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How to Organise Your Photos for Free With Adobe Bridge (Quick Start Guide)

Adobe Bridge can be a very useful tool in your photographic workflow. Built primarily for organisation, it lets you view images, search, sort and much more. Bridge can be used as a standalone file-sorting program and a companion app for other Adobe suites like Photoshop and Lightroom or other image processors.

Although Bridge is part of the Adobe CC, it's free to download and use independently—you'll need an Adobe account. If you happen to have an older, licensed version of an Adobe program, like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, you'll also be able to open and edit RAW files in Adobe Camera Raw.

In this article, we’ll go into some of the main features and how you can use them effectively.

1. Viewing Image Files in Bridge

You can open any kind of file in Bridge, they don’t have to be photography related, or even associated with another Adobe software. For the purposes of this article, though, we’ll be looking at photographs specifically.

Bridge navigates the hierarchical file systems on Windows and macOS, where folders are displayed logically, with the one you require opening with a click. This means no lengthy importing into a catalogue as with Lightroom – it’s displaying the information right from your hard drive or other storage device.

2. Finder Layout

How you have your Bridge layout will depend entirely on your own personal preferences. The great news is that it’s very instinctive to make layout adjustments in Bridge, and you can choose the size of your thumbnails by simply dragging that content window to make it larger. You can also choose to have your thumbnails at the side, or at the bottom in a film strip.

It may be that you want absolutely everything on the screen at once, and that is possible, if a little cluttered and confusing at times. Personally, for photo sorting, I like to keep it simple and have the content Thumbnails visible, a large Preview area for viewing individual photos, and then some smaller tabbed menu options like Metadata and Keywords, that I can easily flip between but aren’t showing all the time.

example layout
Example layout

3. Organise, Move, Rename, and Delete Images

As well as being able to easily group and move your photographs into appropriate folders, Bridge has other useful options to help with organisation. Two of the most useful features are a right-click copy to or move to which will display a list of favourite and recently used folders, or allow you to choose one not listed.

copy to option

This is handy if you’re working on multiple series, or a series broken down into sub-categories. If this applies to you, you’ll likely also find the Batch Rename option of use too.

batch rename

You can see that it’s more than just choosing a file name, you can number images sequentially, as well as adding information like date and time. There’s a further option within Batch Rename to move or copy to another folder, so you can do everything in one place rather than renaming and then needing to shift images to another folder.

Deleting is how it sounds, if you right-click on an image and hit Delete you’ll get a pop-up warning asking if you want to send it to the recycling bin. Personally, I wouldn’t delete anything in this way (unless perhaps the image is a complete write-off), you’d be better off using the rating system to reject, which I’ll go into shortly.

4. Add Metadata and Information

Metadata is all of the information that might be attached to a photograph, how it was taken, who it belongs to, and so on.

Your camera attaches data to an image, which when you look at it—as you can in Bridge—will tell you things like when the photo was taken, the camera and lens it was taken with, the settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO etc), and so on.

You can also add your own metadata like people shown in the image, the location it was taken, who the photograph belongs to, and anything else that might be required.

Adding metadata is good practice, but it can also be integral, particularly if you’re handing off that image to someone for use elsewhere – you know that all the information is going to go with it and hopefully that can always trace back to you. Adobe have an informative article listing all the metadata information that might be contained in an image, and a description of what it means.

metadata

In the screenshot above, you’ll see some of the information I mentioned. Next to Date Time Original, you’ll notice a pencil icon. That means this information can be manually adjusted. You can add other information in this way, like the location and any associated video or audio files.

Keywords

Keywords are an important part of a photo’s metadata because they help with searches and can also sometimes provide more context to an image. In the Keywords tab (which I have next to the Metadata tab in my layout above) you’ll see some options already suggested – common things like Events, People, Places. To add a new keyword, you can right-click and select New Keyword, or you can click the plus at the bottom of the tab and add one that way.

add a new keyword

5. Review, Rate and Sort Photos

If you’ve a large quantity of images then the rating system in Bridge can be really useful. When an image is selected, under the thumbnail in Content, you’ll see five dots. Clicking on those will apply a star rating, 1 being the least and 5 the most.

star rating

You can go through your photographs rating them from 1-5 based on whatever your needs are. For example, it might be that you only want to select a handful of your best photographs for a publication. It could be more complicated and you’ve shot a wedding with hundreds of pictures to go through or are putting together an album or photobook.

When you’ve rated your photographs, you can then sort them by right-clicking and selecting Sort By Rating.

You can also achieve the same result by highlighting your image and choosing Label from the menu.

label 

Then, say you want to discount those with 1 star on your first pass (I recommend you do more than one pass of your photographs in case you change your mind on some), you can select them all easily by highlighting them and choosing the Reject label.

Rejecting isn’t as dramatic or final as deleting. What it essentially does is hide those images, and you can see them again at any time by going to View in the menu and selecting Show Reject Files.

There's an art to photo editing. It's hard to find space enough from your photos to see them with fresh eyes. If you're just getting started with photography, or even if you have some experience, I suggest Amy Touchette's tutorial on how to look at and select your own photos.

Open to Camera RAW

If you have a qualifying product (a current Adobe CC subscription) you can apply a preset to your photograph in Bridge, for example, presets you’ve loaded into Adobe Camera Raw become available to use.

If you don’t have a qualifying product, but do have a an older, licensed version of the software, you can instead right-click on the image and hitting Open will open the file in Adobe Camera RAW, where you can start processing your photo there before outputting to Photoshop, Affinity Photo, Pixelmator, or your pixel-editing program of choice.

camera raw

 Adobe Bridge is a Great... Bridge

Sometimes people can dismiss Bridge because it seems like it won't be worth the effort or they don't really have use for it. If you build it into your photographic routine and use it as intended—as a bridge between shooting and processing—then it can be a very useful tool that will soon feel like second nature to use.

Even when you have a project that doesn't require the sorting or rating, Bridge is great for seeing your images full size, and comparing them easily if say, you've taken two of the same image at different exposures (you can even batch stack them in Bridge) without having to open them individually in other software. 

Those who already use software with an integrated cataloguing system (like Lightroom) might prefer to stick with that, and it's true that Bridge won't be for everyone. But if you're looking to get started with a simple and affordable way to organise, sort, and view your files, Adobe Bridge is well worth giving a try.

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