4. PUT YOUR FILES IN ORDER, BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE!
WHEN you've paid for your digital "film" —a 256MB Lexar card, say, which holds more than a hundred shots taken at the "fine" setting on a 5MP Nikon Coolpix 5700—there is no cost to taking more pictures except in the free space on your PC's hard drive. Your collection can quickly get out of hand. If you're not disciplined about weeding out second-rate photos in the camera or during transfer to the PC, you'll end up with file bloat, and it becomes hard to locate that one right shot among hundreds of poorly named and unsorted files.
Software to the rescue. The basic organizing principles are simple: You assign photos different labels and group them by category. You can then scroll through all the photos in your library or retrieve specific images and groupings using keyword searches or icons. Below, three cataloging applications to help you get your shots together.
Apple iPhoto 2 (free, Mac)
Strong points: Visual browsing is iPhoto's forte. Slide the onscreen control left or right and, with breathtaking velocity, iPhoto zooms in on individual photos or out to look at thumbnails of your entire collection. You can also create sophisticated photo books for uploading, printing, and binding.
Weak points: Keywords can't be organized into subcategories (such as "family/pets/Rex"). While it's easy to search for a single photo that fits into multiple keyword categories ("John and Christmas"), you can't call up a group of photos that fit into several separate categories (all photos from Christmas and Thanksgiving). Step-by-step directions would make learning the program much easier; as is, we were forced to play hunt-for-the-feature in online help. Grade: Bâ€
Adobe Photoshop Album ($50, PC)
Strong points: Album welcomes users with a startup Quick Guide, and the well-organized interface is clearly labeled. To create your first library, the program searches your hard drive, finds all the images, then lets you select the ones to add to your library. Chronological browsing is another strong suit: At the top of the screen, bar graphs tell you the volume of photos taken on particular days, with thumbnails displayed underneath. It's a nice device: Staring at the graph instantly reminds you of a vacation or long weekend when the camera had heavy use. Weak points: The procedure for distinguishing between "and" and "or" searches ("Becky and Dan" versus "Becky or Dan"), a vital distinction, can take several attempts to figure out. Grade: Aâ€
Jasc Photo Album 4 ($49, PC)
Strong points: This program excels in photo sharing. The easy-to-create video CD slide show plays on standard DVD players. For e-mailing, the program automatically resizes images to about 640- by 480-pixel resolution. Keyword structure is another plus: You can organize keywords into an infinite number of subcategories. Weak points: The browsing interface, organized by folders and subfolders on your hard drive, makes it difficult to get an overview of all your photos. And although an image-adjustment tool offering side-by-side comparisons of your photos at different color, exposure, saturation and sharpness settings is a good idea, you have no control over the degree of change, so it's nearly worthless. Grade: B+
For free organizing software for the PC, try Kodak's EasyShare.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.