May 21

One of the many great uses for a PC is to have it quickly search through your photo archive and pull out the photos you are looking for. This can be done by adding keyword metadata to your images. It may take a little time to complete but it’s worth it. In the first part, I looked at adding multiple IPTC keywords quickly to selected photographs using four free photo management packages. Zoner Photo Studio came out on top for this. But that’s only half the story. Now we need to be able to search and pull out the photos we want.

To find the photos with (or without) your keywords, we can combine the keywords as you would in other types of search. This is called Boolean search and uses the operators AND, NOT, and OR to apply search conditions to keyword combinations (e.g. keyword1 AND keyword2; keyword1 OR keyword2; keyword1 NOT keyword2). It’s also essential that the software searches for photos in all subfolders as well, if instructed. So let’s look at the same four free photo management packages used in Part 1 and see how they shape up in IPTC keyword search.

IrfanView

Although you can add IPTC keywords in IrfanView, unfortunately it doesn’t have the ability to search directories or filter photos by keywords.

GeoSetter

GeoSetter will search or filter photos by keywords and will include subfolders as well. Navigate to the folder that you want to filter. To filter by keyword/s, you must first click on the Search & Filter menu at the top, then Filter, then click Activated near the bottom of the slide-out menu. Next click Crtl-F and you will see the following window.

GeoSetter search for images

You can choose AND (all conditions have to be true) or OR (at least one condition has to be true) and then add your keyword filters. Check the box Include Subfolders (if you want to search subfolders). In the example above, all photos with keyword1 AND keyword2 will be listed. I tried searching for all photos of my wife AND myself in my Pictures directory (currently about 13700 images in 74 folders) on a 1TB hard drive. This took about 8 minutes. No doubt this would be much quicker on a solid state drive. GeoSetter displays a running log as the search progresses and you can press Esc at any point to stop the search if necessary.

Unfortunately, GeoSetter hasn’t been upgraded since January 2011 which is a shame although a beta version was released in June 2014.

XnView

In XnView, navigate to the folder that you want to filter. To search the folder and subfolders, click Crtl-F and you will see the following.

XnView search for images

Check Include subfolders and IPTC. Select Keywords from the IPTC fields to search. Add your keywords and choose the filter condition from the menu by clicking the double right arrows next to the keyword entry box. I chose With all of the words. The same search for keyword1 AND keyword2 that I tried in GeoSetter took about 3 minutes in XnView – and found the same files. XnView displays a running log as the search progresses and you can click the Stop button to stop the search if necessary. To view thumbnails of the images that met your keyword search criteria, choose Browse rather than View.

Zoner Photo Studio

In Zoner Photo Studio, make sure you have Manager selected in the top right menu bar. Navigate to the folder that you want to filter. Slightly confusingly, when you click Organize in the top left menu bar, you will see options to Filter and Search. Choosing Filter will only search the current folder so it seems best to choose Search if you want to search subfolders as well. The Crtl-F key combination doesn’t work here so click Search and you will see the following window.

Zoner search for images

Unlike XnView, all your previously used IPTC keywords are remembered in Zoner and can be selected on the left side. So select the ones you want to search for then select the search mode. I chose All (AND). The same search for keyword1 AND keyword2 that I tried in GeoSetter and XnView took just under 3 minutes in Zoner – and found the same files. Unlike Geosetter and XnView, there was no indication of search progress in Zoner, just a ‘working’ cursor. There was also no way to stop the search when under way. But on the plus side, previous keyword search results could be recalled in Zoner from a drop-down box directly above the thumbnail window.

Conclusions

Of the four free photo management packages tested, only three would search by IPTC keywords. All three could search through subfolders but GeoSetter was significantly slower than XnView and Zoner. GeoSetter doesn’t seem to be being actively updated these days. Only Zoner retained a list of keywords to select from. Zoner was the only one to allow AND, OR and NOT searches although these search conditions could not be combined in any of the software packages (e.g. keyword1 AND keyword2 NOT keyword3). XnView seems to have improved markedly in IPTC keyword management since my earlier review several years ago and it seems a pretty versatile free photo management package.

