Sorting Images with Bridge

This powerful workflow offers speed and efficiency when carrying out some of the most common—and time-consuming—Photoshop tasks

By Barry Haynes Back to


This article discusses ways of improving your workflow and quickly processing those hundreds and thousands of images you are now capturing with your digital cameras. If you are using a digital camera that allows you to shoot in Raw color mode, you’ll find that this gives you more options later when color correcting your images. Shoot in Raw mode if you can. This article will help you more quickly sort your Raw files and also show you how to automatically do some initial color correction to them. I have previously written articles about how to do final color correction and other things with Bridge and Raw files.

Setting up Bridge

Let’s set up a few Bridge preferences that will help you sort your images. In the General Preferences area, I turn off all the “Additional Lines of Thumbnail Metadata.” When editing images, I don’t want to see the date, dimensions, or keywords of each image listed under that image because it takes up too much screen space. In the Labels Preferences area, the only change I make is to turn off the “Require the Command/Control Key to Apply Labels and Ratings” check box. This allows me to change an image’s rating by just typing a number from 1 to 5 instead of having to type Command/Control and the number, which is the default method. I’ll show you how to use this feature later in this article.

In the Advanced Preferences dialogue, I recommend that you check the box for “Double-click edits Camera Raw settings in Bridge.” By default, this option is not checked, which causes the Camera Raw filter and the file to open within Photoshop. But with this option checked, when a Raw file is double-clicked, the Camera Raw filter runs within Bridge instead of within Photoshop. This way you can more quickly go back and forth between Bridge and Camera Raw to do your initial Camera Raw edits. While you are doing this, Photoshop can be closed or occupied working on some other image. When you click the Done button in Camera Raw (the default for the Return (Enter) key with this option checked), you’ll automatically go back to Bridge. This sequence is faster when editing images. If you want to open the Raw file into Photoshop after editing in Camera Raw, then click the Open button.

If you uncheck “Double-click edits Camera Raw settings in Bridge,” then double-clicking a Raw file opens the Camera Raw filter within Photoshop, and the Open button is the default for the Return (Enter) key, which opens the Raw file into Photoshop. Now when you click the Done button, Camera Raw closes, but you won’t return to Bridge automatically—you’ll just sit there in Photoshop with no files open. You’ll have to click back on Bridge to return to it and process another file. Not good for editing images.

“Use Distributed Cache Files When Possible” is the Advanced option to choose in the Cache area. This places Bridge files in the same folder as the images they serve. This way, when you copy a folder full of images to another drive, or make a backup copy to DVD, you also copy the Bridge preview pictures and other info for those images. This saves Bridge from having to generate those previews again when working on another drive or computer.

Organizing Bridge for photography

When you initially install and open Bridge, it opens in the default layout, as shown in Figure 4. You can get to this layout by choosing Window > Workspace > Reset to Default Workspace. I have three Bridge workspaces that I use all the time. When I created them, I set up shortcut keys for each one. They are FoldersBig (Command/ Control + F9), PreviewsBig (Command/ Control + F10), and PreviewsBigLight- Box (Command/Control + F11). You can use the Window > Workspace > Save Workspace menu to set up each of them, using the following steps after starting with the above Default Workspace:

• Move the middle vertical divider by clicking in the center of it and dragging to the right. This makes the frames to the left of the divider larger and the thumb- nail area to the right smaller. Leave enough space on the right pane for just one column of thumbnails.

• Click the Preview tab in the middle section, then drag it up to the top and release when it’s next to the Folders tab.

• Drag the Metadata and Keywords tabs to the top of the window as well.

Click Back on the Preview tab so your screen looks like Figure 5.

• Use Window > Workspace > Save Workspace to save this layout as PreviewsBig. Specify the function key Command/Control + F10 for this workspace.

You now have a small vertical row of thumbnails on the right side of the window; when you click one of them, a big preview of that image fills most of the window to the left. To set up the next workspace:

• Click the double-arrow toggle in the lower left corner of the Bridge window to fill the screen with just the thumbnails.

• Save this workspace as Previews- BigLightBox and set Command/Control + F11 as its function key.

To fill the screen with just one preview—the PreviewsBig workspace—you can actually again click the double-arrow toggle in the lower left corner of the Bridge window. I find toggling with the two function keys, F10 and F11, quicker.

To set up the third Bridge workspace do the following:

• Go to PreviewsBig view (Command/Control + F10) and click the Folder tab at the top of the left pane. Now move the central divider until you see lots of thumbnails in the rightmost Thumbnails pane and a long list of folders on the left.

• Use Workspace > Save Workspace to name this view FoldersBig, and set Command/Control + F9 as the shortcut key.

Another useful tip is that any time you see a group of thumbnails in a Bridge window, if you type Command/Control + T, you’ll see those thumbnails without the filename, date, and so on underneath each image. This allows you to see more images without being distracted by all that text. Typing Command/Control + T again will bring the text back as it was before.

Bridge’s automatic Raw settings

When you enter Bridge and are looking at newly captured Raw files, Bridge creates new previews for those images. If you double-click to open a new Raw file into the Camera Raw filter, you’ll notice that the filter has checkboxes for automating settings that you can turn on for Exposure, Shadows, Brightness, and Contrast in the Adjust section. You can also automatically run a curve on the Raw image in the Curve section. The default Medium Contrast curve works well for previews, but you might want to turn it off later if you are trying to bring out shadow detail in a more final adjustment. These default automatic settings make the previews of the usually flat unedited Raw images look better for sorting and evaluating in Bridge.

