How to Organize Your Digital Photos

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Summer’s over. You have a lot of happy memories, and many of them are stored digitally as photographs. Organizing those pictures will help you find the ones you want quickly and easily.

Sure, you can easily find all the photos from your Grand Canyon trip, because they’re in a folder called “Grand Canyon.” But can you just as easily bring up all the pictures with your oldest daughter—no matter what folder those pictures are in? How about all photos with both of your daughters? Or all photos with both of your daughters taken at the Grand Canyon?

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That’s where a good photo organizer comes in. There are many available, but I’ll concentrate here on Google’s Picasa. It’s not my personal favorite (that would be Microsoft’s Windows Live Photo Gallery, which handles tags much better than Picasa), but it’s popular, free, and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Picasa offers a number of ways to mark your photos for easy retrieval. Here are two of the most useful:


Picasa looks for human faces in your photos. But you have to train it to recognize those faces. If you already have a sizable photo collection, this can take some time. But the job gets easier as you go along.

The left pane in the Picasa window contains a section called People. Click Unnamed within that section, and you’ll get not full photos but close-ups of every human face in your pictures. You can give names to these close-ups, or click the X in the upper-right corner to skip them.

identify faces

As you go along, Picasa gets smarter, guessing—usually correctly—just who is that person in the picture. It can even identify the same person in photos taken years or decades apart.

The names you identify appear in Picasa’s People section. If Picasa thinks it has found other photos of an individual, it will use an orange question mark icon to let you know that some images need to be verified.

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Once Picasa knows who is who, finding photos of a friend or relative is as easy as clicking on their face, or their name, in that same People section. Thumbnails of every photo they’re in will appear in Picasa’s middle pane.

You might get thumbnails of close-ups instead of thumbnails of entire photos. In that case, click the “View zoomed out…” icon in the upper-right corner of the viewing pane.

Two people

If you’d like to find pictures with two or more particular people in them, select one as described above. Then select View, then People from the menu at the top of the window. That will bring you a second list of people in the right pane. Click for anyone else you want in the picture.


A digital photo can also carry a geotag that stores where the picture was taken. This allows you to select and examine photos from a particular location.

If you’re taking pictures with a GPS-equipped smartphone, those photos are probably already geotagged. Otherwise, you’ll have to do it yourself:

Select View, then Places from Picasa’s menu. This will bring up a Places view—sort of a mini version of Google Maps—in the right pane. Select one or more photos in the middle pane. Type an address in the “Search for an address” field at the bottom of the Places pane.

When you press ENTER, a pop-up balloon will ask for confirmation that this is where the photos were taken.

Geotag photos

You can also click the green pin icon in the upper-left corner of the Places panel, then click a point on the map to put photos there.

Geotagging a photo would be useless if you couldn’t search by location, but you can. As you look at the map, you’ll notice red pin icons all over it. Click one of these icons, then click the photo thumbnail in the pop-up window to view only the photos taken there.

find by geotag

Digital cameras, cellphones, and high-capacity storage have together resulted in huge photo collections. Some thoughtful organization will make these photos much easier to find.

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