How would you describe the subject in this photo?  As a Fox, a Red Fox, or Vulpes vulpes? Baby, pup, or kit? Animal, mammal, canine, vulpine? The answer is all of them, and more! With wildlife photography there are many ways to classify and describe an animal. As your image portfolio grows, it becomes more and more important to have a good system for categorizing and keywording your photos so that once you have found a home on your hard drive for them you can find them again. This way you can find your images and get the right ones to those who will be using them, such as conservation organizations, wildlife biologists, government agencies, or your own personal projects.

But, if there is one task that nearly every photographer avoids, it is keywording and organizing those images. This can often feel like a never-ending task, so anything to speed it up and make it easier is welcome in my digital darkroom. ACDSee Ultimate 10 provides a variety of features that help quickly sort, categorize, tag, and find your photos. In this article, I’ll teach you how to use the Categories feature to help get you organized, so you can make sure that the ornithologists get the right bird photos, the herpetologists get the right ‘gator photos, and the lepidopterologists get the right butterfly photos. Yes, “lepidopterologist”, one who studies butterflies and moths. I challenge you all to work it into a conversation!

Getting Started with Categories

Think of categories as groups of pictures that share something in common. That “something” is decided by you, it could be the type of subject (Animals, People, Landscapes), colors, countries, or anything else you dream up. Each category can also contain subcategories; groups within groups.

Your category structure can be as simple or complex as you like, and a photo can be a member of multiple categories and/or subcategories. There is no single right way to do it, pick a system that makes sense to you that will help you find your photos as quickly and easily as possible. I recommend you start by sketching out your category “blueprint”, thinking about the types of photo subjects you have. Start with broad groups, and then narrow it down using subcategories to more and more specific ones.

Using wildlife as an example, I use descriptive subcategories to group together animals by their common names, like Foxes or Herons. These are subcategories of broader types of animals, like Canines or Wading Birds, which fall under even broader categories, like Mammals and Birds. I prefer not to go all the way down to species level, instead putting that information into keywords. But, this preference is individual, one person’s category can be another person’s keyword, and vice versa.

As an example, here are some different potential category structures:

Simple Category Blueprint

Animals → Birds → Norwegian Blue Parrot photos

Complex Category Blueprint

Animals → Birds → Parrots → True Parrots → Norwegian Blue Parrot photos

Monty Python-esque Category Blueprint

Animals → Birds → Parrots → Dead Parrots → Stunned Parrots → Ex-Parrots → Norwegian Blue Parrot photos

Categories can be used regardless of your type of photography, just tailor the blueprint to your subjects and needs. For example, landscapes could be categorized by where it was taken, what the landform is, the season, the dominant ecosystem, etc. Sports photography could be organized by the sport, team, location, etc. Your category structure should be created according to your portfolio and interests, but also keep in mind that it isn’t permanent. You can always change your mind, create new categories, change your existing ones, and move your photos around between them.

Categories vs Collections

Another way to group images is through using the “Collections” feature. While on the surface they function almost identically to categories, there is one subtle difference. When an image is assigned to a category, the category name(s) are written into the metadata of the image, while collection names are not. Anytime you export a copy of that photo, that metadata goes with it, and can be read by anyone else. Use categories to identify what is in the picture so it can be grouped together with similar subjects. Use collections as a fast temporary way to group together images for short-term, specific uses like personal projects or submissions to publications. The Gray Fox will always be a Fox, so I want this information stored with the photo as a category. But, the Gray Fox photo may be used in a calendar project, sent along with a batch of other pictures to Gray Fox Quarterly for consideration as their centerfold photo, or included in a group that I am writing limericks about as a personal project. These projects are temporary, that the Fox photo was part of all or any these projects doesn’t really need to be stored in the file or shared with others, like the category should be.

Creating Categories

To start creating and assigning categories, go to either the “Manage” or “View” mode in the upper right corner. The primary difference in working with categories between the modes is that “View” is geared towards single images, while “Manage” allows you to more easily organize multiple images.

I prefer the “Manage” mode as you can move, categorize, and keyword batches of photos all at once, resulting in a speedier workflow. Think of any time saved organizing your photos as time made for you to go create more!

In the “Manage” mode, categories appear in two places by default, on the “Catalog” panel to the left of the image thumbnails and to the right of the thumbnails on the “Properties” panel’s “Organize” tab (see the red arrows above). If either of these panels is not visible, go to the top menu, select the “Windows” menu, and click the name of the missing one, “Catalog” and “Properties”, respectively.

Like other features in ACDSee, there are many ways to reach the “New Categories” dialog, and begin creating them.

Using any of these four methods, a “New Catalog” window will open. You can choose to create a new top-level category, or click the drop down to nest your new category as a subcategory under any of your existing ones.

After you have created a category if you want to move into or out of another category, just click and drag it onto the name of the category you want it nested under. You can also make it a top-level category by dragging onto the word “Categories” at the top of the Catalog Panel.

Assigning Categories

As with creating categories, there are many ways to assign them. You can do so either through the Edit Menu or by right clicking a thumbnail as described above, and then selecting the category name you want to assign to the image. However, there is a much easier way to deal with batches of images. Click all the images you want to add to a specific category or subcategory; you can select multiple images at once by holding down the ctrl key as you click. Then click and drag the images onto the category name where you want to move them in the catalog panel.

To remove an image from a category, do exactly the same thing as you would to add it. Dragging the image onto a name or selecting a category a second time will remove the photo from the category if it is already assigned there. You can also go to the Properties panel, and uncheck the box next to any categories you want to remove.

Viewing Categories

To view the images contained in a category, click the category name in the Catalog Panel. You can view multiple categories together by using the Control key and clicking the name of the ones you wish to include.

A really handy feature when viewing your categories is the Filelist toolbar at the top of the thumbnails.  Not only does it provide navigation shortcuts to move through your image library, it also helps you narrow down your images even further by a variety of criteria.  The two I use most often are “Filter” and “Group”.  The filter feature enables you to filter by any color labels, ratings, or flags you have applied.  Group allows you to narrow down by shared properties of the photos, like date taken or camera model.  

Auto Categories

In addition to your own custom categories, ACDSee also creates auto categories, for fast access to common groupings of photos with similar characteristics. Most of these are based on the camera settings and equipment used, like f-stop or focal length. They are also broken down into groups, so for example under the “Aperture” auto category, there are subcategories for f-stops, listed for each full stop from f1 up to f64.

You can filter these just like any other category, using the Filterlist toolbar.  For example, in the view above I selected the auto category “Lens Model”, choose my Tamron 150-600mm, and then filtered down to only photos with the color label “Green”.

Auto categories can be very useful for quickly pulling up photos shot at particular settings, with specific lenses, or at specific times of the year. If you find you are using some of the Auto Categories often, you can right-click on the category name, and add it to your commonly used section.

Do What Works For You!

When it comes to organizing images, there are a variety of options and features available in ACDSee Ultimate 10.  The key point to remember is that ACDSee can be used in many ways, and no single one is the only “right” way.  The features and their use are flexible, use them to fit your portfolio and workflow.  Categories are just one way to get organized, but a very powerful and efficient way, and one of my favorite features!