How to File Your Plant Photos

In Archives, Articles, Sports & Hobbies, Uncategorized by Johan Baard (Scientist - Forest Ecology)Leave a Comment

This article has been published with kind permission from Johan Baard, and first appeared in the Veld & Flora Magazine June 2011

Most plant lovers and botanists enjoy taking photos of plants in the wild. Some photograph plants because they have a casual interest in the  plants, the environment or photography. Others need to record their observations and preserve their records for future use. I suspect that most photographers do not organize their photos optimally. This leads to lengthy searches for photos and often even not finding the particular photo they are looking for.

I will describe the system that I am currently using to organize my plant photos (app-roximately 5000 photos) which is working well for me, and which could potentially benefit others. There will surely be different ways as well. The system has to meet certain criteria which will be discussed as I go along. As far as possible all software has to be Freeware to make it as accessible as possible. The system also has to be fairly simple and easy to apply. Naming your plants does however take time and has to be done diligently as part of the photography process. It is best to name photos on the same day, or soon after they are taken.

On average, one hundred photos (10-20 species) typically takes about an hour to sort out and re-name. I find this to be a rewarding process as it affords you additional time to interact with your photos and plants, and in the process you get to know the plants better.

If you want to manage your photos well, a few elements have to be recorded, i.e. plant name, locality (place name and co-ordinates) and keywords. All these will be addressed below. To enable accurate recording of locality, you will need a GPS. The workflow of renaming and attaching data to your photos may differ and I’ll describe what works best for me. The software can be downloaded from the Internet for free or as Trial Versions, except for Xplorer2.

Downloading photos

You’ve been out all day, or all month, and have been taking pictures. The first step is to download your pictures to a predefined folder. It is a good idea to use the same folder every time as Windows will remember the folder and save you some time. Other programs you will use later will also point to that folder automatically. With naming of photos it is important to stick to a convention. By using a convention, file names will look the same and can easily be manipulated later.

Re-naming photos

The first thing to do after downloading your pictures is to browse through them quickly and discard those that are of no  use. By deleting some pictures you can speed up some of the processes that follow. Re-naming your photos in batches will save a considerable amount of time as many photos can be renamed simultaneously, and it also prevents you from using different naming conventions for the same plant.

I find that displaying your files (photos) in Explorer as Thumbnails eases the renaming as you can see what you are renaming.  Often all plants of one species are photographed at the same time but just as often the same species was photographed later as well. I use the following convention for naming plant photos and will use Ficus sur as an example:
Ficus sur_1279_GV_jbaard_1012_01.jpg

Genus and species: Ficus sur (The genus name followed by the species name and subspecies or variation).
Collection number: 1279 (The collection number that may already have been assigned in the field. If the plant name is not known and you are awaiting identification, the photo is named with the collection number for easy identification later. )
Locality: GV (Locality will be a place name. I use abbreviations of state forests or geographic units to keep names as short as possible.)
Photographer: jbaard (The photographer’s name or initials. Photos are the intellectual property of the photographer and by adding your name users will know who to credit and to whom to refer queries.)
Year and month: 1012 (This is 2010, December) adding your date as yymm (1012) immediately let, you know when the photo was taken, but also serves as a unique number.)
Automatic counter: 01 (The automatic counter adds a sequential number to your photo. This provides uniqueness to any file name.)
Extension: jpg (The file extension denoting file type will be added automatically at the end of the file name.)
Underscore: _ (Use underscore between different parts of the filename.)


Batch re-naming can be done in Explorer by selecting all the files you want to re-name similarly. The only commercial software I use in the processes described is Xplorer2 . It has an easy to use ‘Mass Rename’ function that stores your last 30 names, which can easily be used as a template for subsequent re-naming of photos. Picasa’s re-naming also works well for batch re-naming. The re-naming of photos is an important process but remains tedious!

GeoTagging photos

‘GeoTagging’ is a process where co-ordinates are placed in the EXIF (Exchangeable Image File format) data of your photo. Don’t be daunted by the term EXIF as all modern digital cameras record EXIF data automatically. I use GeoSetter, a Freeware program, which combines the co-ordinates with the photo.

For GeoSetter to work you need to set your camera’s time and date to be the same as your GPS’s date and time. You do not record any waypoints manually for this process. The only prerequisite is that your GPS must be on and be set to track your movements while you are taking your photos. I find that if the track setting is set to either record every 10 m, or every 30 seconds, it works very well.

