To tag or not to tag?

So, today’s thought for the morning concerns the exciting subject of tagging or more correctly key-wording photographs. You know the thing, those little words that describe the image contents to make them easier to find later. Those little words that can easily be added when you download the files to the computer. Or as a bulk action after you’ve done that first edit and chucked a lot of the RAWs in the bin. Or even as a final step in post production, just before printing in my case.

Those key words that mean that when you want to find, say, all the images from Skye or all the images with mountains, or doors even, then all that is needed is a simple search in Lightroom (other digital management software is available). That’s the theory, and it works … assuming you bothered to tag your files with key words in the first place.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

Screenshot 2018-02-19 11.50.49Over the weekend I put the finishing touches to the first draft of an audio visual sequence looking back at one aspect of 2017. I haven’t decided whether to use it for a club feedback session or put it straight on the blog so will keep it under wraps for now.  Whilst I was working on it I had an idea growing in the back of my head for a sequence involving a poem, that I’d written on Sunday, and images from Skye.

Some judicious pruning over the last year means there are “only” 9,000 images in my “processed” folder, all catalogued with Lightroom.  A keyword search for “Skye” yielded twenty or so.  Twenty? I’ve been five times, shot several thousand images and I’ve only kept twenty?  True, there are a lot of unprocessed RAW files which are not in the Lightroom catalogue but I’d figured on a couple of hundred processed files from which to chose the forty or so I expect to use in the new AV. A quick look at the results revealed that all had “Skye” in the file name and it was then that the penny dropped. None of them had key words.

Inspection suggests that I last did any serious key wording in 2013, and none of those are on the external drives I’m currently using. I can be anal at times about numbers but even I quailed at the thought of checking how many of the 9,000 actually have a meaningful keyword or two. I’ve simply got out of the habit. To be fair, the way I’ve been using images over the last year or so has been date-based rather than subject or location based.  I have to be careful not to submit the same image twice in competition for example and so tend to limit selections to a date range. Thus, for the 2017 Travelling Exhibition I only selected from images taken between July 2016 and June 2017.  This system works for what I’ve needed  up until now.

© Dave Whenham
Talisker Bay

To compound things, from this year  I have been filing images in folders based on the date of processing, this fits well with competition selection and means that I have more available to chose from as images taken In June 2017 for example but not processed until after that date would not have been considered previously. But, not for the first time, I digress.

There being nothing else to do I put Lightroom into slide view and eyeballed the 9,000 images putting all the Skye images I spotted into a temporary collection.  There were 217 which is closer to what I’d expected but probably still doesn’t account for all of them. I then loaded all 217 into Pictures to Exe and started to delete duplicates and pull the rest into a rough sequence based on location. If only they had the location in their key words, or even file name, then this would have been soooo much easier…

So the long and short of it is that I still haven’t finished culling the images, I have them in a rough location-based sequence although as I pressed “Close” last night I spotted a couple in the wrong place as the image dimmed on the laptop screen. All for the want of an extra couple of minutes at processing time.

My need to find specific images for audio visual use is likely to grow over the next few months as I start to learn the art of melding music, images and words. I can foresee many such frustrations to come so am thinking that the best thing I can do now is to set aside half an hour every day to retrospectively keyword my catalogue. I also need to start to keyword all new images immediately!

© Dave Whenham
Sligachan – November 2014

When I first started taking photographs seriously I was able to recall when I’d been to certain places and I even filed all my images in folders for specific shoots, thus there were folders labelled “June 1st 2012 Lake District” for example. I no longer use this system; since the start of 2014 I have preferred a single folder for each month and key words to narrow things down. It’s just that at some point between then and now (probably mid-2014 on yesterday’s experience) I stopped adding keywords.

So to answer the question at the top of the page, the answer is an emphatic “YES”.

Even if you cannot see a big need for your current way of working it doesn’t follow that you will never have a need to quickly identify certain images. If that day comes and you’ve heeded my advice you will smile smugly but if you’ve ignored my cautionary tale then don’t come running to me!