Tags: Allium ‘Mount Everest’; Stipa tenuissima; flowers; bulb; grass; white; late spring; Hayefield; side garden; house; porch; steps; path; arch; arbor; mulch; 2011
It’s hard to imagine what garden blogging would be like if we didn’t have access to digital cameras for capturing images. I suppose there must be a few gardening-focused blogs that don’t have photos, but for most of us, including pictures in our posts is a fun way to record and share the highlights of our garden through the season, and to show off our favorite plants, places, and things. Taking pictures with a digital camera is so simple that it’s easy to end up with a ridiculous amount of images over the course of a single year. Unless you find some useful way of organizing them, though, all those image files aren’t much more useful than the dusty boxes filled with old prints and slides from our pre-digital days.
To be honest, I’m the last person who should be preaching about being organized, because putting away papers, clothes, and dishes in their proper spots isn’t a high priority in my world. Spending time labeling photos is a different matter, though, because once it’s done, it’s done: barring some computer disaster, they won’t gradually become disorganized again, as physical items are wont to do. Plus, the “work” you put into organizing your photos saves loads of time in the long run, when you’re spared having to click through hundreds or thousands of images to find just what you need when you’re putting together a blog post.
Digital images get linked to a good bit of information as soon as you press the button on your camera, and this “metadata” moves along with each image as you transfer it from your camera to your computer, then move the files around on your hard drive or to other computers. Metadata contains details such as the date you took the image, the camera you used, the shutter speed, and lots of other technical stuff: possibly the location, too, if your camera has a built-in GPS capability.
Professional photographers often use metadata to attach security information, such as copyright and contact details and usage rights to their images, as well. If you want to learn a bit more about metadata, here are a couple of pages to check out: Digital Photography Meta Data Overview and The Top 12 Myths about Embedded Photo Metadata.
Fortunately, for blogging purposes, we don’t really need to know the gory details of how metadata works and how to access it. What is useful is adding descriptive information, in the form of tags (also called keywords or labels), and we’re able to do that with many basic photo viewing and editing programs. For my own photos, I’ve used Photoshop Elements, but I found it kind of awkward, so I mostly use the basic Windows 7 Pictures Library window, or sometimes Windows Live Photo Gallery. If you poke around in whatever program you use to open your own picture files, you’ll probably find some option for adding descriptive tags to them.
Windows 7 Picture Library Screen
Now, here’s the interesting part: coming up with the tags you want to use. Some of them come to mind readily at first glance, especially if it’s a fairly simple image, like this one.
Tags: Eryngium yuccifolium; Amsonia hubrichtii; flowers; perennial; white; midsummer; combination; Hayefield
In this case, I first added the names of the plants. My mental filing system uses botanical names for ornamentals, common names for edibles, and both names for herbs; your brain may vary. The important thing is to use whatever name you’re likely to think of when you’re searching for that image later. It’s ideal to use exactly the same name every time, but I sometimes get careless and use different versions. At various times, for instance, I’ve used Amaranthus gangeticus ‘Elephant’s Head’, Amaranthus ‘Elephant’s Head’, and Amaranthus ‘Elephant Head’ to tag the same plant. Knowing that, I simply search for “elephant,” and images with all three of those tags come up.
Every so often, I go through my list of tags to fix multiples like this, as well as to fix spellings and other errors. That has become a bit trickier in Windows 7, but I’ve found that you can access your entire list of tags by going to Start>All Programs>Windows Media Player, then navigate to Library>Pictures>Tags. Click on the tag you want to change, open the images, change the tag, and then click Save.
If you keep up with changes in botanical nomenclature, you’ll also need to think about that when tagging your images. If you use Cimicifuga sometimes and Actaea at other times, a search for one of those names will miss out on all those tagged with the other name. Sometimes I tag my images with both the old and new names, but usually, I tag them with the name I learned first, because that’s what comes to my first when I want to do a search. Again, the right way is whatever way is likely to work best for you.
Plant names are just one bit of descriptive information you can add. Location is another useful sort of label. If you travel, you might use tags for the country, state, and or city, as well as the name of the garden or nursery. I rarely shoot anywhere but here at Hayefield, but I still use location tags: in this case, to indicate where in the garden I took each picture.
Location Tags: Hayefield; front garden; foundation planting; main path
Here’s where it’s helpful to have names for different parts of your yard. I use general locations, such as “front garden,” “side garden,” courtyard,” and so on, as well as more detailed indicators (foundation planting, side gate, or front steps, for example) and specific place names (Long Border, Easter Border, Knock Out Border, for example). The names you use for the various beds and parts of your yard don’t need to have meaning to anyone else: they just need to make sense to you, so you’ll remember what words to type in when you do an image search.
