Managing Digital Images: Applying Ratings and Keywords
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Setting up your ratings system

It's important for you to decide what you mean when you give an image a particular rating. That rating will be a general quality guide and a file-handling guide. In this section, we'll look at the ratings I use, and the criteria that go into making the rating evaluations. Figure 2-11 shows examples of how I use my various ratings.


Figure 2-11. Examples of my ratings system in action. Clockwise from the top left: TrashMe (this is a "Polaroid"), Outtakes, Unrated (I need to examine in Camera Raw to rate this one), neutral, one star, two stars, three stars, and four stars.

In database geek-speak, the value is the name or meaning of the variable you assign—in this case, the label. Ratings can be neutral, positive, or negative. Neutral images receive neither a positive star nor a negative label. At this point, for positive ratings I use four of Bridge's five possible star ratings, right out of the box as Adobe intended. As I mentioned earlier, this is a very efficient way to use the rating pyramid, because when you're searching it lets you start at the top and work your way down quickly.

I use the colored labels in Bridge to enable me to rate negatively and to indicate images that have not yet been rated. In my system, for instance, I assign the red label the value "Unrated." I discuss what I use the various labels for below, and I'll show you how to set these values in Chapter 5. (In Chapter 6, we'll go over the rating workflow, and I'll show you how you can transfer your ratings for use in other applications.)

My decision criteria for assigning the positive star ratings are presented in the following list. Note that I use slightly different criteria for personal images and for commercial images, but that the general quality assessments and the workflow ramifications integrate well together.

These are the designations that I use:


Neutral images are ones that are neither good enough to rise above the crowd and get a star, nor flawed enough to deserve a negative rating. This is the most common rating for my personal images, encompassing more than 50% of my personal work. Some of these images are "diary" images, ones that I keep to help me remember what things looked like, who was there, or what happened. These will probably never be printed, or shown to many people in any form, but I want to keep them nonetheless.

Neutral work-related images are more defined by what they are not: they are not bad enough that I want to throw them away once the job delivers, and they are not good enough to send to the client in proofs or web galleries. For an editorial job, I may keep many of these neutral images in case the editor wants to "go deeper" into the take for some content reason. For a tightly structured portrait job, I don't generally give many images a neutral rating—the images tend to be either good enough to present to the client, or flawed enough to be tossed once the job has been paid for.

One star

I use the one-star designation for images that are good enough for inclusion in a web gallery to be presented to the client. For personal images, one star means that I might want to use them in a web gallery, slideshow, or print. Through the life of the archive, these images will get much more attention than the neutral ones—even the broadest searches will generally be confined to one-star or better images.

Assigning one star to an image is a very rough cut. If I am in doubt as to whether the image deserves it, I assign the star. I think of it as a kind of large group that I put photographs into to evaluate later. Because neutral and worse images are searched only rarely, if you aren't sure about an image, it's probably best to err on the side of inclusion and give the photo a star.

Two stars

For business images, I assign two stars to photographs that I think are the best of the shoot. An executive portrait shoot might generate 40 images to present to the client (each of which receives one star) and 4 that I think are really the best (which receive two stars). For most business applications, this is all that I feel I need out of a rating system: good enough to present, and recommended by the photographer. As I go through images in Bridge, I try to keep a 10:1 differentiation in rating in mind (i.e., 1 two-star image for every 10 one-star images). I find that this is a very useful way to narrow down the shoot. Of course, if the shoot is large enough, this rubric may not narrow down the shoot enough. In those cases, I may use three stars.

For personal work, the calculation is similar: images get an additional star if they are the best of the take, and this designation should be used sparingly. Images that get a second star effectively become the "best of" the collection or group. The difference between one and two stars doesn't really mean anything unless you use the additional star sparingly, so be frugal.

Three stars

I use the three-star designation even more sparingly. An image gets a permanent third star in one of two ways: either I like it enough that I think it's a strong stock image or portfolio candidate, or the client has chosen it as an image to be prepared as a master file. In the latter case, I might not even like the image that much, but because of the work done to it and its value to the client, I think it makes sense to tag it as particularly valuable.

Note that images that have been selected by the client for batch conversion do not get this designation. By definition, there are more of these images, and I put less work into them.

Four stars

The four-star designation is reserved for images that are worthy of the "best of collection" designation.

Five stars

I am currently resisting the urge to use the fifth star. One day, it will be useful to further divide images within the four-star bestof- collection group.

As you can see, I don't give out high ratings very freely. When you're working with a large number of images, it's best to set the bar high and really think about the quality designations that you make—if you find yourself putting half your images into the three-star or higher categories, it's definitely time to regroup. Remember, the pyramid is most useful when it retains its proper form.

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