I think all of us can relate to a recent situation I found myself in. I was looking for a specific image, I knew it was in that giant mess somewhere, but finding it … oh finding it … that was the tricky part.
The thousands of digital photos we all take don’t do us much good if we can’t find them and share them easily. I will freely admit that once upon a time I was very lax in my photo organization – I used odd file names, put them in folders willy-nilly and was very guilty of the “card dump syndrome”. Often I’d be so tired when I came in from the field that all I wanted to do was dump the cards to the computer, make a back up copy or two and call it done. I always had the good intentions of doing the organizing the next day. Needless to say – that day never came.
Now I follow a routine, and like any routine or habit, after a few days or weeks, it just becomes second nature. Transfer from card, add copyright, metadata adjustments, IPTC info, and keywords at the time of transfer. This, (along with making a back up CD or DVD at the time of transfer) is incredibly easy in Lightroom 3. Most free image organizing programs also offer similar options, although they may not offer as many in depth options at the time of transfer.
One of the most important steps is creating a logical file structure within your My Pictures folder. I tend to use the date system, with my folders arranged by Year>Month>Date>Subject – i.e., event, place, subject or image. This is what works the best for me, while a more subject based file structure such as Year>Wildlife>Deer may work more intuitively for you.
Whether you use a folders’ only or some type of photo organization software, you need to have a plan for your organization. Your top folders/keywords should center around large groups, or subjects. From there, move to smaller groups/subjects in subfolders/additional keywords. The best filing system of folders will have only a few folders at the top level with each folder containing a progressively smaller grouping inside. The larger folders, such as year, will have more subsets. Yes, this can result in clicking through several folders before you get to your image, but it will be purposeful clicks instead of “Now, where did I put that again?” Almost everyone finds that there are two main strategies of organizing their images. These are by date and by subject. Again, it’s what works most intuitively for you.
Be mindful of this file structure/system when creating a new folder to transfer your images to AT THE TIME YOU TRANSFER FROM THE CARD.
Once you have the files transferred to your image organizing software, be ruthless in your deletion. Yes, delete ruthlessly. Many times I will shoot a sequence, say of a deer loping across a field, and out of the 20-30 images that I get from rapid fire shooting there are always some obvious non keepers: out-of-focus, crummy composition, just plain awful images. If your importing software allows you to select specific images at the time of transfer – don’t even take those crummy ones to the hard drive. If not immediately after you’ve gotten them transferred – delete them! Then go through the ones that you have transferred with critical eye, again cull out the non-keepers right off the bat. This helps to preserve space on your drives, and gives you fewer to contend with when you start the processing portion of your work flow.
The second important step to organizing is keywording/tagging your photos. The importance of tags is clear when it comes time to find your photos later. There’s no need to try and remember which folder, what date you might have put something in. You only need to think of some part of the photo that you would have used in a tag. When you search on a tag, all the matching photos associated with that tag can be displayed.
Tags are especially useful for identifying the people in your photos. If you tag every picture with the names belonging to every face in the photo, you’ll be able to locate all your pictures of a particular person in an instant. You can also combine and exclude tags to further refine your search results. For example, a search for “Gretchen” and “dogs” will display all photos of me with a dog. Exclude my name from the same search and you’ll find all photos of dogs, exclude dogs and you’ll find all photos of me.
This enables you to find a specific set of images much more quickly. Not only do I incorporate some general info into the file name, the tagging and keywording help tremendously. In fact I probably get a little tag happy at times. Again, tag in terms that make sense to you. I tend to start general, and then grow increasingly specific. For instance, say the image is a nice buck taken in a specific state wildlife area. Here’s how I would tag it: Wildlife, Illinois, Deer, Bucks, Peabody FWA, Illinois wildlife, Illinois Deer, Illinois Bucks, Peabody Wildlife, Peabody Deer, Peabody Bucks. Seems like overkill on the tagging? Probably is a bit, but I try to think of how I might search for that image in the future and incorporate that into my tagging.
To geotag or no? An additional step would be to geotag the image. Geotagging is the recording of the latitude and longitude of the location where a photograph was taken and then the addition of this data to the EXIF information that was captured by the camera when the photograph was taken. The EXIF data is recorded within the digital image file that the camera records and this data can be read by any suitable software. This can be very helpful when looking for images from a specific location, but – if that geotag info is included, beware that it just might give away one of your secret hunting or fishing honey holes. Especially if you use a system/or camera that adds GPS info. If your camera doesn’t record geotag info, there are several options available, one of which using a software program that allows the addition of geotags. Even the free photo organizing program Picasa from Google has a simple geotag component.
After you’ve completed those steps – you may find you want to do a little more cleaning and organizing – you may want to add an additional subfolder or two. For instance when I export the processed images from Lightroom, those images go into a subfolder of the original RAW images. When I complete a series of images for a specific assignment or publisher, those also go into a specific folder that can be given a descriptive label such as Women’s Outdoor News Appleseed Event. I also add that information to the tags/keywords.
Keeping your photos organized and easily searchable requires just these few steps. Get in the habit, and save yourself that wailing and gnashing of teeth that so often happens when we attempt to find that particular image in our collection.
To see why Gretchen Steele is so keen on photo organization, check her website: http://www.steelephotoservices.com/