The market value of a photograph is dependent on your ability to get that image into the hands of someone who wants it. All of the work that you do to rate and group your images will add value to them, by making them easier to find and bring to market. And don't forget, sometimes the "client" is you. By applying a sound rating system to your collection, you can get the maximum commercial, artistic, and personal value out of your images.

Ratings, keywords, and groupings are different categories of evaluation that can be cross-referenced with each other to narrow down your searches to a small number of likely results. For example, if you are looking for "good pictures of Josie" for some purpose, your work assigning ratings, keywords, and groupings can be very helpful.

If you use a comprehensive rating system, the concept of "good" can be defined by the rating (e.g., "search all three-star or better images"). The term "Josie," if it appears in the keywords, enables you to search through only those images that have something to do with Josie. If you have saved previous groupings of "good pictures of Josie"—images used in a birthday slideshow, for instance—you can narrow your search even further. Let's examine these tools a little more closely.

Tagging Images for Quality: The Ratings Pyramid

Figure 2-6 shows one visual representation of a collection of images. As you can see, if the images were not organized in any way it would be very difficult to find the particular one that you were searching for—a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.

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Figure 2-6. Finding a specific image in an unorganized collection is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

As you can see in Figure 2-7, that haystack becomes a lot easier to search if it is divided into sections. By making broad classifications of subject matter (the vertical lines) and adding ratings (the horizontal divisions), you can more easily find what you are looking for. You can, for instance, search just your best images (at the top of the pyramid) for a particular photo. If you find something that's close to but not exactly what you want, you can follow that thread downward to see if there is a more appropriate image included in that subject-matter group.

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Figure 2-7. Dividing up the haystack allows you to more easily pinpoint the image you're looking for.

The most basic component of higher metadata is the rating. Rating is the evaluation of images based on relative quality. This is what you do when you look through a group of images and indicate that some are better than others.

As you rate your images, you are assigning a higher value to better pictures, and you are making it easier to find the high-value images within the groups at a later date. Rating an image as superior will make it much easier to pick it out from amongst its more ordinary brethren during a search.

In general, when you are searching for images, you will first want to look through pictures with the highest rating. If you are unable to find a suitable image among those, you can move down the pyramid, broadening your search to include images with the next-highest rating, and so on. By using ratings this way, you can instantly reduce the size of the haystack you are looking through in order to find your needle.

In addition, rating your images will help you ensure that you spend more production time on your highest-quality images and less time on images that are of lesser value. (We'll discuss this further in Chapter 6.) Ratings will also be valuable if you ever want to thin out your archive at a later date.

Having a systematic, organized rating process will streamline the tasks of searching for pictures and identifying images to throw away. For instance, you might want to throw out any images labeled as "outtakes" once the job has been delivered and paid for, or you might want to delete all neutral images from shoots with a large number of similar frames at some date in the future.

Figure 2-8 shows the most basic view of the ratings pyramid. As you can see, organizing an undifferentiated mass of photographs into a rated pyramid lets you easily separate out the best ones. This will be helpful throughout the entire lifecycle of the images—it helps you in determining how to adjust and store the images, how to thin them out later, and how to search them.

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Figure 2-8. By using a comprehensive ratings system, you divide your collection into subsets that are more easily searchable.

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