Friday, April 2, 2010

Tabbles – A Godsend Software Application for Managing Large Image Catalogues

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Normally I use my blog to highlight my current projects, and to show off new photographs, but occasionally I enjoy sharing tips on photography tools and techniques.

One of the many challenges that professional photographers face is managing a large and constantly expanding inventory of images.  Rather than the more common approach of moving older archives offline, the approach that I have settled upon is to keep all of my archives live and local.  My Z: drive is a virtual drive that is several terabytes in size, which contains all files related to all projects from the past five years.  I accomplish this with an external 4-bay Drobo unit:

4-bay Drobo  4-bay Drobo, Faceplate removed

Among my active and archived files, there are currently more than 100,000 digital negatives, and more than 300,000 image files in total.  One big challenge, with so much to sort through, is how do you efficiently locate the images that you need?

There are many powerful image cataloguing applications out there – I use the functionality built into Adobe Lightroom – but I find even the best of these products to be cumbersome.  What I have sought is a cataloguing tool that is relatively lighter, faster, and more flexible. 

I recently stumbled into a promising solution.  Tabbles is a unique Windows application.  Tabbles is probably easier to use than it is to describe, and in fact it took a short trial run for me to properly understand and appreciate what it does.  Tabbles lets you create tags, and groups of tags, that suit your needs:

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In my case, the tags that I have created include ones for the various photography genre that I do (portrait, press, wedding, architecture, travel, and so on), for image quality rating, year created, client names, project names, and subject names.

Tabbles lets you apply these tags to your files.  The tagging can be performed in various ways.  Normally I use the function that it integrates into Windows Explorer. 

Tabbles’ real power though is that it lets you view your files in virtual folders reflecting the tag categories that you have created:

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Note that these are virtual folders.  A file can appear in multiple Tabbles folders while physically it remains in its original disk folder. 

Tabble labels can be applied automatically.  If, for instance, a certain folder is always used for projects completed for a certain client, then you can easily create a rule so that all new files put in that folder will always be tagged with that client’s name.

To find what you’re looking for, you use Tabbles’ Combine function to join together the Tabble groups that describe your target:

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Here is a real world example of the kind of problem that I regularly face which involves rooting through many thousands of images, and how I applied Tabbles to help me to deal with it.  Last month I prepared and sent off my entries for the 2010 national image competition of the Professional Photographers of Canada. Using the image tags that I had previously created for photo genre, quality rating, and year created, I was able to use Tabbles’ Combine function to quickly create virtual folders of candidate images pulled from among my recent projects.  As I combed through through these groups, whenever I spotted an image that I felt was worthy of consideration for this competition, I tagged it with a new label that I created, “PPOC 2010 Competition Candidate.”   Afterwards, to review the results of my search, I just looked in the virtual folder associated with that new tag.  This concise little group of image files were in fact physically scattered across a wide range of folders on my system.  Tabbles spared me the chore of having to locate and dig through scores of folders to find my candidates.  Instead, I simply thought about what kinds of images that I wanted to enter into the competition, described them to the Tabbles application in terms of the image tags that I had created, and those virtual folders were instantly created for me to look through.

Some might argue that I could have done all of that using the keywording and collection tools in Lightroom.  While that is true, I can tell you that, having used both tools to perform this sort of task, Tabbles does the chore considerably more nimbly.  Also, keep in mind that, unlike specialty image cataloguing tools, Tabbles works with all types of files!

So suppose that I want to review my documents related to recent wedding project.  Since I tag my documents with client name and project name, I can use Tabbles to create a virtual folder containing just that set of files – wherever they reside on my system, and be they Word, Excel, PDF, etc. 

Tabbles’ great power is in allowing you to tag your files, and then to quickly create virtual folders described by those tags on the fly, delivering to you just the sets of files that you need at any given moment.

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Lumacraft Photography occasionally offers seminars and hands-on workshops on a range of subjects of interest to amateur and professional photographers.  If your group is looking for instruction on a particular topic, we will happily custom tailor a course for you.  Please contact Lorraine or David for more details.

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