Sorting photos is usually one of the bigger steps in the photo organizing process – in most cases, the biggest step. It’s time consuming, overwhelming, and not to mention complicated if you don’t have a clear folder structure system set up. That’s why, in today’s post, I’ll be sharing an easy way to quickly get your photos sorted into groups right inside your native operating system. Ever heard of tags? Most of you are probably waving your hands in the air right now, but if you haven’t yet leveraged this superstar tool in your digital life, keep readin’ because it’s a gamechanger!
Simple Systems are Easy to Maintain
In my last post, Native Organizing Part 1: KISS Your Photo Workflow System, I went over a few reasons why it’s great to have a simple system for your working with your photos. I was glad to see the relief that many readers felt about this point of view because it’s really not about how fancy your software is – it’s about knowing where you photos are…right? So often we tend to overcomplicate things, and unfortunately, most photo organizing software programs (especially the good ones) aren’t all that easy to learn. Sure, there may be a few of you out there who are pros, but for the vast majority of people, this is an overwhelming topic!
So what do you when you’re not sure of what software to pick? Answer = You don’t use one. You start with a basic native core folder structure for your photos, and then you upgrade your system when the time is right. This is what’s known as native organizing, and it gives you the permission – as a beginner – to understand your files and how they should be handled before importing them into a software.
Having a simple system doesn’t have to mean that you are “low-tech.” It also doesn’t mean that you have no functionality at your fingertips. In fact, quite the opposite. There are still lots of things you can do with your photos. This post will show you how you can sort your photos just as easily in your native macOS as you can in a photo software. How, you ask? By using your system tags. Let’s get dig into this topic!
Tags = Searchable Keywords
Tags are specific keywords (think of them as labels) that you create in your operating system. You can then attach those keywords to your digital files, and that makes those files instantly searchable. Awesome, right?
The macOS tag system is one of the most underrated organizing tools ever! Here’s why: they are available on all Mac computers, you can use them with any file, and you can use them in conjunction with any other program. On top of that, they’re completely customizable, and yes, totally free! On top of it, you can assign any number of tags to a particular file, thereby categorizing that file in many different ways without having to move it around, or use sub-folders with duplicates in them. This makes them ideal for the sorting stage because you may not have figured out yet what the best categories would be. This post talks mainly about photos, but if you fall in love with this system, you can use them on your documents, videos, and music files too. Any digital file will do.
Where to Find Your System Tags
All of your tags show up on the bottom of the navigation panel in your macOS Finder, and you just have to click on the correct tag to bring up all the associated files. If you don’t see your tags, be sure to check your Finder preferences to ensure that they are marked to show up in your navigation sidebar.
Working with Tags
As you can see, tags are a great way to instantly find what you’re looking for, and what makes them even greater is that they’re completely customizable.
If you’ve never worked with tags before, you’ll find that they carry a simple name based on their color (red, blue, green, and so on), but you can change that name to be anything you want. Also, you aren’t limited to the few default tags that are already there. You can create many more of them – for any purpose. Custom colors aren’t available yet, but you have a choice of using whichever color you like out of eight defaults (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, grey, and white/clear).
To create a tag, go into your Finder preferences, select the “tags” tab, and click the plus sign to bring up a new untitled tag. Name it, and press return (enter) to save it. You can select its color by hovering over the color dot, and selecting the color you want from the drop-down menu. You can also create tags as you are saving files for the first time – the option to assign a tag will show up when your computer asks where you want to save your file.
Renaming & Deleting Tags
The easiest way to rename tags (if you just need a few) is to control+click on them in the navigation sidebar, and simply choosing the “Rename” option. In the preferences, you click on the correct tag, rename it, and press return (enter). You can delete tags from both the Finder preferences and from the sidebar.
As always in organizing, consistency is key to having a good system that actually works. Just like when you’re setting up a short code system, create the tags you want to use BEFORE you get started. This will ensure that you have all your options in front of you, so you don’t get off track when labeling things.
Very Important: If you are already using tags for other things, don’t rename the tags you already have because it will throw off your other files. Be sure to create new tags instead!
Finding Your Files
So how do you actually find your tags when you need a file? Well, the quickest way is to search for it is by using the Spotlight search (in the top right of your menu bar). The shortcut command is [CMD+Space]. Type in any keyword, press return (enter), and voilà, the files will show up in your results! Of course, if your files are already sorted, you can just click the correct tag in the navigation sidebar to bring them up as well!
Creating Custom Tags Based on Sorting Style
Let’s say you have a massive photo organizing project underway, and you have just finished importing all of your photos and home movies to your new digital photo hub. What’s next? Well, that depends on your workflow, but I like to do a rough sort of all the files to really get a good overview of what I have. This means that I categorize all the files based on my sorting style. This step doesn’t have to be perfect, and at this point, I’m not renaming anything. I’m merely trying to see a broad overview of my photo collection. This helps me understand exactly what I have, if there are a bunch of duplicates, and if the sorting style I chose is actually going to work in the long run.
