While the low cost of digital photography means that we take more shots than ever before, this financial benefit has a different cost. Finding a photo that you’re looking for can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Certainly you could give our photos more meaningful names than the ones your camera assigns them but this isn't the best solution.

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Only by using very long names could you expect to include all the words you might want to search for. Using a sensible arrangement of named folders and sub-folders is also a good ideas but it too has its drawbacks. A photo can only be in one folder but it could represent several themes that you might want to search for.

Windows’ tagging feature solves this problem by allowing you to assign any number of tags to each photo. Here's how to tag your photo library in Windows 7. If you have Windows 8, and you can't see the details pane when you select a photo, press Alt-Shift-P, or click on the View tab, then Details pane.

How to tag photos in Windows

1. Open a folder containing photos in Windows Explorer. Click on one photo and take a look in the details pane at the bottom. Among the information provided you’ll see the ‘Tag’ that we’ll be using, plus ‘Rating’ and ‘Authors’ all of which will initially be blank.

Tag Photos in Windows 1

2. We’ll start by tagging all the photos with ‘Winter’ and ‘Snow’. To do this, select all the photos, click on ‘Show more details...’ in the Details pane if necessary, click on ‘Add a tag’ next to ‘Tags’, enter ‘Winter; Snow’ (note the semicolon), and click on Save.

Tag Photos in Windows 2

3. Next we’ll add the tag of ‘Sheep’ to those containing sheep by selecting the relevant photos, clicking on the current tags (i.e. Winter; Snow), entering ‘Sheep’ in place of ‘Add a tag’, and clicking on Save. Continue in this way until you’ve fully tagged all your photos.

Tag Photos in Windows 3

4. If you share your PC or external hard drive with other family members you might also want to add author information, so you can find photos that you took. Again in the details pane, click on ‘Add an author’ next to ‘Authors’, enter your name, and click on Save.

Tag Photos in Windows 4

5. Another useful option is to assign star ratings to your photos. In the details pane, click on the stars next to ‘Rating’ to apply 1 to 5 stars (or to revert to no stars click to the left of the first star), before clicking on Save.

Tag Photos in Windows 5

6. Having tagged your photos you can search for tags in Windows Explorer. Enter a tag (e.g. ‘Snow’ into the Search box in the top-right corner to display all files with that tag. You can also use AND/OR, e.g. ‘Winter AND Sheep’.

Tag Photos in Windows 6

7. View your folder in Details view to see tags, authors and ratings against each file. If some attributes aren’t shown, right-click in the header (containing ‘Name’, ‘Date’etc.) and select ‘Tags’, ‘Rating’ etc. You can now sort by any of these tags (as you also can in Icons view).

Tag Photos in Windows 7

8. You can also filter files by these attributes in Details view. Pull down the menu to the right of ‘Tags’ and select which tag or tags you want to view. You can also choose to only view photos with certain ratings.

Tag Photos in Windows 8

Next page: How to rate photos

How to rate photos

Rating photos is a useful feature but there’s a more productive way to use it than going through all your shots and dreaming up a rating between 0 and 5 stars. Here we suggest one possible approach that you might find useful.

First, assign 1 star to all the photos that don’t have some obvious fault such as being under-exposed or out of focus. You might choose to delete these later but if you’re reluctant to delete any photos, this way you can choose whether or not to view them.

Next, select only your 1 star photos and, from these, assign 2 stars to the best version where you took multiple shots of the same scene, or to those scenes for which you only took the one shot. This will avoid boring your friends with the duplicates.

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Now, select only your 2 star photos and, from these, assign 3 stars to those that you think deserve that rating. Continue in the same way, selecting from the 3 star photos those that warrant 4 stars and, finally, those top-notch photos that deserve the ultimate accolade of 5 stars.

Having used this approach to rate your photos you can then filter them according to their star rating depending on your audience. You’ll probably never show anyone else your 0 or 1 star photos, you could choose to entertain friends who have a lot of time with your 2 star shots, but you’d choose only 4 or 5 star photos for audiences with less time on their hands or when you really want to impress.

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