by inserting the copyright information on each picture you see. (Fortunately, the originals are pristine.) The timestamp information is tucked away in each digital picture, and it can be very useful because many photo management programs let you view and sort your photos by the date they were shot. For me I sometimes need to sort images down to the second they were made, and this option lets me do that.

Adobe Bridge and other programs let you sort by date created.

So even if you don't do all that fancy keywording and captioning of every images like the big movie stars do, you could still locate groups of images based on when you pressed the shutter button. This would have helped my friend Gordon find the photos of the super
hot babe from two years ago at the racetrack that he was trying to show me last weekend, which we finally got to after first wading through hundreds of birthday and holiday photos in Picasa. At least it was worth the wait!

If you've got a giant pile of digital pictures in your computer and you didn't bother to set the date on your camera before you shot them, it's not too late to fix that.

In Adobe Lightroom, where I do most of my
work with images, there's a fairly elegant way to edit the capture time of your photos by pulling down the "Metadata" menu to "Edit Capture Time." First, select all the photos that were taken within the time range you want to adjust (say, everything shot on the 4th of July.)

Lightroom's pull-down menu

In the menu that pops up you can set everything to the 4th of July or whatever day you want. Or if you only need to adjust things by a few hours (Spring ahead, Fall back, or maybe some of your photos were shot in Fresno and some in Bangor) you can do that as well.

Adjust the date & time on many images at once by selecting them first.

Photo Mechanic, a very nice browsing software from CameraBits gives you even a bit more control in this process, letting you adjust by the minute or second if you choose.

The adjustment options in Photo Mechanic

If you use Adobe's Bridge, you can still make the change but it's a bit more cumbersome. If you select a photo or a series of photos, you can manually type in a new date on the "Date Created" line in the IPTC fields—look for the little pencil that indicates you can edit this field—but you can't change that same information in the "File Properties" or "Camera Data (EXIF)" fields. There's just no little pencil. In fact this function in Bridge is so inelegant that I haven't even included a photo of it here, because I'd just be making things worse. I wish Adobe would make this easier in Bridge, and given that they've gone a fair way in Lightroom it seems strange that they don't in Bridge.

Some cameras will maintain the correct date and time information if you have to change batteries, but it's not a bad idea to check this anytime your batteries die or you have to swap them out. And before you wave bye-bye to go on your big trip, taking this little step can save you some headaches later on.

Wave bye-bye!

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