Getting Organized

January 21, 2013

©-7376 How many pictures have you accumulated over the years?  How do you keep track of them all? 

These are actually important considerations at the very beginning of my workflow.  In the digital age, it is possible to keep every photo you have taken.  The price of hard drives is now relatively cheap, so the cost of storage is not going to hold you back.  The last few days, I have been without a voice, so I took advantage of the time to clean out my archives and get everything properly organized.  Looking back, I even learned a few things about my photo habits.   Since its all fresh in my mind, I thought I'd share with you. 

First off, I have to admit that I have not always used my current organizational system.  I had read the wisdom of others long ago, and through time have gradually accpeted many of thier recommendations.  Digital Asset Management is not a new topic, and really should be an automatic part of the workflow for any photographer, and it all begins as you import your photos onto your computer.  Hpw you name them and where you store them matters.  Keep in mind here that I am not talking about photo sharing or display, but rather the way to keep track of those pictures that you really want to be able to find when you forgot where you put them. 

There are two parts to my archival workflow:  the physical placement of files and the cataloguing of those files.  Each supporrts the other.  One trick that I have adopted is to use the date in my nested folder structure.  Some photographers use this date code on each picture.  A personal caveat:  I maintain a completely separate physical directory structure for sports images, but it follows the same principles.  Here is how it works, regardless of image type: 


    -  [MMDD-place or Event] ---  image ####.

    -  [MMDD-place or Event] --- image ####.

file structure

If you are simply storing JPG images, they are easily visible in the folders, but if you store your RAW filies, you may not be able to easily see the picture just flipping through your drive.  Besides, if you have an extensive collection, or have retained multiple versions of a particular picture, looking at a collection of jpgs may not be enough for you to easily find what you are looking for.  Especially when you have thousands of images.  That is where my use of Lightroom comes in handy.

Sure, Lightroom is a RAW image processor, but it is much more.  Lightroom allows you to assign "keywords" to your images, and these are stored right along with the picture.  Other programs are able to do the same thing, so program choice is up to you, but Lightroom is both an industry standard and what I am familiar with.  (Mac junkie like Aperture)   I am able to find pretty much any picture, and narrow it down very quickly with the combination of directory structure and keywording.  How does it work? 

When ingesting images from the camera to computer, I apply keywords -- any combination of words or numbers that will be both standardized and meaningful.  I have some files with upwards of 20 keywords stored with them that will help me search later.  For example, the following image


has these keywords: coffee, food, drink, cappuchino, cup, restaurant, cafe, table, Italy, Capri, 2011, travel, heart, vacation, relax.  Your keywords have to be meaningful to you, but consider that you might end up wanting to search for an abstract idea, a shape, or emotion sometime later. When importing, I assign keywords common to all images, then add individual keywords later. 

With over 38,000 images in my VHS Sports folders alone, it becomes fairly important to have meaningful keywords assigned to images so that I don't need to spend hours looking for photos of Tasha from the last four years.  Imagine this project:  you want to make a single "Memory Mate" type poster for an athlete that highlights all four years of High School.  With my system, I can search for the school, sport, and jersey number within each of the designated years.  Since I have also rated the pictures way back when I first processed them, I can also narrow the search down to the best images from each year very quickly.  No need to look through thousands of images, with this system, I only need to check out a dozen or so to find what I am looking for.  How long does it take you to find a single image?