Elemental force

Long-term readers will know that for years I have been dissatisfied with the products available for managing digital photos. Major players such as Adobe and JASC/Corel concentrate almost entirely on editing and enhancing pictures, while others such as Microsoft, MGI/Roxio and Ulead do integrate some essential management features, but in a proprietary and underpowered way. Knowing that something better was bound to come along, I have never been prepared to commit the time and effort to seriously master my photo collection.

Elemental force

The good news is that it is here, in the shape of Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 (henceforth called Elements). It is not quite perfect, and you have to understand its weaknesses as well as its strengths, but it is the program that I, and many others, have been waiting for. Adobe has finally recognised the importance of photo management and made this as central as photo editing, by integrating the previously standalone Photoshop Album application as Elements’ new Organizer window. At the same time, Adobe has seriously revamped the way that the Organizer works to provide a more usable, thought-through and complete solution.

Total photographic workflow from camera to archive CD is the new goal, immediately apparent when you first connect your camera/card reader. The Adobe Photo Downloader dialog presents your images as visual thumbnails so you can select those that are worth copying to your hard disk; it creates a target directory that you specify (or automatically names it with the current date and time); and it lets you rename the files to something memorable like ‘ruby wedding 001.jpg’ rather than ‘DSCN4915.jpg’. Click on Get Photos and all selected images are transferred and automatically imported to your current catalogue, then you are invited to delete them from your camera/card.

Nevertheless, the Downloader is the one area where Elements disappoints, for a host of reasons. Having to wait for each picture to display before you can do anything else is a bore, especially with a large card and a slow connection. The level of control is disappointing too: you cannot edit the default directory name suggestion (which is so over-the-top that it includes the time to the nearest second) or the basic file-renaming scheme. Remember that the actual number of the photo recorded by the camera is usefully unique, whereas invented names like ‘photo 001.jpg’ can be duplicated and cause trouble if you try to copy them to the same directory. My biggest disappointment is that I really wanted to be able to copy related images to subdirectories based on when I took them, not into a single master directory based on when I emptied the camera (and using separate directories becomes even more important when you want to handle your images outside of Elements).

In any case, you would be wise to copy all your photos to the hard disk, since Elements can salvage many photos that look beyond redemption. Especially as the Downloader does not delete any pictures that you didn’t select, so they are left clogging up your camera, while reformatting the card is far faster than deleting individual pictures. Hopefully Adobe will improve the Downloader so that you can begin to manage your pictures as soon as they appear, marking them up for multiple directories (ideally semi-automatically based on time intervals). And it could offer more intelligent file renaming, with pattern matching that preserves the original camera number.

For my part, I suppose I ought to invest in a USB 2 card reader to speed things up, but until then, whenever Adobe Photo Downloader pops up my response is to shut it down – it is quicker and more flexible to copy everything to the hard disk with Explorer and then sort them out. That means I have to use the Get Photos | From Files and Folders command to add images to my catalogue, but that’s hardly a huge hardship. Alternatively, Elements 3 offers ‘watched folders’ to automatically add photos and subdirectories of photos.

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