Download your GPS data to your PC via EasyGPS or DNR Garmin and select the option to save as .gpx. I download to a folder called GPS_Downloads on my Desktop. To add co-ordinates to your photos, select your photos in GeoSetter, and with your settings set correctly, click on Synchronize. You will get a message that will display how many of the images have GeoData (co-ordinates). After you have saved, your images will have co-ordinates embedded in the photo.

You can also GeoTag in Google Earth. In Picasa you select your photo or photos and use Tools/GeoTag/GeoTag with Google Earth. Google Earth opens and you navigate to where your photo should lie. This cannot be extremely accurate but should get you to within meters of the true locality.

When I started to GeoTag my plant photos, I used to take an extra photo from my cell phone that has a GPS that records the co-ordinates with the photo. Similarly, new GPSs have their own camera that also records co-ordinates with the photo taken. Both these methods work well, but the process through GeoSetter is much more efficient. Also, your camera takes better pictures than your cell phone or GPS. To get your co-ordinates from your cell phone photo or GPS photo to your photos taken with your camera, you use the free program, Exifer. Cameras with integrated GPSs are also available. They are still quite expensive but will probably be standard in a few years time.

Viewing photos geographically

I use Picasa and IrfanView (both Freeware) to view my photos. Picasa is fast and refreshing of Thumbnails doesn’t take long. It has a search bar to find species easily, and side panels to either view a map (same as Google Earth) or your ‘tags’ (keywords). I have not found the perfect viewer yet, but the above two work best for me.

The biggest advantage of GeoTagging is to enable viewing the geographic location of where you found and photographed a plant. The value of this goes without saying. Google Earth is an easy and very popular way to view GeoTagged photos. The way to do this easily is to use Picasa as your viewer. In Picasa you select your photos and then click Tools/GeoTag/GeoTag with Google Earth. I find ‘Tools/GeoTag/View’ from Picasa to be temperamental. The location of GeoTagged photos can be viewed directly in Picasa (the Internet has to be on) but the view pane is small making it difficult to pinpoint the exact locality in the landscape.

Adding value to co-ordinates

Co-ordinates added to photos open up new possibilities. In GeoSetter you can filter your photos to ‘Search Nearby Images’. You can go for a ‘stroll’, or when planning field work, see which photos were taken previously within a specified radius (e.g. which other plants occurred within 2 km of your plant in the photo). With WildBit Viewer (a free viewer) you can generate a list of plant names with co-ordinates (use Generate Image to CSV). This will allow you to see your co-ordinates as a table that can be opened with Excel.

With the co-ordinates visible you can create a Shapefile (.shp) in a Geographical Information System (GIS). This data can either be printed out on a map, or be loaded onto your GPS with the free program DNR Garmin or EasyGPS. This allows you to navigate back to where your photo was taken. This has many possibilities for enhancing monitoring, helping generate a species list or just to find and see a plant again.

Tags or Keywords

These terms are interchangeable and used by different programs (Picasa uses ‘Tags’ and Lightroom ‘Keywords’). Keywords are invaluable. Keywords allow you to search and select subsets of photos. If you search ‘Iridaceae’ and ‘red’ your screen will display only species answering to those keywords.

To tag your photos takes time and some planning. The keywords you want to use have to be thought through properly in order to be kept to a minimum. I don’t use locality as keywords as these occur in the file names already. All my plant photos get tagged with at least family, flower colour, growth form and biome. Other tags often used are Red Data categories, exotic and spinescent.

Keywords allow you to select a set of photos quickly. Subsets of photos selected in Picasa (or Lightroom) on the basis of keywords can be emailed, printed or exported. This allows you to, for example, print a poster with Red Data plants very quickly, or export all succulents, or identify a member of the Ericaceae that is green.

Not only plant photographers may benefit from the application of these procedures. Do the following questions sound familiar? Where have I seen this bird? Where have I seen these alien trees which I wanted to report? In which rest camp have I seen this hut? Where have I arrested this poacher? Where was this huge pot hole? Where is the sign board that needs replacement? Where have I seen this huge baobab? Tagging would help locate the place where they are filed.

Individuals and organizations spend large amounts of money on cameras and invest a lot of time in taking photographs. Using the above procedures and software will add valuable additional data to your pictures. If taking photos is part of your work, you should take the responsibility to add metadata to your photos.

** Although this article discusses plant photos, these same methods can be used for any type of photography as a way to stay organised and ensure the location of your photos are noted.

In additional to what is loaded onto your PC by Windows, I recommend the following. Click on a link below to visit the website and download the file.
DNR Garmin
WildBit Viewer

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