But overall, Zoner Photo Studio is still my choice of free software for photo management and IPTC keyword search on a Windows system. How about you? What’s your choice for photo management on a Windows system?

I hope these two parts have given you enough information to start working with IPTC keywords in Windows. In the next part in this series, I hope to look at IPTC keyword entry and search with Linux photo management packages.


Apr 29

Zoner IPTC

In an earlier post, I looked at free software for tagging photos with keywords. This is useful so as to be able to search for them quickly later on. The point I made in that post was to make sure to use IPTC keywords rather than proprietary systems so that they would be portable with the image file if you ever moved to a new photo management system. I particularly liked Zoner Photo Studio at the time but is this the best option available now?

If you’ve got folders and folders of photos, you want to be able to add keywords as quickly as possible to speed up the tagging process. This means being able to select multiple photos and add multiple keywords to them at once, preferably from a pick list.

The free photo management packages I looked at were Zoner Photo Studio, XnView, GeoSetter and IrfanView.

Adding multiple selected tags to multiple selected images

I’ll have a look at the four photo organization packages I’ve mentioned, list some tips for using each and identify their strengths and weaknesses with tagging. I’ll also try to suggest a website for further information with tagging. The information presented doesn’t make for easy reading but is meant to help out if you are using any of the four packages to add keywords. For a summary of my findings, just jump straight to the end of this post.

If you’ve found ways round any of the problems or shortcomings I’ve encountered with each utility, let me know and I’ll update the post.

IrfanView

To tag photos with keywords, it’s best if you can open a folder of thumbnails, select the files you want to tag, then add the keywords. With IrfanView, you can open a folder of thumbnails from Windows Explorer by right clicking the folder and selecting Browse with IrfanView. Otherwise, open one photo in IrfanView, then click the keyboard shortcut T to open a folder of thumbnails. To add a set of keywords to a group of photos, select a discontinuous group of photos with Ctrl-Left Click or a continuous group of photos with Shift-Left Click. Then Ctrl-I brings up the IPTC Information box. Before you add your keywords, go to the Options tab and check that Edit the first file only; apply text to all files has been checked. If not check it.

Irfanview IPTC

Select the Keywords/Categories tab and add your keyword/s for this selection of photos and click Write. That’s all there is to it. If you choose another selection of photos and then go to tag them, you won’t find a pick list of keywords from your previous entries so that’s a real disadvantage.

Just in passing, I also noticed that when the folder of photo thumbnails was displayed in Windows Explorer before going into IrfanView, you can hover over a thumbnail and see a list of any keywords already assigned to that photo under Tags.

GeoSetter

To add keyword/s, select the files. Then Ctrl-E brings up the Edit Data box. Add your keywords or select them from the drop-down pick list (if you’ve used them before), then click Enter to add it; Then click Set Current Values for All Selected Images. On the next screen Keywords, Changed Items Only should be checked; click OK. Note that all selected photos on the left will now be highlighted in bold. In the Thumbnail browser, your changed photo(s) will now be highlighted in purple. As you add keywords, they are automatically saved to a drop-down pick list for future use.
Finally when you have added all your keywords, you’ll see that all changed images are shown in red. To save the keywords in the changed files, click on the Images menu and click Save Changes (Ctrl-S) or Save Changes of Selected Images (Ctrl-Shift-S). Or use the hotkey combination.

One niggle I found was that keywords weren’t listed alphabetically in the drop-down keyword pick list. For a fuller explanation of the process to add keywords in GeoSetter, have a look here.

XnView

XnView has improved its IPTC keyword tagging since I last reviewed it. There’s a good video of the keyword tagging process on YouTube, so I’ll just go over the highlights.

As with IrfanView, it’s Ctrl-I to bring up Image information once you have selected your images.
There’s no drop-down pick list of previously used keywords, but you can save a text file of keywords previously and call that up by clicking Open text file.