I like to change the automatic settings a bit from the defaults. This includes setting sharpening so that it only happens to the preview pictures, since I want to do final sharpening in Photoshop after all color correction has been applied to the image. Also in the Detail section, set Color Noise Reduction to 12 instead of 25, since 25 is usually more than you need for ISO 100 images shot in bright light. I don’t usually use these automatic settings for final color correction—just to get better previews while editing in Bridge. At the bottom left of the main Camera Raw dialog, I also set Space to Pro- Photo RGB, Depth to 16 Bits per Channel, and the Resolution to 270, which fits my usual print sizes better. If you want to change these automatic settings to be the new defaults for all your unedited Raw files, then choose Save New Camera Raw Defaults from the pop-down menu to the right of the Settings menu inside the Camera Raw dialog. After changing the Camera Raw Defaults, you’ll notice that Bridge updates all the previews for images that have not been previously adjusted by you in Camera Raw.

Sorting a single-folder shoot

You can try this out by locating a folder full of digital camera Raw images on your hard disk.

• Finding the folder to sort is usually easier when using the FoldersBig workspace, Command/Control + F9. To sort a group of new images, first click the folder for that group of images. Now use Command/Control + F10 to put Bridge into the PreviewsBig workspace. Click the first image at the top right of your screen and you’ll see a nice big preview of that image. The Right Arrow key will take you to the next image and the Left Arrow key to the previous one. You also can type a number rating for each image as you go along. By default, the rating is Command/Control + 1 to Command/Control + 5, but the preferences set at the beginning of this article allow you to change this rating by typing a simple 1 through 5.

• First type a “1” on the images that you like; after going through all the images, use the Filtered pop-up at the top right of your Bridge window and choose Show 1 or More Stars to show only images with a rating of 1 or more.

• You can go back through these images—now just the 1-star rated ones— and type a “2” for the images you think are the best of the 1-star set. After this second pass, you can use the Filtered menu again to show just the images that have a 2-star or better rating.

• Now you can switch to Command/ Control + F11, your PreviewsBigLight- box workspace, to see all of those 2- star images. Use Command/Control + T to remove the text below these images, then use the slider at the bottom right of your Bridge window to make the images bigger, until they just fill the window but you can still see all of them.

This can help you decide which images to keep.

You can continue this process of paring down your images until you get just the ones that have 5 stars. Usually after paring down to 3 or 4 stars, you’ve got the few best images from a shoot.

These are the ones you’ll want to do “custom work” on with Camera Raw and then Photoshop adjustment layers, and, finally, maybe even print. In the next article, I’ll show you how to set up Camera Raw to automatically change to the initial settings you’d want for that custom work. I’ll also show you how to automate custom settings across groups of Raw files and groups of layered final Photoshop adjustments.

Reorganizing thousands of images

Many photographers sooner or later face the task of reorganizing huge numbers of images. I had to do that recently with many folders of images shot in the area of our new home in Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast in British Colombia, each dated folder containing the main focus of a day’s images. I hadn’t sorted the images by specific local area because at first I wasn’t sure how to categorize them. After living here awhile and learning the Sunshine Coast better, I wanted to re-sort the photos into new categories, each in a new folder.

To do this I made a new folder called All Gibsons Area; within that folder I made the subfolders that I wanted to sort my images into. You can create new folders in Bridge using File > New Folder, or you can create them in the Finder or Explorer. In a Bridge window using the FoldersBig workspace, I opened my All Gibsons Area folder so I could see all the subfolders that I wanted to sort images into.

Then I used File > New Window to open a new window in Bridge and navigated that window to one of the original shoot folders that I wanted to copy images out of. I then used Bridge to select the images that I wanted to move or copy out of that folder, and transferred them to the new folders with the different sorting names.

To move images with Bridge, just click to select them, then drag and drop them into the new folder you choose. If you want to copy (rather than move) images into the new folder, hold the Option/Alt key down while dragging and dropping the images onto that new folder. This will copy each image; if it’s a Raw file, it will also copy its XMP file. XMP files contain additional information about a Raw file, like its changed Raw settings, added after the original camera shoot. The Finder or Explorer won’t automatically copy XMP files for you when you copy the original Raw files. Doing this in Bridge works great because you can see previews of the images even if they are Raw files that haven’t been opened in Photoshop before.

While doing this sorting process, remember that you can first rate the files in the original shoot folders using the 1- to 5-star system mentioned in the previous section. After rating them, you can view only the better images in a particular shoot folder and consider them for copying. Select the images you want by clicking the first one then Command/Control-clicking others you’d like. If you want to select a group of contiguous images, click the first one, then Shift-click the last one and all the images between will be selected too.


Sorting and managing images with Bridge can be done very efficiently, especially images shot in a digital camera’s Raw mode. There are many other new applications, like Aperture and Lightroom, for sorting and managing images. You can spend time and money playing with those new toys or you can use Bridge, which comes with Photoshop. You may find, as I have, that Bridge is actually quite powerful once you learn how to use all of its features.

About the Author

Barry Haynes
Barry Haynes is a photographer and author living in Gibsons, BC, Canada, just north of Vancouver, where he has his studio and photography gallery. See for info about his Outdoor Photography, Photoshop/Printmaking workshops,Photoshop books, images and gallery. His Photoshop Artistry: for Photographers using Photoshop CS2 and Beyond, from New Riders publishing, is the 8th edition of this series. See also