Software Magic: Recognizing People in Photos

What automated face tagging in Photoshop Elements 8 can, and can't, do to help organize digital photos.

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A potential trap. One criticism of all photo-organizing software is that it can lock users into one system. The tags applied through Photoshop Elements can't be easily transferred to competing programs. Elements allows users to write tags to a photo's metadata, which is like a small database that accompanies the actual image files. But it doesn't work for files in all formats, and not all programs read metadata the same way. So users who spend a lot of time organizing their photos with tags will feel safest, or stuck, with the program they've been using—quirks, frustrations, and all.

It's fun. Organizing photos is a tedious, time-consuming process, whether they're in shoe boxes or hard drives. Face recognition eases the grind with some charm. As the software throws up a series of thumbnails, users get a quick look at the faces of friends and loved ones through the months or years. It helps get the organizing process started, and it might encourage us to stay on top of all our new digital photos. Maybe.