XnView IPTC

I did find I had to call it up each time I wanted to add new keywords to photo selections. When you’ve added your keywords, chose Writing options; Add new values to current value; Then click Write all selected. It doesn’t do this automatically straight away. Once you click Close, it then writes the keywords to the selected files.

In XnView, when you select a photo with IPTC keywords, the keywords can be viewed in a window below the thumbnails by clicking Ctrl-Shift-P and then clicking the tab IPTC.  A nice touch.

Zoner Photo Studio

Although XnView has certainly improved over the last couple of years, I did find Zoner to be the best photo management package overall. There’s a nice summary for adding keywords in Zoner here so I won’t go into much detail just to point out the key features.

Zoner scores in providing a nice alphabetically sorted pick list of keywords on the right side of the thumbnails.

Zoner IPTC

 

With Zoner, it’s Shift-Enter to bring up the Image information box to add new keywords. Or you can also just drag them from the keyword window onto you photos. You can also categorize your keywords under, for example, People, Events, Places. I did find it difficult to add new categories at first so here’s how to do that.

In the keyword window to the right of the thumbnails, click on the empty space below the categories, for example, below Topics in the image above, and select New Keywords… This will open the Keywords box.

Zoner add keyword category

Fill in your new category Title, in this case Location, and then be sure to check This keyword also serves as a category. After clicking OK, your new category will be added and you can then add keywords in it.

Once you have all your keywords defined, you can select your photos, select the multiple keywords you want to add to that set of photos, then drag the keywords onto one of the selected photos. The tags will be added to each and you will also note a small label symbol near the top left corner of the thumbnails. Hover over any of these label symbols and you’ll see the keywords assigned to that photo. And if you come back later to continue tagging, your sorted keyword pick list is still there.

Summary

So that’s a quick look at adding IPTC keywords in these four photo management packages. For me, Zoner still stands out head and shoulders above the rest. The free version is fine for adding keywords, the interface is very nice and I believe it’s probably the quickest option to add keywords if you have a large archive of photos.

In the next part of this series, I’ll look at searching through your photo archive for photos with the keywords you’ve selected.

How do you add keywords to your photos?


Sep 5

Catalina

We’ve all done it. A big event comes along like an air display, steam train special through our area, kid’s graduation from college, and what are we doing? Probably missing much of it by staring through our viewfinders or clicking our camera phones trying to get a great shot. And we don’t just take one, we usually take a whole bunch, or even capture the whole event on video. And afterwards, what memories do we have of the actual event? Probably not as many as if we had just left the camera down and took in the atmosphere of the event without it.

Recently, a PBY5A Catalina flying boat made a tour of Britain giving displays at venues around the country as part of the Circuit of Britain 100th Anniversary. I hadn’t seen one before so I decided to go along to the nearest display which happened to be at Cromarty (Ross-shire, Scotland). It was pretty well attended, and when I arrived, many folk were already there parked along the seafront, windbreaks erected all waiting for the event. And we weren’t disappointed. We were all treated to a wonderful 15 minute display across blue skies. I took 10 photos and 3 videos on my trusty old Canon Powershot compact camera. But after the event, I just got the feeling that perhaps I should have taken fewer photos and videos and just watched and listened as the Catalina majestically circled around.

It’s happened to me before on many occasions. Last year at another air display, we were all treated to a low level flypast by a Boeing B-52 bomber. I took three photos as it made its solitary pass. None of the photos are worth showing here, and I don’t have much of a memory of the event.

Of course, on your kid’s graduation, you have to get a shot of the scroll being handed over. I tried on two separate occasions, positioned by the side wall so as not to obstruct anyone’s view and ended up with blurry photos in a dark hall and would have been much better just to have put the camera down and enjoyed the occasion.

Don’t get me wrong, if photography is your hobby and you have all the proper equipment, try to get that great shot, but for most of us, worrying about getting it right with our camera phone or compact camera is probably going to detract from the enjoyment you should be getting from the event. If you must, try taking just one or two shots and then just put the camera down. Anyway, chances are that before you get home, there will be plenty of photos of the event up on Flickr, Twitter and Facebook and videos on YouTube.


