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I had originally intended to stop this series of digital photography discussions after talking about the creation of backdrops. However, several people have asked about how I catalog or store photographs on my computer. Quite simply, I have created a database to store images and various information about where the photograph was taken. While categorizing images may be a tedious process and requires periodic work to keep up up to date, organizing digital photos is an absolute necessity for anyone shooting digital, as you will typically shoot more images than a film photographer. After all, the cost of a digital image is basically nothing until you need to actually print it. My previous slides have been cataloged using a version of the database software Dbase, however, that software is many years old and I wanted to take advantage of some of the newer features found in current software. Therefore, I use a two-part system for my images. I use Adobe Photoshop Elements as my initial photo organizer, but you can substitute the program of your choice. If you haven’t decided on a photo-organizing program, you can try the free Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 Starter Edition, which can handle everything described in this article. For my permanent storage, I transfer the info into an Access database that I designed based on my previous Dbase system.

When railfanning, I will typically shoot each engine just so I know the engine consist, as well as a number of rolling stock for future modeling projects. Images such as multiple views of the same trailing engine may or may not be kept, and I’ll make a decision at the end of the day whether to delete these images or not. Therefore, a digital photographer will find that he/she has a growing collection of images that must be organized if you really want to be able to search for images at a later time. I use a folder called "Temp", which is a temporary folder to hold any new pictures that are waiting to be edited or placed into a more descriptive album. For my purposes, I find that using the PS Elements software to transfer the images from the camera is the simplest way to start cataloging my images, as this program automatically builds a folder to store the images chronologically. The software has two viewing features, either the photo browser or the date view modes, which allows me to view all photos taken during a certain year or by days of the month. Therefore, if I remember that the photos were taken in a certain month, I can simply open all images by selecting the correct calendar month. I can then view the images as thumbnails (small images), and go into the built-in editor and select which photos I want to work on. I can also re-size my thumbnail images so that I can see many images or just a few (I typically don’t view more than 24 thumbnails at a time). I should also add that this is a good time to backup your images to a CD or DVD after they have been initially transferred from your memory card to your hard disk. This way you have a copy of the image, even if you should accidentally delete it from your hard drive while your editing.

Using this feature of PS Elements is probably the easiest way to store and retrieve photographs. Not only does the program allow you store a limited amount of information in the caption area, but it also imports all of the data collected by your digital camera such as shutter speed, ISO setting, date/time of photo, etc. Captions can store up to 2000 characters. While this is potentially a lot of information, I find that it’s difficult to remember all of the information that I collect when I photograph a location (ex. location, consists, milepost #, subdivision, any notes, etc.) and put it into the description. I find that having a program prompt me for this information is much easier. This method, combined with the creation of a descriptive folder on your hard disk, such as the year of the photo and then another subfolder divided into the months, is a simple way to keep your images filed. While this system can be created anywhere in your hard disk directory, I try to take advantage of the Windows XP built-in function by storing images in the My Pictures directory. However, I don’t recommend filing this way for the simple reason that if you take a lot or even a few photos, it’s very difficult to remember which year and/or month after several years of picture taken has transpired.

A better way to file images using a similar approach is to use a subject specific or geographic specific naming. For example, I have used a system that has folders for Railfanning and Model Railroads only. Within these folders, I further break my folders into subjects such as the following:

Folder Arrangement
Model Railroads
Div. 5 Meetings/Events
Layout Names
Railfest 2005
Layout Names
Railfest 2005

For the first folder, you’ll see that I have followed a subject, region where was it taken, and then a specific locale for the photograph. You could continue to make subfolders for each individual railroad you have photographed for that particular location if you wanted to go into further detail. Conversely, you could set up your file structure such that each railroad is the first description, and then file by state and geographic areas (ex. CSXT, Pennsylvania , Sandpatch. Keep in mind whatever filing nomenclature you choose to use, the more files you have the better likelihood that you’ll have to cross-reference your files someday, so the better the description, the easier it is to locate the image.

However, this method of cataloging files is rather limiting, as there really is no way to search on your images. If you take a lot of photos, in my opinion, searching becomes the single most key factor for retrieving images.

My solution was to use database software (such as Access or Dbase) to manage the 10,000 plus images and slides that I have. A database stores information in fields, which can be designed to accept any characters, dates, numbers, images, etc. As I mentioned previously, I originally used Dbase to store my slides. The database was basically an extension of the information I had physically kept on my slides, although with the use of a database I was able to enter more information about each slide. I should note that I physically stored my slides in slide box, which was sorted chronologically. This method allowed me to keep trips together and has always seemed easier than trying to move slides around within boxes just so that similar slides could be kept together. After all, who wants to unbox slides, drop them, and then try to sort them back into their proper sequence?

My current database was created using Microsoft’s Access database software. With this program, I have the flexibility to add a large amount of descriptions to my photos, while also seeing a small thumbnail of the photo. My database is very detailed, as I want to store a lot in information as described below. While the average railfan may not think about keeping this level of detail, if you intend to give a talk or publish your photographs, the information will be invaluable, as many publishers require a fair level of detail before they will accept the photo for publication. For example, instead of having to constantly type in the engine manufacturer and model, I have a specific table that only stores this information, and by linking to this table, I can create pull down menus that have the information. With a simple mouse click, the locomotive information is placed in the file where my main image is kept. One word of caution to those who want to keep information in a database is be consistent in the way you name railroads, towns, etc. If you are not consistent, searching your database entries will result in an inconsistent and incorrect report, and ultimately leave you frustrated that all you’re your hours of data planning and entry are for naught. For example, if you try to search for images of CP Rail but half of your entries used the CP Rail and the other used Canadian Pacific, a search of CP Rail will not find your images labeled as Canadian Pacific. Same thing for using a label such as Wheeling and Lake Erie versus W&LE. Which you choose to use is not important, but being consistent will yield far better results. While there are ways to fix this problem, such as searching on multiple words, I’ve found it easier to stick with one system for naming.

A quick explanation about database fields. While Access allows you to select between nine types of fields, I have found that I really only use 4 or 5 fields. A "Character" field will accept anything on your keyboard, while a number field only allows numbers to be typed in. A "Date/Time" field will only accept valid dates and time. I use the "Memo" field to store free-form text that can be as long or as short as is needed. Access uses an “OLE Object” field to store information such as pictures or sounds. My database has the following fields that I use to store the relevant information:


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