Organize photos with the tool Windows gave you

By Lincoln Spector

You don’t need Google Photos or other fancy tools to organize your pictures. Windows’ Photo app and File Explorer can do the trick.

[I wrote this article, and Windows Secrets published it, in 2018. Since WS articles from that year are no longer available on the web, and I need to reference it in another article, I’m posting it here.]

You probably have tens of thousands of photos on your PC. Finding the one you want is a daunting challenge – unless you have a system for organizing them.

Windows 10 comes with two programs that can help you organize and touch up your photos. One is plain old File Explorer – I assume you’re familiar with that one. The other is simply called Photos, although it’s often referred to as the Photos app. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

This article contains a lot of my personal photos. For privacy reasons, I’ve avoided pictures of actual people (other than myself). When faces couldn’t be avoided, I blurred them.

Why not use Google Photos?

Once upon a time, both Microsoft and Google offered very good, free programs for organizing and editing your photos: Windows Photo Gallery and Picasa. Both have since been discontinued.

Google replaced Picasa with a cloud-based tool called Google Photos, which seems like an excellent choice for the job. It’s simple. It can create albums. It has face recognition. But it has a serious drawback: You’re stuck with it.

Google Photo might know the people in a photograph, but once you download that picture to your PC, the information is gone. Should Google decide to kill Photo (as it did with Picasa), you’ll have to start organizing all over again.

Organizing through the Photos app

Windows 10’s Photos app organizes photos automatically. It’s simple and doesn’t waste your time. But it may not organize your photos the way you want them, and there’s little or no options for changes.

Figure 1: The Photos app can display four ways to view your photos

You can open Photos from the Start menu, or by double-clicking any .jpg or .png file. If you open Photos and get just one picture, select See all photos in the upper-left corner.

This will bring you to Photos’ four ways of presenting your photos.

Collection displays all of your photos, presented chronologically from newest to oldest.

Albums creates photo collections, but it’s too enthusiastic. On the day I discovered this feature, it had already created 114 albums. The good news: you can edit these albums.

People uses face recognition, but not all that well. It thinks my son is five different people. There’s no way to teach the program otherwise. Nor can you assign names.

Folders: This one is obvious.

Figure 2: Photos can recognize faces to help organize images, but it’s far from perfect and can’t correct itself

There’s a search field in all four sections, but you can’t just search on anything. For instance, it can search for cat, but not for your cat’s name.

If you want your photos to organize themselves, even if they’re not organized the way you may want them, go with Photos. Otherwise, use File Explorer.

Setting up File Explorer for handling photos

If you want to organize all your pictures, open File Explorer and go to your Photo library. Otherwise, go to wherever new photos come into your PC, such as Dropbox’s Camera Uploads folder.

To get the best view of your photos, select View>Extra large icons on the ribbon.

That gives you the largest possible view of multiple photos. Then, while you’re still on the View tab, select Preview pane for a larger view of the currently-selected photo.

Figure 3: By selecting Extra large icons and the Preview pane, you can see more details while examining multiple pictures.

One other thing you might do: Go through your pictures and delete the ones you don’t want. Why waste storage and time?

Playing tag

The obvious way to organize photos is to put them in appropriate folders. But that doesn’t really work well. Do you put that photo of Aunt Agatha in Tahiti in the Tahiti folder, or in the Aunt Agatha folder?

Folders can play a part in organizing photos, and I’ll get to that. But tags can do much, much more.

Tags are a part of the .jpg file format’s metadata. Every .jpg photo has a tag field, in which you can enter multiple tags – for instance: Aunt Agatha and Tahiti. Tags and other metadata travel with the photo. Many, but not all, search tools will check the metadata.

To enter tags, go to the ribbon’s View tab and select the Details pane, which replaces the Preview Pane with several editable fields. One of these will be Tags.

Select one or more photos – for instance, all of those with Uncle Mort – and type the appropriate tag in the Detail Pane’s Tags field. As you type, you can use semicolons to separate the tags.

You’re not limited to entering people’s names into the tag field. You can add places, events, and anything else. You can create an album by entering the album’s name as a tag.

File Explorer learns your tags as you go. Soon you’ll be able to type a few letters and a pop-up window will offer likely tags. Check the one you want. This not only saves typing; it also helps avoid misspellings in the tags.

Figure 4: Start typing the name of an existant tag and you’ll get options

When you’re done entering tags, be sure to select the Save button.

Other organizing tools

While the Details pane is up, you may want to type something into the Title, Comments, or Subject fields.

You can also rate photos from one to five stars, allowing you to quickly select your favorite photos.

Figure 5: If you select stars in the Details Pane, you can easily find your favorite pictures.

Don’t forget to Save.

You can also group pictures into folders, for instance, for vacations or special events. So long as those pictures are in your pictures library, the searches will find the tags.

Fixing your pictures in the Photos app

Photo organizers always come with rudimentary editing capabilities. File Explorer has only one such tool: You can right-click a photo and select either Rotate right or Rotate Left. But the Photos app offers much more. It’s not Photoshop, but it will meet most of your needs.

Double-click a photo to bring it up in the app. Select Edit & Create>Edit to get to the tools you need.

Here you can crop photos, with an option to pick a specific aspect ratio. You can also rotate the photo by as little as one degree.

The Enhance your photo box barely does anything. But the 15 filters below it can produce some interesting and pleasing effects.

Figure 6: The Photos app offers easy, fun, and useful tools for enhancing your pictures.

Click Adjust, and you can fix light and color. The Clarity feature supposedly sharpens or softens the image. Be warned: You can’t really sharpen an image; it always looks fake. But you can soften it.

The Vignette option puts focus on the center of the image. You can also remove red eye and blemishes on old photos.

Searching for your photos

Let’s get back to File Explorer and search for some of those photos you’ve tagged. And maybe some you haven’t.

Go to the folder in question, or, if you want to search through your entire photo collection, go to your Picture library.

Type a tag, or even a part of a tag, in File Explorer’s Search field (in the upper-right corner). It could be as simple as a name. If the number of photos seems suspiciously small, scroll down and look for a link that says something like (Show all xxx).

Figure 7: Just type a tag, or even part of a tag, to find every photo carrying that tag.

It doesn’t have to be as simple as a name. For instance, I’ve got a tag called Pacific Coast. All I need do is type pacific and I get all the photos with that tag.

If I want photos of me at the Pacific Coast, I can simply type pacific lincoln.

Sometimes you need to be exact. If you have tags named John and John’s Family, a search for John will bring all the photos with both tags. You can limit the search by typing tag:= “john’s family” (the quotes are only necessary if there are spaces in the tag).

The label tag: tells the search engine to ignore other fields and look only in the tags. The equal sign tells it to match the entire tag, and not just a piece of it.

You can also search rated photos. In the search field, type rating:, and a pop-up will give you options for one through five stars.

Figure 8: By typing rating:, you can search for your favorite photos.

By typing rating:, you can search for your favorite photos

What about photos taken during a particular date range? You’ll notice that the ribbon’s Search tab has a Date modified option. Ignore it. You want when the photo was taken, not modified. In the search field, type something like datetaken:2008. Or datetaken:‎2/‎1/‎2011 .. ‎8/‎22/‎2012. Or if you want to find someone during a date range, tag: john datetaken:‎2/‎1/‎2011 .. ‎8/‎22/‎2012.

After a little preparation time, you’ll be able to find your photos is seconds.

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About Lincoln Spector

Lincoln Spector writes about cinema, technology, and cinema technology. From 1986 through 2008, he wrote Gigglebytes, the first technology-oriented humor column. From 1977 through 2016, he wrote PC World's Answer Line column and blog.
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