Sep 18

When I started this blog, I wanted a header image that was a blend of tech and life. The overall blog colour is predominantly green so I chose the green keyboard image and one of my photos of a local Highland scene as shown below.

header with keyboard and loch

As you can see, the image quality wasn’t great and the blending of the two images was also poor. So I decided to try to improve the image quality and the blending.

I find all image editing software fairly unintuitive and it’s only when you’ve been using a program for a while on a regular basis that you really get to know how to use it. If you’ve ever tried to learn Photoshop or the GIMP, you’ll know what I mean. At the time I started this blog, I just couldn’t master the art of blending two images together. In fact, in the end I resorted to just creating a panorama of the two images as shown above, which seemed to work, and I left it at that. Since then, I’ve looked at a number of free utilities for blending images. Most were very poor but eventually I found FotoMix.  I also found that there’s been an explosion in YouTube tutorials covering image editing, even for the commercial image editing program I’ve used for years, Serif PhotoPlus – I just can’t afford Photoshop and I wouldn’t need all its features anyway. So let’s have a look at these two options for merging images.

FotoMix

There’s a nice walk-through on using FotoMix here so I won’t repeat that in this post. I used my loch scene image as the background and the green keyboard image as foreground. Under the Composition tab, I moved the keyboard to the left end of the image. I then used the Fade Brush with Maximum Fade 100, Brush Size/Shape 15 to blend the images. Then under the Touch Up tab I used Blend Brush with Brush Strength 7 and Brush Size/Shape 15. Under the Finish tab, I saved the composite image as a gif as shown below.

FotoMix composite2

Serif PhotoPlus

I found a quirky YouTube video on blending two images with Serif PhotoPlus and that helped me to master the technique in PhotoPlus. It’s probably a similar procedure in other photo editing software. I opened both images in PhotoPlus, then copied the green keyboard image to memory and pasted it into the loch image as a new layer above the loch image. The tool used to create the blend is the Gradient Fill Tool and I chose the options as shown below

PhotoPlus blending

As you can see on the YouTube video, blending is carried out by selecting lines on the upper layer which act as gradients from transparent to opaque above the lower layer. If you’re not happy with any blending action, just undo and try again. A bit of trial and error here till you get it right.

So there are two options to blend images together. FotoMix is free and pretty good. I’ve actually used the blended image as the new header for this blog. Quite a bit better than the old header I think you’ll agree. But if you do want a good low cost alternative to Photoshop that does blending among many other image editing processes, then Serif PhotoPlus is pretty good. I picked up the current version, PhotoPlus X5, for £32.99 on eBay.


Jan 19

So you’ve backed up your data and photos from your PC to an external drive, NAS, or DVDs. That’s great but problem is the files mightn’t last intact there long term. Five years perhaps… 10 years, perhaps not. Point is you don’t want to go back to a dusty old DVD of cherished photos to find that the files have become corrupt through bit-rot or degradation of the storage media. ‘Bit rot?’ I hear you say. I hadn’t heard of the term either till I read a great post on it by Rich Menga of PCMech yesterday. Rich suggests putting your photos in file archives and testing these regularly for errors. He says that if the archive file is damaged due to age, it can be repaired without the need for any special utilities. Usually, all it takes to test an archive is a right-click/Test Archive.

In a follow-up post today, he has a further great article looking at how long media – hard drives, optical media and USB drives – will last. He comes to the conclusion that storage on flash drives might well outlast hard drives and optical media.

I think the message from all this is to keep more than one copy of your data and photos in backups locally, backup to the cloud, and refresh the files on new media every 2 or 3 years.

Here’s links to Rich’s two posts:

How to Avoid Bit Rot – PCMech

How Long will that Media Last? – PCMech

Head over there and read the posts. If you value your data and photos, they’re must-read articles.


Nov 18

House fire

You wake during the night to the smell of smoke, and jump out of bed to find the living room of the house is ablaze. Your first priority is to get your family to safety of course and phone the emergency services. That taken care of, say you’ve got one chance to take something as you leave your home for possibly the last time. What would it be? Something valuable, something sentimental?

