Tom Guthrie wants to organize his large photo collection by who, what, when, and where.
You should organize photos with metadata--data that describes the real content of the file. In Windows, you can get to a file's metadata, assuming the file format supports metadata, by right-clicking the file, selecting Properties, and clicking the Details tab.
The .jpg format supports a lot of metadata, much of it of a very geeky nature. It stores the camera model, the F-stop and exposure time, and other information that you probably don't need.
But the important metadata field for organizing your photos is Tags. Here you can enter names, places, events, or whatever will help you group similar photos. Then you can search by the tags. That way, you can easily find every picture with the tag Sam, the tag Grand Canyon, or with both tags Sam and Grand Canyon.
Vista and Windows 7 both make working with tags relatively easy. (Hang in there, XP users; I'll get to you.) In Windows Explorer, click the file and look at the window's bottom pane. Among other bits of information, you'll see a field named Tags. Click that field and start typing. If you want to enter more than one tag, separate them with semi-colons.
To find photos, go to any search field (for instance, the one in the upper-right corner of Windows Explorer), type tag:, then type the tag.
Or, you can click the Tags column heading near the top of the Explorer window and wait for list of available tags, then check the ones you want. If you don't see headers, right-click a blank spot in the folder and select View, then Details.
XP users should get a third-party photo organizer. And frankly, so should Vista and Windows 7 users with a lot of photos. For this task, a good organizer is much easier to use than Windows Explorer.
And the best ones are free, including my personal favorite, Windows Live Photo Gallery. This Microsoft giveaway lets you assign tags by dragging and dropping into a folder-like left panel. And like folders, it makes the tags hierarchical. You can, for instance, create a Vacation tag, and a Grand Canyon tag inside it. (The actual tag, when viewed in a photo in Windows Explorer, is Vacation/Grand Canyon.) An inferior but still quite good version, Windows Photo Gallery, came with Vista.
The Gallery can also organize your photos by date taken, folder location, and your own star ratings as well. And it creates a whole new kind of tag called People, although this one isn't hierarchical.
Although not a full-fledged editor, the program can also fix simple photo problems, such as over- and under-exposure and red eye. It also presents slideshows, lets you mail photos directly from the program, and upload them to Flickr.
But that's only my favorite. For Preston Gralla's opinions, see 10 Great Digital Photography Downloads.
This story, "Organize Photos by Content" was originally published by PCWorld.