Ontario Journalist, Writer, Photography & Filmmaker

Organising your Photos

I had several questions during the workshop I taught last fall about organising photos. Not surprisingly, some of the attendees were having trouble finding particular images or in developing a good organisational structure for their photos. Some who’d been shooting only in low rez JPEG at the time had never moved their images off the memory card. They had literally hundreds of images sitting on the card.

I think most photographers have struggled, at one point or another; either in the digital or analogue world, with coming up with a sound method for organising photos. Certainly the task can be a lot more efficient in the digital realm but coming up with a structure that works for the individual person may be difficult.

But I use Lightroom, isn’t that good enough? Or, I use Bridge, that’s fine isn’t it? Yes and no.

Yes from the standpoint that tools like Lightroom or Bridge or other asset management tools allow you to keyword and otherwise categorise your photos for relatively quick retrieval via a search. But you’re not always going to find an image via a search. Sometimes you’re looking at your folder structure. Not everyone has Lightroom or Bridge. Not everyone uses the Organizer in Photoshop Elements. So no, those tools aren’t all one needs.

In the end, coming up with a good file structure, one that works for you and that you can stick to over time, is paramount for keeping track of your photos.

Often, when you connect your camera to your computer to transfer photos or stick your memory card in a reader, if you just transfer without doing anything else, you’ll get the images dumped into the default folder. In Windows it’s My Pictures. Don’t know what it is on a Mac. Don’t just go with the default.

Instead, set up a separate set of folders on your hard drive for your photos. If you’ve got two drives in your computer (or more) put the photo files on a separate drive from your operating system and programs.

Some people work with dates to organise their photos. Some work with names. Some work with locations or categories. It really depends on what they find most useful and what type of shooting they do.

In my case, I work on a location/category basis. If I were a portrait or wedding photographer I’d work on a client/name basis. Once the master folder is set up, sub-folders can be created for sub-locations or different file types.

Here’s an example. On one of my drives I’ve got a master folder labeled New York. Inside this are folders for Buffalo, Watkins Glen State Park, Letchworth State Park and a few others. Inside the Buffalo folder I’ve got RAW, TIFF, HDR & JPEG folders. Same for the other locations.

Here’s another example. I do work for bed and breakfast owners. My master folder is Bed & Breakfast. Inside that folder I have the individual B&B names. Inside those folders are my RAW, TIFF, HDR & JPEG folders. Because a lot of this work is done using HDR and I batch process my HDR merges, I’ll have another folder called RAW TIFF. This folder has all my RAW files with pre-merge adjustments saved as TIFF files which are then loaded into the batch process of my HDR app. of choice.  If I’m doing a virtual tour or slideshow I’ll have one or more folders with the images that’ll be used in the tour/slideshow.

If I’m putting together a timelapse video like this one with multiple clips, I’ll start with the project name/location then have sub-folders for each clip and sub-folders inside that for the RAW/unprocessed images and the processed ones.  Folders created with my video editing software for the project will also be located inside the master project folder.

This type of folder structure makes it very easy for me to find images without doing a search in Lightroom or Photoshop (or Bridge).  Tagging or keywording in Lightroom then allows me to find all ‘landscape’ photos, for example, across all my folders or all ‘impressionistic’ images from all my folders.

Tagging or keywording isn’t a substitute for good organisation of your image library.  It’s a terrific capability to be able to use to find similar images from across locations or categories but just as with other types of digital files (e.g., spreadsheets, text documents), having a proper file structure, one that works for you over the long run is the starting point to good image management.

Would love to hear what others are doing for organising their image libraries.  Share your thoughts.