When I considered this scenario, I concluded that if I had a chance, I would take my photos with me if I could. Pretty much everything else could be replaced but, when I thought about it, my photos are priceless memories which I’ll enjoy for years to come… memories of my childhood, holidays, friends, our wedding, my own family growing up. Much of my older photos are still in albums, while some are still in their wallets piled in boxes in the loft. I’ve also got quite a few wooden slide boxes full of 35mm transparencies (yip, no chance in a fire!). More recently, my digital photos are on my PC and backed up to an external hard drive.

It’s very, very  easy to get complacent about this and hope it will never happen to you. So I guess I should make an effort to get all my photo albums and 35mm transparencies digitised and get everything onto my external backup drive. Another possibility would be a fireproof safe but could I trust it to save all my photos and transparencies? I doubt it. Anyway it would have to be pretty large and therefore the cost would be prohibitive. Going the digital route, ideally, I should have two backup drives and do weekly rolling backups, keeping one drive away from the house, say at my parents’ house and swapping these out weekly to update them. That way I’d be covered against fire, flooding, theft, etc. and wouldn’t have to hunt for a laptop or external drive in a burning house. Wouldn’t cost too much either, in fact I reckon buying two external 500GB backup drives would cost around £100 ($160). I don’t have videos so 500GB drives should be fine and I can always upgrade them when I need more storage. Alternatively, I could backup my photos to the cloud but this would take quite some time to upload and with an annual cost of around $50-100 per year, I think I’m better off with offsite storage. I wouldn’t rely on keeping everything just in the cloud anyway – I would have to have a physical backups. But surely two drives doing a rolling backup would be enough wouldn’t it. Any thoughts?

So what would you take with you from your burning home?

Image credit: 111Emergency


Sep 7

tags1

I’m sure many of you use photo management packages to browse through thumbnails of your photos downloaded from your camera to your PC. Popular photo management packages are Picasa, Windows Live Photo Gallery and of course the viewers in paid packages like Adobe Photoshop Elements. But how many of you actually tag your photos with keywords to help searching through your photo folders for the photos you want? I tried keyword tagging for a short while some years ago but gave it up once I discovered that in some management packages the tags you’ve painstakingly added to your photos don’t transfer to a different software package, i.e. they are held in a proprietary database in the software package and not within the photo itself. So I gave up then and just stuck with FastStone Image Viewer, a nice photo viewer and editor but without the facility to tag photos with keywords.

Some five or six years on, and a little wiser hopefully, I thought I’d revisit the subject of photo tagging and see how the current crop of photo management packages deal with it. I’ve specifically stuck with free apps or software that have free versions with more limited features to see if I could find what I wanted for free. That’s not to say of course that in future some of these apps will move to a paid or freemium model.

So I’ve gone back through my Delicious bookmarks over the last couple of years and looked at all the apps I’ve tagged ‘photo-tagging’. I haven’t looked at online photo management apps or tagging a la Facebook, just apps to manage your photo collection on your desktop. I’ve used the following four criteria to select apps which will tag photos the way I want.

1. Keywords in file rather than proprietary database

Tagging in photo management packages can basically be divided into two types. Apps that store the keywords within the photo file itself, as say IPTC tags, and apps that store the tags in a separate proprietary database. Clearly in the first type, the keywords move with the files and can be accessed in different management packages that use this format for storing keywords. In the second type, if you move to a different photo management app in the future, all your keywords will probably be left behind in the old software database. If you’re not sure if your photo management package is saving tags as IPTC keywords, install Irfanview and open your photo in it, click the Image Information button at the top, then click the IPTC info button at the bottom left corner. Then click the Keywords tab and see what’s there – your IPTC keywords should show here.

Because we’re all fickle and like to move around and try different packages and because some apps cease development or are likely to change to a freemium model, I believe it’s important to choose a package where the keyword tags are held in a standard format within the photo, so will move with the photo file and can be accessed in other photo organizers.

