Customizing Adobe Bridge
Adobe Bridge is an excellent photo and media browser application. But it can be even better if you customize it to fit your needs.
Let's start with how to customize the basic window layout or workspace. When you first launch Bridge you will be presented with a workspace divided into sections. You see sections for selecting what folder you want to see the contents of, a section showing thumbnail versions of all the images in that folder, and a window showing a larger preview of one of those images. There are also windows displaying that image's metadata, keywords, and so on. But this isn't the only layout possible in Bridge. Indeed, Adobe ships Bridge CS5 with eight different workspace layouts.
If you're new to Bridge, one of the first things you should do is to take a look at all eight so you can see what is possible. You'll find the available choices on the menu under Window >> Workspace. But the real value of customized workspaces comes when you create your own. Start from whatever built-in workspace sees most appropriate and then change whatever you want from there. When you get things the way you want them, go to Window >> Workspace >> New Workspace and give your creation a name. You'll also see checkboxes to control what aspects of your workspace you want to have Bridge remember. You can turn on or off two possible aspects: "Save Window Location as Part of Workspace" and "Save Sort Order as Part of Workspace."
You can create as many workspaces as you want to cover various aspects of your workflow. You can even modify and re-save one of the built-in workspaces if you wish. If you decide you overdid things, there's always Window >> Workspace >> Reset Standard Workspaces.
In order actually work on your images in Bridge, the first thing you have to do is get to the folder where they reside. There's always the Folders window where you'll find a hierarchical tree structure of your local computer as well as your immediate network neighborhood if you're on a network. But for folders you use often, there's a better way: Favorites. By default Adobe adds several common choices to the Favorites window, but you can easily remove any of these you don't need and add other folders of your own choosing. To add a new Favorites folder, first find it in the Folders window. Once you do, simply right-click on it and select "Add to Favorites." To remove a folder already in Favorites, right-click on it there and select "Remove From Favorites." Easy.
Another significant area you'll want to investigate for customizing Adobe Bridge is Edit >> Preferences. There are quite a few settings here and I'm not going to even try to cover all of them but here are some of the more important ones to make Bridge better fit your needs.
You can control what information is displayed along with your thumbnails on the appropriately named Thumbnails tab. By default, all you see for each thumbnail is the file name but you can turn on check boxes to have Bridge also show up to four additional lines of information. The list of possible metadata to place on those four lines is extensive but not unlimited. Choices include such things as focal length and exposure, color profile, dimensions, the date created or modified, the keywords and more. Keep in mind that the more you display, the more space will used up by text, leaving less room for the image thumbnails themselves. For this reason, my preference is to instead use the option at the bottom of the Thumbnails tab for "Show Tooltips." With this option enabled, no screen real estate gets used up for text, but you'll still be able to see the date created and modified along with the image size and dimensions for any given image simply by hovering your mouse over it in the Content window.
On the Preferences Metadata tab you can control what values Bridge will show in the Metadata tab for the selected image. There are lots of kinds and categories of metadata and I doubt that anyone really cares about each of them. By unchecking the ones you don't find useful you can streamline the display of what you do care about. For example, Bridge supports the Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) metadata standard, but since I don't shoot medical images I never use these fields. Turning off display of this entire group makes it easier to see the rest.
You probably already know that you can apply color coded labels to your images using the Label menu or the keyboard equivalents. In case you didn't know how to change the built in label names, you'll find this on the Labels tab under Preferences. The five default labels are "Select," "Second," "Approved," "Review" and "To Do." If these don't fit your workflow, or if you want to change the purpose of categories completely, you can do so here. I know some users how tag images with major categories such as "Family," "Vacation" and the like using labels. If such concepts seem more appropriate to you, go for it.
If you use applications other than what Adobe thinks you do for some of the image types supported by Bridge, you'll be thankful that you can change what application opens when you double-click on various files to better fit your needs. The File Types tab of Preferences gives you the means of customizing this per file type. As you scroll down the list of known file types, you can see what Adobe thinks you want to use for each. If you'd rather use something else, simply click on the dropdown list and select an alternative program. If it's not listed, select "Browe" and go find it.
The final way to customize Bridge I want to touch on briefly is via scripting. When you run Bridge, it runs a number of default scripts in your Bridge Startup folder. The ones that ship with Bridge handle various configuration tasks including adding a bunch of options to the Tools menu. A number of third-party applications add choices to the Tools menu as well to make them easier to use with Bridge. Scripts can also add options to the right-click context menu for various types of files and perform other tasks to customize the user experience for Bridge users. If you're up for a challenge and are at least somewhat conversant with programming in Java, you can create your own startup scripts to customize Bridge. You can see what you currently have on the Startup Scripts tab of Preferences. If you do write your own, you should put them in the folder you reach by clicking on the "Reveal My Startup Scripts" button at the bottom of that tab. Scripting isn't for everyone, but it's nice that Adobe makes this interface available even only for third party vendors to better integrate with Adobe products.
There are lots of ways to customize and configure Adobe Bridge. As a central control point for managing your images it's hard to beat for those not using Lightroom which has its own browsing capabilities. Each new release comes with even more automation features, and if the feature you want isn't there it's often possible to add it yourself with a bit of effort. It's a application well worth learning more about.