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I'm an ecologist working with trail camera data. I have about 1 million images taken over a period of several months from multiple cameras that I need to sort through for pictures of animals, but most of the images are pictures of grasses blowing in the wind (movement can trigger these types of remote cameras). The pictures I want to scrutinize closely for animals are those taken between dusk and dawn. I would like to organize all pictures by time taken (ignoring the date they were taken). That way, I can quickly scan through those taken during daylight hours (ideally, as extra large Windows thumbnails), and pay closer attention to those taken at times were 'true' detections are most likely.

Can someone point me towards a way to separate the date and time an image was taken, either in the EXIF data itself or as a sorting option in Windows Explorer? Essentially, I want to find a way to sort photos as Windows thumbnails by the time they were taken while ignoring the date they were taken. This must be possible, but I've found no solution.

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    How comfortable are you with coding etc. I suspect this is something that is best done programmatically. Stack Overflow might have some answers. – damned truths May 3 at 3:23
  • Aside: this screams to be done as a machine learning project. – Philip Kendall May 3 at 6:52
  • @Philip Kendall You're right about that! There have been some promising developments recently; I'd bet that sorting these kinds of data manually will be a thing of the past in another 10 years or so. – erictall May 5 at 15:46
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As far as sorting files by time, but not date, I know of no file or image manager that has such a feature. However, it is possible to move or rename files into folders based on your desired parameters.

The "standard" tool for processing files based on Exif data is exiftool. Normally, I would move files into folders based on the date images were taken:

exiftool '-Directory<${DateTimeOriginal}' '-d %Y%m%d' .

To move images into folders based on the Hour they were taken, the command is basically the same, but with a different date format (-d parameter):

exiftool '-Directory<${DateTimeOriginal}' '-d %H' .

You could also rename files according to time-date (rather than the usual date-time), then sort by filename.

exiftool '-FileName<${DateTimeOriginal}%-c.%le' '-d %H%M%S-%Y%m%d' .

The above commands are constructed for use on Linux or MacOS. For Windows, you would have to change the single quotes to double, and possibly make other adjustments, which are left as an exercise for the reader.

  • Or on Windows, install WSL or Cygwin etc. – Philip Kendall May 3 at 6:46
  • Thanks, @xiota. I've been using Bulk Rename Utility for altering EXIF data, but I couldn't figure out how to do what you're suggesting is possible with exiftool (not to say it can't be done with Bulk Rename Utility). The naming structure of my images is meaningless so I can't think of any reason that renaming according to time-date wouldn't work for my situation. Date-time will be retained in one of the EXIF fields so I can always sort by that later, if needed. Thanks for your help! – erictall May 5 at 15:53
  • I'm not familiar with that tool. If it does not allow the date-time format to be customized, consider contacting the developer. There are frontends to exiftool that might make its use easier. If you ever need to preserve file names, you can append the original to the end of the new name. – xiota May 5 at 16:05
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The issue you are having is the date/time are stored in one metadata field in my experience fooling around with files. What I would do is first make a copy of the files that you can work from. Then divide test pictures into folders that are a manageable size. I can't tell you how many because it depends on the program you use(i'll recommend one i've used before in the next paragraph). They probably weren't designed with the volume you mentioned. You could try the whole thing but i would be worried about it choking. I'm not 100% that this would work but

Anyways I use a program called "exif date changer" by Relilik software to change the dates and times ever now and then. What's nice about it is it gives you the option to change the date taken:date, but not the time[using a checkbox]. So my idea is change the metadata of every picture to the same day so the only thing that would be different is the time taken. After that operation I think you could sort by date taken reorganize the files so they aren't compartmentalized and they would line up in the way you wanted. Ideally the date/time is embedded in the filename but not all equipment does that. You could use exiftool to do that but I think those trail cams do that by default.

  • Changing data contained within the Exif basically corrupts the acquired data. OP is an ecologist who wishes to temporarily ignore date for sorting purposes, but will likely need the date for research and statistics. – xiota May 3 at 7:05
  • right, which is why i suggested working off a copy and making sure the date-time was in the filename................ – rob j crowe May 3 at 14:38

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