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Category Hierarchy

Deciding upon a suitable categorization strategy may seem overwhelming at first, but it isn't. Fortunately, most catalog programs allow one the ability to change the tagging structure very easily. Tags are generally kept in a seperate database, rather than with the individual files (unlike IPTC). This way, you can simply change the structure or names of the categories without having to edit every file in your collection. So, developing your categorization strategy can done over time, increasing in levels as you see fit.

An important thing to remember is that your categories should aim for efficient use of hierarchy. In other words, start with the most general categories and then refine down from there. Only add an extra level of hierarchy if you have more than a few categories at a particular level. It is best to describe this by way of an example.

The category hierarchy should be suited to your particular interests in photography. Obviously, a wildlife photographer will have much greater emphasis on animal categorization than the average photographer.

At the very least, one typically wants to have main categories for people, places and probably events. Within each of these, one can then further refine

The following table shows an extract from a tagging hierarchy, to give an idea of the various types of categories. I am currently using about 270 categories in my database, and many of my photos have a half-dozen or more tags assigned.

Example Category Structure
1-Unassigned Images
 
Collection
  _TO_SORT
  Cloverdale Rodeo
  RallyTour2004
  ...
  
Formulae
  Rating1+ 
  Rating2+
  Rating3+
  Rating4+
  Rating5+
  ...
  
IPTC
 
State
  Edit
    Resized
  Hidden
  Scan
    CanoScan 5000F
    CanoScan N640P
    Photo 10d
  Slide
 
Tags
 
  Events
    Birthdays
    Fashion
    Festival
    Holidays
    Parade
    Parties
      Banquet
      Club
      Houseboating
    Wedding
      Reception
      Ceremony
      ...
 	
  Misc
    Humour
    NightShots
    Oldies
    Portrait
    Sports
    Activities
    Biking
    Flying
    Freediving
    Racing
    Wakeboarding
    Windsurfing
    ...
    Still Life
    Test
 
  People
    Animals
      Bears
      Birds
      Frogs
      Insects
      Other
      Pets
        Cappy
        Mr. Honks
        ...
      Reptiles
      Sealife
    Family
      ...
    Friends
      Arnold
      Rambo
      Cinderella
      Spongebob
    Strangers
  
  Places
    Africa
    Asia
    Europe
    North America
      Canada
        BC
          ...
      Carribean	   
        Bonaire
        Dominican Republic
        Jamaica
      Hawaii
      ...
	Oceania
	South America
	  Peru
    Studio
	Work
    Cemetery
  
  Projects
    Cards
      Memories
      Scrapbook
	  
  Ratings
    Rating1-Excellent
    Rating2-Great
    Rating3-Good
    Rating4-OK
    Rating5-Bad
    ToRate
	
  Things
    Corvette
    ...

Examples of special categories I use:

  • Unassigned Images - Contains all images that do not have any categories assigned yet
  • Collection - A single-use tag, one that is used to keep a set of photos together (eg. a particular event, etc.) that doesn't typically suit the normal hierarchical tagging methods.
  • _TO_SORT - Images that have just been imported and not categorized yet. This is the primary means by which I can tell whether or not I have finished adding all of the necessary tags to a file.
  • Formulae - Contains the "dynamic categories" supported by IMatch. These are generally temporary "selections" that span multiple tags. For example, I might want to create a category that has all pictures of my wife and I, that are out of the country. It also contains my "ratings selections", which are formulae that show a particular quality rating or higher. So, I can select Rating3+ to show all photos that are rated Rating3-Good to Rating1-Excellent.
  • Edit - Used to mark non-originals. Anytime that I create a duplicate from the original and modify it in some way, I tag it with the Edit category.
  • Resized - Indicates that an image has been resized from the original. The image might also contain edits.
  • Scan - Used to mark any images that are derived from a scan. This includes scans of prints, slides, negatives and even digital photographs of slides.
  • CanoScan 5000F - Indicates the type of scanner used to create the scan. Since I don't attach an ICC profile to scanned images automatically, I simply tag them in the database. This way I can always attach my custom profile to the images later.
  • Photo 10d - Indicates that the scan is actually a digital camera photo from a slide (an unusual way to scan a slide / transparency).
  • Slide - Indicates that the scan is from a slide scanner.

Collections versus Categories

Most catalog programs support the notion of a collection in addition to the usual categories. Collections are often treated by the software as simply another category, but conceptually it is worth treating them differently as a user.