2. Folder versus album

If you’ve messed around with different photo organizers, you’ll know that there are basically two ways to browse the photos on your disk. Folder based organizers which just access and display the photo folders on your hard drive, and album based organizers which import your photos into a catalogue or album, possibly from a number of folders on your hard drive. I personally prefer the folder based organizer as that’s the way my folders are organized on my PC and I’ve become familiar with that over the years. As I’ve mentioned, the album based approach has the disadvantage of locking up information in a proprietary format. If you change software for whatever reason, you’re probably going to have to recreate your albums.

3. Group tag photos

Being able to select a group of photos and assign a keyword tag or tags to them all at once is obviously a massive timesaver compared with tagging them individually.

4. Search for and display only photos with specific tag(s)

I want to be able to pull out and display only those photos which have specific keyword tag(s); seems like a reasonable request. Incidentally, one other advantage I’ve discovered with IPTC style keyword tags is that Windows search (click Start button and enter search term in box) will pull up photos with your tag. Very useful, particularly when the photo file name is some cryptic camera derived label.

The winners

Of the packages I looked at, only two fulfilled all four criteria I’ve just listed: Zoner Photo Studio, and Windows Live Photo Gallery, while Picasa came close.

Zoner Photo Management

Zoner Photo Studio: My personal favourite. The user interface looks nice, and has all the tagging features I want: folder display, IPTC keywords, group tagging, and searching for tag combinations. In addition, a query I had was quickly answered on their forums.

Windows Live Photo Gallery: Couldn’t fault this also, just preferred the display in Zoner Photo Studio. Windows Photo Gallery has a plainer display, not so much info is displayed with each thumbnail. Keywords are called Descriptive Tags, and you can also draw boxes round faces and assign what are called People Tags to the faces in each photo. But no face recognition… as yet.

Picasa: Many people’s choice as a photo organizer but I personally don’t like the way it organizes photos into its own directory system. Assigning keywords was straightforward and there were no problems group tagging photos but I couldn’t work out how to select and display a combination of two keyword tags. It’ll probably do it, but I didn’t find it intuitive like the two I’ve just mentioned. On the plus side, it does have automatic facial recognition so you can assign People tags here too.

I must mention Irfanview in passing, again a popular free editing choice. It’s possible to enter keyword data in Irfanview (as I’ve mentioned above) which will be used in the above three packages. But of course Irfanview doesn’t permit thumbnail viewing of a complete photo directory or selecting photos by keyword. Updated (21-1-11): Irfanview does allow thumbnail viewing and batch adding of IPTC data. See comments below.

The rest

I’ll list the apps I looked at which for one reason or another, didn’t meet my criteria, generally because they stored keyword tags in a proprietary fashion if at all or had limited features in the free versions. I’ll just list the app names without links: Pictomio, Snapact Photo Manager, My Photo Index, Shotwell, Studioline Photo Basic 3, Album Burger, Inzomia Viewer 3, JetPhoto Studio 4.8, Pica Jet, iTag, Stoik Imagic 5, PhotoMeister, XnView and Fotobounce. Of these, iTag came closest but would only save up to 3 tags in a photo in the free version. I only had a quick look at all these so if you think they might be useful for keyword tagging drop a comment below.

Conclusion

So for me, Zoner Photo Studio stands out for tagging and photo management and my thanks to Raju at Technically Personal for blogging about it and drawing it to my attention although I’ve found that the Free edition is superior to the Xpress edition, particularly for keyword tagging. I’ve switched to Zoner from Faststone Image Viewer and am happily tagging all my photos there.

If I’ve misrepresented any photo management app or missed any and you think they might be suitable for photo tagging, please let me know in the comments. Do you tag your photos? How?

Update (27-10-10): Thanks to Steve in the comments who corrected me on two points. Picasa will do a tree view of folders and Irfanview does allow thumbnail viewing of directories. Nice to know.

Update (21-1-11): And Henk adds that IrfanView can also (batch) add IPTC tags to images selected in the thumbnail viewer. Check his comment below.


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