21 August 2020


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Organising and Annotating Research Photos with Tropy

By Catherine Pope

August 21, 2020

Posted in Productivity

If you’ve been rummaging in the archives, you probably have a lot of digital images. They can be quite tricky to manage, especially when you’ve got more than a few dozen. Although tools like Zotero are great for bibliographic data, they’re not really suited to archival material. Fortunately, the Zotero developers have also created Tropy.

Launched a couple of years ago, Tropy is a free tool to help you organise and annotate your research photos. It’s rather like a database with a friendly interface. You can import most image formats, including PDFs, simply by dragging them into the application.

Here’s an example from my collection. This is a letter from the Victorian novelist Florence Marryat to George Eliot, offering condolences on the death of her common-law husband, G H Lewes. Marryat’s handwriting is terrible, but Tropy offers some useful functionality to help me.

Screenshot of Tropy

1) From this toolbar, I can zoom in on the writing, rotate the image, deskew it, and even fiddle about with the colours. This gives me a much better chance of deciphering the text.

2) Once I’ve fathomed the writing, I can transcribe it in the notes field below. When I next return to this letter, I no longer need to squint at it. Here I might also add some thoughts on the significance of the document.

3) In the left-hand panel, I capture the metadata. As all archives have their own system, I can change the fields (something that’s not possible in Zotero, for instance) and also make my own templates. This means I know exactly where I found this material and also I can cite it properly. There’s a tab here for adding tags – labels that link your items together. This is similar to the tagging feature in Zotero and you can even colour-code them.

All your metadata and notes are fully searchable, making this a powerful tool for large image collections.

There are a few limitations with Tropy:

  • It’s not cloud-based, so you have to install the software on a desktop computer (Mac, Windows, or Linux)
  • Unlike Zotero, you can’t synchronise your account between multiple machines
  • There’s no tablet or smartphone app

The large filesizes involved mean it’s unlikely that Tropy will ever be cloud-based. However, the functionality makes it a top choice for managing a large collection of images. You can see how other researchers are using Tropy on the blog. You’ll also find a full user guide, training opportunities, and tips.

No doubt there are many other ways you could use Tropy for your particular project. Do let us know in the comments below.

Catherine Pope

About the author

Since completing her PhD in 2014, Catherine has supported thousands of researchers through to the finish line. Having enjoyed a varied career as a web developer, lecturer, and coach, Catherine now shares her skills and knowledge through PhD Progress.

Don't miss a thing ...

Add your name and email address below and you'll be the first to know about new developments, including free resources, training opportunities, and useful tips.

You might also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}