Tagging JPG photos using EXIF properties

I recently decided to install Picasa on my laptop, which runs Ubuntu 9.10.  I was both impressed and disappointed.  Impressed with the slick user interface, smooth scrolling, silky timeline, spotless import and beautiful fades and zooms.  But when I came to tag my pictures using it, I was soon frustrated.

First off, although Picasa provdes an easy way to view tags with a quick CTRL-T, you have to manually type a tag to add it to the picture.  Handy enough if you only have a couple of hundred pictures, but I have over 5000 dating back as far as 2001.  Tagging these manually would be an exercise in frustration.  And typing mistakes would massively lower my chances of consistency: perhaps a friend would be “Firstname” in one picture, then “Nickname” in another, or “Firstname Secondname” in a third.  If I then search for only second name or nick name, I’m missing out.

Enter jBrout.  It’s French in origin, but fully translated, as is its website.  It’s name derives from the “J” in JPG, and the French verb “brouteur” which means “browser”.  So, a photo browser then.  But with awesome (really, awesome) tagging features.

Surprisingly, the tagging features aren’t immediately obvious.  When first run, jBrout simply wants a folder of images, which it will then scan for Exif information and display thumbnails for.

Unlike many such viewers/organisers, jBrout doens’t care about making a copy of your images in its own structure.  During import, it will offer to do so by renaming all your pictures to date/time format using Exif, but not only can you can easily skip this step, but even if you go ahead, all it does is rename the existing files.  Yes, this is potentially destructive if you have named your photos painstaking over the years.  But most people will just have a huge collection of IMGxxxx or DFCxxxx files and the renaming in these cases is a nice feature.

Now start tagging.  First create categories, into which you place tags.  I created “Events”, “Friends”, “Family” and “Places” categories, and later added “Things” and “Description” tags.

As you can see, you can also put categories inside categories.  But in fact, it’s only tags themselves that are applied to the picture, so the folder-like structure is purely for your own ease of use.

Once you’ve created all your tags, simply click to drag that tag onto the picture.  Simple as that!  You can pre-select multiple photos before dragging the tag over to do multiple photos simultaneously.  Or, you can ctrl-click multiple tags first, then drag the whole lot onto one picture.

When you drop a tag onto the image, it’s immediately updated on your harddisk – the tag is written into the Exif info for that JPG file.  That means that this is a one-time deal.  You’ll never have to go through the pain of re-tagging your images just because you bought a new PC, or moved to another organiser!

As long as you keep a good backup of your photos, you only have to re-import them into the organiser of your choice and all your tags will still be there.  So once you’ve tagged with jBrout, feel free to use Picasa, F-Spot, GThumb or even keep using jBrout itself!  Like magic.  jBrout can add comments to a photo too – just right and choose “Add Comment” – similarly these are saved to the photo’s Exif comment field.  Such additions are obvious from file browsers such as nautilus :

Why use jBrout after tagging everything?  Well, no, it can’t compare feature for feature to the likes of Picasa, or even F-spot.  There’s no image manipulation for example and while slick and intuitive, there are no fancy fades or smooth scrolling of images here.  But there’s still one killer feature still to come and its jBrout’s very powerful search.  It’s the only organiser I know of that can very specifically search for multiple tags in any given photo.  So, it’s incredibly easy to find all the photos of say, yourself and another person.  Or a family photo with all members in one shot.  Or in this case, all holiday shots from Menorca that are tagged as a “view” :

Try searching for that in Picasa and slightly annoyingly you’ll also get any photo in any folder with those words in it, which dilutes the results.

jBrout, as you can see from the above shot can also filter the results by portrait/landscape (assuming your EXIF orientation tag was correctly created by your camera), by timeline, or by comment search.  Very powerful.

Give it a try.