Categories are used for identifying characteristics of each photo. In other words, it answers the usual questions of who, what, when, how, where, etc. The idea is that these tags will be used for general groupings, and applied to many photos over time. Categories are not really intended to be used for one-off events.

Collections, on the other hand, are intended for one-off groupings of images. This is often used for marking photos as being from a one-time event (eg. superbowl_2004, or in a temporary group for further processing (eg. send_to_web, to_print, etc.)

Even though the software treats collections much in the same way as categories, it is helpful to keep the distinction clear. If you find that a category you have created is probably only going to be used once, then this might be better suited to a collection. Dated events usually fall into collections.

 


Reader's Comments:

Please leave your comments or suggestions below!
2008-08-05Tim Nichols
 Jose Antonio Diaz Coral Zalba......email me. It's your old pal from Canada.

I hope this mesage get to Pepe, we haven't been in contact in years.
2006-04-11Motti
 I started to learn Elements 4 for organizational purpose only (I edit with Photoshop)however, I read more and more that this is not the best program for organizing and if I ever want to change an organizer I am in trouble. I also have a copy of iView media Pro but I have to say that the interface is not so friendly. Also, their help menu is not that good. They do have tutorials on their web site though.

For example, categories in iView seem to be one lever categories and do not have the ability of sub category. Or maybe it does and I can find it.

I am not a professional photographer but I work with professionals and get many images from them. I need a program that can catalog my PSD creation, clients omages and my personal images. By end this year, it might get to ten thoudand.
I have never heard of IMatch amazingly enough and I looked at their web site a bit. I might download their trial version.

I was also thinking of Extensis Portfolio. I know it is very expensive but it costs more to spend time than to pay for a good tool.

So I read some of the articles in this site and I have to say that I am very happy I stumbled on this site. It is very useful. I am always hoping to get a more definate answer on what is best but that never happens...

DO you know if PS Album 4 (or rather Elements 4) is a better product then previous versions in term of performance?
Is Extensis a superior product for organizing images?
 Photoshop Elements 4 has a very intuitive organizer interface, and it certainly could satisfy the needs of many users. However, it hasn't been designed with the photo professional in mind, and hence is not nearly as scalable or flexible as some other apps. The reliance on the underlying off-the-shelf database (I believe that it is still based on the MS Acccess / Jet database) means that it would be hard to develop custom performance enhancements. Many people have referenced a 50k photo limit, although I don't think it is a hard one. I am not aware if PSE4 has addressed the somewhat sluggish performance that others had noted with the prior versions (with larger databases).

You might want to take the opportunity to try out some of these other apps. Unfortunately, I still don't see a perfect app that also has a decent user interface. The problem is that some people need specific features (eg. derivative control, RAW metadata support, scripting, web integration, etc.) that others don't care for and then there is the whole gamut of user interface complexity -- some people don't mind complex interfaces, others need to have something that others in the family can use as well! That being said, Extensis 8 should offer you considerable flexibility over and above what you are getting with the PSE environment. So long as you're careful to test out the export options early on, there is no harm in testing out a couple applications for a period of time to see if it works for you. Good luck!
2005-02-02Pepe Zalba
 

I have been working with Fotostation. I must admit that Im pleased, yet I find Imatch cheaper and better in someways. But after overreading the Tutorial i hold a question. Since Imatch work separately from the images does this progam save the Iptc info into the image or only in the DB? For I want to place the pictures in the web and without ITPC data I believe there would be on no use for searching?

 

Pepe — IPTC information is one of the elements that is directly written into the file. In fact, IPTC info is not cached at all in the database itself, unless one imports the IPTC fields from the files into the database's property fields. So in summary, you shouldn't have any problem with relying on the web-based searching across the IPTC data (if you edited them within IMatch).

2005-01-11Jim
 

While a hierarchical system is nice (and very useful), it isn't strictly necessary. I currently tag my images with keywords that are basically from one long (flat) list. But then again I am content, for example, to just tag the City Name or Location, and not necessarily have additional levels of State, Province, Country, Continent, etc. layered on top. (Of course, the location could be as general as just a Country or something.) Similary, I tag People just using their names. If I decide later I would like a tag like family to select all picture of all family, I would just add the tag family to all those images as well. So the image would have two tags -- family and name.

 


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