Friday, May 22, 2009

How I use Photoshop Contact Sheets

Photoshop Contact sheet (reduced from original size)

Today I thought I would share with you my photo filing and back up system. Oh Joy, you say. True, it's not very exciting. But maybe there are a few of you that wonder, like I do, how others keep track of their photos, art scans, or data things that have a tendency to pile up, and be elusive when trying to find something in particular. It's taken me some time, but I have found a system that works pretty well for me and the way my brain works.

(I use Windows XP pro, but except for some particulars most of my system can be generally applied.)

When I upload my photos I put them in a new file folder, a folder I name based on date, where, who I was with, and any notables. For example, a folder could be named "2007 06 15 West Odessa Rain Clouds Kit playing Porch shots." What I'm trying to do is make the name meaningful enough to me in general to remember the particular shots.

Other than blurry pics, I don't delete anything. I've learned that I use my photos for more than just compositions. I may want to refer back to something a month later, see other angles of a bug, or examine the leaves of a blooming plant I took. And of course, pictures of people always get better as time goes by.

I do only two things with my photos at that point. While viewing them for the first time (in Windows Picture and Fax Viewer), I turn photos right way when they are not landscape shots. Then, sometimes, I also create a folder with the same name with "BEST" at the end. I copy photos to that folder that are ones I liked, you guessed it, best.

Then months and months go by.

One day it rains and I think, I really should back up my photos from 2007, and delete them off my groaning hard drive.

Truthfully, I will never use 99.99% of the photos I take. I won't blog them, I won't print them, I don't have anyone who'd want them in an email, I won't publish a book with them. And I may only occasionally ever view them again. Still, I don't want to delete them outright. I'm lazy and certainly don't want to go through the process of deciding which ones to keep -- out of thousands I take! Besides I sleep easier knowing I didn't accidentally delete the two photos I got minutes after my grandson was born.

But here's the thing. Naming them is great, but after I download them to CD and delete them off my system, how would I ever find something again? I can't write small enough on a CD to make that option meaningful. Trust me, I have been in the throes of frustration loading CD after CD.

That's where Photoshop comes in. Using it (I have an old version 5.5), I make "contact sheets" for each folder before deleting it. Photoshop does all the work. I simply tell it what folder to create contact sheets for, and away it goes.

When it's done, I save those sheets to my hard drive, and do not ever delete them. I put them all in a folder titled (wait for it), "Contact Sheets." The sheets are named CD number, original folder name, and a sequential number for how many ever sheets there are. So, for example, on my 12th CD I'd name them "CD0012 2007 06 15 West Odessa Rain Clouds Kit playing Porch shots" and then 01, 02, etc. for how many ever sheets there are.

I now have on my hard drive a visual directory of my photos put on CDs.

By naming those contact sheets like I do, when I go looking for billowing cloud photos, or a cute shot of Kit when she was three, I look through the contact sheet names, view them, and then lay my hands on the exact CD with the originals. And all this is done much more quickly than any other system I had.

After making the CD, with much trepidation, I delete the original folder, releasing the hard drive space. Oh, and I always make two CDs just because it feels safer. I then put the CDs in my CD carrying case -- the one I plan to grab should there ever be a house fire.

What about you? What's your system? I'm always open for improvements!


Maya said...

Thanks for the tip! I am looking for better ways to organize my photos.

Bobbie said...

It seems to me a very organized way to keep track of things. Photos are so elusive when trying to come up with a system to file them in as each one could be multi-filed in different folders. Your naming method reminds me of tags and perhaps that is the secret of good photo filing. I like your contact sheets idea, exactly as you would file the old negatives in pre-digital times. Thank you for sharing.