To determine how to apply ratings, we need to examine some of the concepts behind them. Let's take a look at the DAM rules from the last chapter and how they relate to ratings:
Fortunately, our friends at Adobe have given us some very good tools to rate images in a systematic way: the star ratings. The Bridge star ratings are easy to understand and use, and they are likely to become a standard among all DAM software. The work you do with rating stars in Bridge can serve as the foundation of a collection-wide quality designation for the life of your photos.
What's so great about those Bridge stars? In addition to their front-runner status in becoming the worldwide standard, they are simple, well designed, and flexible. You can use the stars to build a set of top-down inclusive groups. What does that mean? It means that at any given time, you can chop off the top of the ratings pyramid and confine your search to that top-level subset. In effect, it lets you choose a smaller haystack to search through.
The filtering in Bridge—which I will show you how to translate to almost any other application that reads metadata—lets you confine a search to, say, images with three stars and better. Thus, you can very efficiently start a search narrowly (only the best images) and then widen it out to the next level if you have not found exactly what you want. Figure 2-9 shows how this "top-down filtering" is superior to "filtering by the slice."
Figure 2-9. Top-down filtering (right) makes searching for "all three-star and above images" more efficient. If you were to filter "by the slice" (left), you would have to search three times to get the same results.
Most photographers I know have had the experience of finding images that they'd forgotten about: sometimes these have become favorite images. By rating images for quality when you first edit them, or any other time you look through them, you keep great photographs from "slipping off the light table."
The stars make systematizing easy; you'll have to exercise your brain a little to be comprehensive. In order to do this, you will need to make very broad definitions for each of the rating designations. These definitions will need to span across all the different types of photography that you do—for example, you wouldn't want three stars to mean "very good" for commercial work, and "pretty good" for personal work.
Remember that these designations will be helpful not only for searching, but also for image handling. In a minute, I'll show you the designations I use, and how I came to those definitions.
When deciding what designations to use, bear in mind that your collection will grow many times larger over your lifetime. You need to leave some headroom to grow. For instance, I am not using the fifth star in Bridge yet, because I want to save this designation for a time when my collection is much larger.
I think the greatest danger in terms of carrying a rating system into the future is that of the metamorphosis of the "ratings pyramid" into a "ratings light bulb" (Figure 2-10). A ratings light bulb would be much less useful.
Figure 2-10. The ratings light bulb isn't as handy as the ratings pyramid—there's much more value in being at the top if it's lonely there.
Because rating is a valuable tool that helps you determine how much work to do to a file, you should make a good effort as early as possible to assign ratings to your images. If you rate right away, you can spend the largest part of your Camera Raw adjusting time on the best images. Likewise, your time creating custom keywords will be much better spent if you work mostly on your best pictures. Rate your images as soon as possible after renaming, and make that work permanent.
Ratings are rough groupings, applied across your entire collection. I suggest trying to split by orders of magnitude (1 four-star image for every 10 three-star images, 10 three-star images for every 100 two-star images, and so on), not by subtle degrees. Of course, this doesn't work for every shoot, but if you keep this goal in mind, you have something to aim for. I'll outline later why this works from a mathematical perspective, a file-handling perspective, and a searching perspective.