Location Tags: Hayefield; TDF Border
Here again, it pays to be consistent, though that’s not always realistic. Over time, you’ll probably end up changing the names of some areas, as you change the plants or the layout of your beds. So, as with plant names, it’s a good idea to review your list of tags every year or two and add new place names to old ones. I used to call one area out back The Orchard, for instance, but when I redeveloped it last year, I changed the name the The Cottage Garden. By using both tags on any image I take out there, a search on either name brings up images over a span of years, which is helpful if I want to see how the area changed over time.
Tags: Asian pear; pear; tree; fruit; midsummer; hay; mulch; wagon; weeds; fence; Hayefield; The Orchard; The Cottage Garden; 2010
Getting creative with tags opens up a whole world of possibilities for later searches, and it can also give you lots of ideas for future blog posts. Here’s the cheat sheet I use when trying to come up with tags:
- Plant name (botanical and/or common)
- Location (geographic location and/or location within the garden)
- Plant Features (leaves, flowers, seedpods, stems, etc., as well as usual leaf or flower forms)
- Plant Type (annual, perennial, vine, bulb, grass, succulent, native, herb, etc.)
- Season (spring, summer, fall, or winter, or more-detailed categories such as early spring, midspring, late spring)
- Colors (basic color names – blue, red, yellow, and the like – plus categories such as pastels, hot colors, contrasts, harmonies, etc.)
- Garden Use (specimen, border, island bed, container, hedge, raised bed, groundcover, slope, etc.)
- Garden Style (cottage garden, formal, double border, drought-resistant, meadow, naturalistic, etc.)
- Hardscaping (house, path, fence, shed, etc.)
- Special Environmental Conditions (wind, backlighting, morning light, etc.)
- View (macro/closeup, portrait [single plant], combination [several plants], etc.)
- Non-Plant Materials (water, metal, stone, wood, glass, mulch, etc.)
- Techniques (before/after cleanup, mulching, pruning, deadheading, etc.)
- Miscellaneous Tags (event name, people, pets, wildlife, insects, etc.)
When you start looking at images this way, you’ll find that even a seemingly simple image can tell much more than you first thought.
Tags: Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Erica’; Silene dioica; Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’; midspring; perennial; bulb; flowers; foliage; combination; pink; purple; plum; Hayefield; side garden; 2011
Your chosen photo program may also allow you to add ratings (1-star to 5-star) to your images. I usually don’t bother with that, but if I find an image I especially like, I will add a five-star rating. (Think of how easy being able to sort like this would make those “my favorite pictures of the month/season/year” posts.)
As you’re working through your photos, it’s a good opportunity to delete those that are crooked, blurry, too dark or bright, or otherwise unusable – unless, of course, you think you might want to use them as examples of your mistakes at some point. Don’t be too quick to delete pictures that you don’t immediately find appealing, though, because you just might find a use for them later.
Tags: Canna ‘Intrigue’; Weigela florida ‘Bramwell’ (Fine Wine); Pennisetum ‘Tift 8’ (Vertigo); bulb; tender perennial; shrub; foliage; combination; plum; purple; midfall; Hayefield; front garden; 2011
On a simple image, it may take me 30 seconds to a minute to think of the tags I want, add them, and save them. (That’s assuming I know the plants, of course; if I decide to track down or confirm a plant ID, it can take quite a bit longer). On a wider garden shot, with lots of plants to identify, it may take me several minutes per image to think through everything.
Having just labeled over 4600 images from 2011, I will warn you that extended periods of tagging can leave you temporarily cross-eyed and brain-dead. Spending an hour or an evening every so often is a pleasant winter project, though. It’s a wonderful opportunity to review the progress of your garden over the past year and track the performance of specific plants through the seasons, and to relearn the names of your plants, too. While you’re working, jot down ideas for blog posts as they come to you. Here are some ideas:
- Changes in one part of your garden through the seasons, or from year to year
- How a particular plant grows from seed to fruit, or how it looks from spring sprouting through winter dormancy
- The progress of a garden project, such as the construction of an arbor or the renovation of a bed or border
- A gallery of flowers, foliage, fruits, and garden features in particular colors
- Your favorite combinations or container plantings
- Your favorite paths, gates, walls, fences, arbors, ornaments, or other hardscaping features
- The highlights of each month, season, or year
If the prospect of tagging your entire photo collection at once is too daunting, set a goal of tackling just the past year’s images, or resolve to give it a try each time you transfer images from your camera to your computer through this coming year. The first time you can find an image you want in seconds, instead of spending ages clicking through your entire collection, you’ll know it was worth your while.