This phase of your project is a great time to use tags because you can attach them to your files without actually dragging and dropping any of those files into folders. This lets you segment your collection very efficiently, and if you have files that belong to several different categories, you catch that upfront.
Here’s an example of what I would do if I were to sort my photos chronologically (by date):
Step 1: Set Up Tags in Preferences
If I were sorting my photos by decade, I would begin by setting up some custom tags by decade. Naturally, I would adjust them based on what I would expect to find in the collection, but I would definitely start with decades because it’s too much work to go into specific years when doing the first rough sort. That’ll come afterwards.
Here’s what a quick decade setup would look like:
Step 2: Assign Tags to All Files based on Category
Once my system was up and running, I would start sorting by applying tags to all of my photos in batches, so that I could quickly segment them into the correct categories (in this case, decades). I would do that by selecting the files I wanted, and applying the tag using the little tags button in the top navigation menu (if you don’t see it, you can add it in your Finder preferences). I could also assign tags by selecting an individual files, and clicking on the “add tags” option. The latter would bring up an option to either select an existing tag, or to create a new one. This step will take the most time in the beginning, but once you get good at it, you can get it done pretty quickly.
Step 3: Review the Results
Once all my photos were tagged with the right decade, I would have a general idea of when most of the photos were taken. This is really helpful for confirming that chronological sorting is the way to go with these files. If I ended up with the majority of files tagged as “unknown,” I would revisit the topic of sorting style to see if there’s a better fit. Most likely there would be, and I would then change my strategy. Remember that you can view these files in several different ways by selecting your finder layout, so if you find it hard to see all the tags in one view, try another.
Here’s what my tagged files would look like in Thumbnail view:
Step 4: Move Grouped Photos into Folders
When everything is sorted, you can grab the groups of photos and move them into folders, and then repeat that step for the remaining decades. You can choose to keep the tags on the individual files, or remove them and instead tag the folder with the correct decade. Personally, I like to keep the tags on the files until I can verify that they’re all where they should be, i.e. in the correct folders.
Step 5: Start Process Over Again
Once you have all of your folder with the correct photos, you can start the whole process over if you need to segment further. Depending on how many photos you have, you may want to create brand new tags for the specific years in a decade, and pare down even more. That all comes down to how you want to organize your photos. For chronological sorting, it’s pretty obvious what the next step should be, but if you’re sorting a different way, you’ll have to be a little more creative. I would definitely do a duplicate sweep at this point, so as to not create additional work for myself, but it’s optional.
MacOS Tags = Apple Metadata
Yes, tags are metadata and that’s a tricky subject, but the macOS tag system is about as simple as it’s going to get – ever. Even if you’re a complete beginner when it comes to organizing photos, this isn’t a hard system to learn. There is no confusion about which IPTC field to apply the information to, or how to read it once it’s there. It’s just a simple “add” and “remove” thing – as long as you stay within the Apple universe. What that means is that your tags aren’t readable outside of Apple devices. The macOS tags will show up anywhere on a Mac, including in iCloud, but they won’t transfer over to a Windows machine. I doubt that’ll be a problem for most people though because the general consensus is that “once you go Mac, you definitely don’t go back.” Still, it’s worth noting.
Basically, once you have applied tags to your files, they stay unless you do one of two things:
1. Remove them from the file
2. Move your files away from the Apple universe
The macOS tags are very similar to the search & find functions other photo organizing programs use though the terminology might vary. Some programs call them “keywords,” some call them “labels,” but it’s technically all the same concept. Metadata, in a nutshell, is information that makes your files searchable, and this is the most basic version of it.
Using the Unsorted Folder?
If you happen to be using an Unsorted folder for managing incoming files, tagging is a wonderful way to cull your clicks quickly. Instead of creating folders and marking them with the words Sort, Edit, and Organize, you could set up tags for the same purpose. Even if you still wanted to use those words, you could still use the tags to be able to sort and group photos more quickly. In short, tagging and sorting as you go makes the organizing part a lot easier later on, so they are a great add-on to any system.
Organizing by Person?
Genealogists, rejoice! If you are one of the many researchers who organize your photos and files by person or family, you will find this system very useful because of its versatility. Instead of having a duplicate file for each person, for example when organizing event photos, you can now select a main person (or family), and create tags for the rest. And since this system works on all types of files, you can use the same tags for all other documents that belong to the same person or family. This gives you a better complete overview of what files belong together, especially if they’re not all readable in the same program (like GEDCOMs, or any type of raw data).
Don’t Have a Mac? Check out my Upcoming Blog Post!
If you have a PC, you’re probably a bit jealous by now. Sorry! I can’t help it. Mac computers really are the cream of the crop when it comes to organizing photos because the operating system is so intuitive and easy to use. However, if you’re a PC person, you can still apply this same concept to your photos. Windows has similar tags that you can use, and my next post will show you exactly that, so come back in about 14 days and I’ll tell you all about it!