The Benefits of Photo Tagging

Digital photography is a wonderful technology, but the ease at which we amass photos with our trusty digital cameras and mobile devices has introduced two new problems in our lives; there is nowhere to store information about the photo (for example, who are the people in the photo, or what was the event) and with thousands of photos now stored on your computer’s hard drive, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find what you are looking for!

Photo tagging solves these problems. It takes some up-front work to tag all of your photos, but once you discover the power of tagging, you will wonder how you ever survived without it!

What is Photo Tagging?

Photo tagging is the modern equivalent of hand-writing names, places, years, and events on the back of old photos or around the borders of slides. Basically, tagging lets you store this type of information within the file that contains the digital photo.

You can tag any information you want, but standard tags typically include:

  • Location (GPS): Where the photo was taken
  • Time: When the photo was taken
  • Keywords: Anything you want to record about the photo (e.g., people, event, year, place, etc.)
  • Caption or Title: Tagline to go along with the photo

Nearly all photo viewing applications will allow some form of basic keyword and caption tagging. The more advanced photo library applications such as Picasa (Google), IPhoto (Apple), Live Photo Gallery (Windows), and Photoshop Elements (Adobe) greatly simplify the process of tagging people by using complex facial recognition technology to scan all the photos in your library and collect together all the faces it believes are of the same person. You just have to accept/reject its suggestions, and it will do the keyword tagging for you. Newer digital cameras and mobile devices will automatically tag location and time into each captured photo.

Why Tag your Digital Photos?

There are two main benefits to tagging:

  • Storing key information with the photo: Most photo preview applications let you see the tagged information alongside the photo being viewed. What’s also nice is that when you share the photo with family and friends, they will also see the tagged information. For example, my mother had some great print photos of ancestors going back more than a century, but only she knew who these people were. It was great to preserve this family history by scanning them, tagging the names and family relationships into the photo file, and sharing with my siblings.
  • Photo organization and search: Storing your photos in named folders on your computer disk quickly becomes limiting. For example, do you store your family 2010 vacation photos in a vacation folder, in a family folder, or in a year folder? What makes sense today may not make sense a year from now when you are trying to find the photos again.

Once your photos are tagged, you can use powerful computer search tools to find exactly the photos you want, irrespective of where or how they are stored on your computer. For example you can easily create searches such as “Find all the photos from our vacation in Italy” or “Find all the birthday party photos” or “Find just the photos of Susan and David when they were young”. With families now storing thousands or even tens of thousands of digital photos, automatic search becomes essential.

A few last comments about tagging. It takes some up-front work to tag all of your photos so before you embark on tagging your entire photo collection, it pays to do your research and decide what features are most important to you. The features offered by photo library applications vary dramatically in regard to the effort required to create the tags, the quality of automatic facial recognition, whether the tagged information is stored in the application’s database or in each photo file, and the power of their search capabilities. However once you discover the power of tagging, you will wonder how you ever survived without it!

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