Organize and Share Your Holiday Photos

Once the holiday bustle has settled down, use these tools and tips to organize your photo collection--and share memories with family and friends.

Organizing Your Digital Shoe Box

Our parents and grandparents might have had cameras, but they never experienced the kind of photo-management headaches we have today with digital cameras. It's just a question of volume. My mom had a few photo albums and a shoe box full of negatives, for example. But these days we have many thousands of photos to contend with. Finding the right photo to print, share, or add to a calendar can be a hassle. It's all but impossible to find what you need if you rely on folders and smartly named photo files. Photo-organizer software can keep your digital memories at your fingertips. Read on for tips about organizing your photos, and for ways to share them with family and friends.

Renaming or Tagging?

First of all, renaming your photos isn't an especially effective way to get organized. The process is tedious, and it makes your photos only marginally easier to find. A much better method is to tag photos with keywords. Using a photo organizer, you can assign tags or keywords to each of your photos. If you plan ahead, you can create a dozen or so categories that reflect all the common subjects you routinely shoot: family, pets, holidays, soccer practice, Elvis sightings, and so on. It's less work than renaming photos, and it often makes finding the photo you need easier, as well. Just click the "pets" tag, for example, and you can browse all of your pet photos at once.

Quick File Renaming

Not convinced that tagging is the best way to sort and organize your photos? Then at the very least you'll want to rename them from obscure camera-speak like "DSC000023" to descriptive file names such as "Barbara at the beach." Windows makes it simple to rename your photos in batches. Select a set of photos, right-click, and choose Rename. Type a descriptive name, and press Enter. The entire series of photos gets that name, with a sequential number added to the end.

High-Powered File Renaming

If you really get into organizing your photos by file name, the Windows method may start to seem anemic. For beefier file naming, try Name Dropper ($10), one of my favorites. The program lets you create a slew of name fragments and assign them to customizable buttons. To rename photos, combine the fragments into descriptive compound names. Or try Siren, a free program that lets you access the metadata associated with your photos. You can combine snippets of info such as the camera model, ISO, exposure data, lens information, and date taken to create informative file names for your photos.

Get Tagging With a Photo Organizer

You can find some superb photo organizers out there with great photo-tagging features. My favorites include Windows Live Photo Gallery and Picasa, both free. Both programs let you assign tags to your photos and then swoop in to see photos that match any term you choose.

Not all photo organizers are as convenient, though. Some guard keywords, so if you change organizers, all your tagging disappears. The good news is that many modern photo organizers play nicely with others. In particular, both Photo Gallery and Picasa write tags to the photo files, so their tags are readable in any program--which is one reason I like them so much.

Share Photos on Flickr

I regularly use Flickr to share photos with family and friends; visit the Digital Focus Hot Pic winners gallery to see examples of photos I've posted online. I love Flickr because it imposes no limits on how many images you can store, or on how large a photo you can save. (If you use the free version of Flickr, however, you can upload no more than 100MB in a given month.) To share photos, just upload them to Flickr and then let people know how to get to your Flickr page. Once your visitors arrive, they can click the All Sizes button above a photo to reach the download page.

Other Photo Sharing Sites to Try

Picasa Web Albums offers 1GB of free storage and the Picnik online photo editor. Picasa also uses face recognition to help identify the people in your photos.

Photobucket lets you post your photos on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter with a single click. The site offers 500MB of free storage and has photo-editing features.

Shutterfly is best known as a photo printing service, but it's also a sharing site. Storage is unlimited, and Shutterfly claims that it never deletes photos.

SmugMug caters to serious photographers and charges a fee starting at $35 a year. It offers outstanding features such as image backup, visual themes, HD video, and domain names.

Share Your Photos Securely

If you like the idea of storing photos on the Internet so that certain people can get to them, but you don't want just anyone to be able to browse the photos, you can make suitable arrangements by using the photo-sharing site's privacy mode. Flickr and SmugMug, for example, let you mark your photos as private, which limits access to the people you specify.

You could also store your pictures at an online storage service, commonly referred to as "in the cloud." Think of these services as virtual hard drives on the Internet, accessible from any computer. You can give access to anyone you wish, securely sharing high-resolution, print-quality photos with people you know.

Post Your Pictures in the Cloud

Microsoft SkyDrive is a superb example of cloud storage. After you obtain a free Windows Live account, you can store up to 25GB of files--music, photos, documents, whatever--and share them with anyone you choose.

Another awesome option is Dropbox. Although this service limits you to 2GB of free storage, a small app lets you drag and drop files to Dropbox from your Windows folders, as if it were a location on your own hard drive. You can pay a subscription fee for more space, or you can link Dropbox to Facebook and Twitter for additional storage.

Customize Your Desktop With Photos

It's easy to personalize your desktop in Windows 7. To change the wallpaper, right-click the desktop and choose Personalize. From there, you have two options: You can click Desktop Background and select your own photos to use as wallpaper, or choose one of the themes listed. Choosing a theme loads a collection of images that appear as a slideshow, and it changes your window color, system sounds, and maybe even your screen saver. But the best part is that you can make your own Windows 7 theme featuring your own photos.

Create a Photo Theme to Share

Open the Personalization window and click Desktop Background. Open the folder that contains your photos, and select them. Set the duration of the slideshow, and then click Save changes. You will see a new entry called Unsaved Theme at the top of My Themes. Right-click Unsaved Theme and choose Save theme for sharing, and then name the file. Save it somewhere you can easily find it. To share your theme with other Windows 7 users, just give them the themepack file. They then double-click the themepack to add it to their My Themes collection. Of course, the more photos you include, the larger the file will be; limit yourself to a dozen photos or so if you want to share your theme via e-mail.

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