Digital photography, in all its forms, shapes and sizes, has completely reinvented the way we shoot and share pictures. We’re no longer limited to a maximum of 36 exposures per film roll, nor do we have to wait for our images to be developed to assess the results. In turn, however, we’re left to deal with hundreds of files for each photoshoot. Thankfully, the rest of technology has evolved just as fast as cameras, and there are numerous free hosting sites you can use to keep your photos safe and within reach.
Whether you’re tired of having your memories spread throughout dozens of cards or are looking to develop a structure you can translate to your online portfolio, these 7 steps will teach you how to organize photos in a clear and sustainable manner.
The best way to organize photos
Decide on a storing solution
Locate all pictures
Trim down your digital library
Come up with a folder structure
Rename your files
Use strategic keywords
Schedule regular backups
01. Decide on a storing solution
Once upon a time, photos lived in albums and film boxes. Nowadays their homes are primarily virtual, taking the shape of hard drives and online clouds. When searching for the best way to organize photos, it’s important to start by deciding which platforms and tools you’ll be using, as the rest of the process will be determined by these.
Most photographers choose to use both physical and virtual storage solutions in order to ensure their work is not lost if one of the platforms were to fail. While there are many free image hosting sites out there, the most convenient of them all is your own photography website. Since having an online portfolio is an absolute must, using it as a storage solution will save you the hassle of managing yet another platform. With Wix, you’ll be able to showcase your photos in the best quality, both on desktop and mobile, and have unlimited free photo storage.
Once you’ve determined which storage services you’ll use, it’s time to see which tools best suit your workflow. Start by taking a look at your OS file system. While limited, these programs usually offer enough tools to make sure you can easily find any image.
If you’re looking for more complex categorization capabilities, such as searching by metadata, you might want to look into more advanced solutions. Lightroom and Bridge, both part of Adobe Creative Suite, are two of the most popular programs among photographers when it comes to organizing their photo libraries.
02. Locate all pictures
One of the most time-consuming parts of figuring out how to organize photos is remembering where all your images are currently stored. Depending on how long you’ve been in the game and how varied your formats are, it can be anything from a couple memory cards to three hard drives and nine boxes of printed pictures.
If you shoot film photography, this process will include not only finding the pictures but also digitizing them to make sure you can safely store them with the rest of your digital library. There are several ways in which you can do this, including flatbed and slide scanners, projectors or dedicated businesses.
03. Trim down your digital library
Regardless of the types of photography you shoot, it’s more than likely that only a percentage of the pictures you take are keepers. In order to keep your digital library as organized as possible, you’ll need to delete all the images that are simply not up to standard. This includes duplicates, poor focus, unsalvageable exposures, corrupted files and the likes.
Channel your inner Marie Kondo and ask yourself the following: Does this photo spark joy? If it doesn’t, delete it right away before doubts and what ifs set in. Trust us, you will not miss any of the 200 slightly-out-of-focus pictures you took on that trip to Argentina back in 2003.
04. Come up with a folder structure
To establish the best folder structure for photos, you’ll first need to determine your digital library’s needs and goals, as the categories into which you choose to break down your photo library will depend on the type of work you shoot. From chronological dates to geographical locations, the possibilities are nearly endless.
For example, if your work spans across several genres you might want to file each of them separately, whereas, portrait, wedding and event event photographers might prefer to categorize by date and client name. Others, such as those focusing on travel photography, might find it more useful to separate according to location. Plus, you’ll also want to decide whether you want to have your photo editing results in a standalone folder or as individual subfolders within each category.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to your specific needs and preferences. Because of this, two photographers with seemingly identical libraries might choose completely opposite organization methods. There are two main things you should ask yourself before settling on a photo library organization structure:
Is this the easiest way for me to find a specific image or series?
Will this system keep working as my library grows?
Once you’re able to answer these two questions in the affirmative, you’ll know you’ve found the organizational system that’s meant for you.
05. Rename your files
Once you’ve found the best folder structure for photos in your digital library, you can take your organization skills one step further by coming up with a file naming system. This will allow you to include additional details in your files and perform more specific manual searches.
For example, if you traveled through Iceland for a month in 2018 all the hundreds of photos you took during your trip might be stored under the path 2018 > Travel > Iceland. In this case, you’d want to include the date and exact location in which the picture was taken, as well as a numeric series for each location - such as 20182304_Seljalandsfoss-058 - so that you can easily identify the files you’re looking for.
06. Use strategic keywords
Also known as tags, keywords are terms you can add to a file and use for cross-folder searches. This adds a lot more flexibility to your photo library, as it allows you to find very specific criteria regardless of where they are saved. Here, too, you should define which keywords you’ll be using before you actually start implementing them.
Now, you might be wondering why you should bother creating a keyword system on top of the folder structure and a naming strategy. After all, don’t they all do the same thing? The truth is, just like in a real library, a single classification method just won’t cut it. A clear folder and naming system will allow you to easily browse your photo library manually. On the other hand, keywords should be used for specific queries that don’t fit your other organization methods, such as countries, subjects, colors, feelings, et cetera.
Furthermore, in addition to being one of the best ways to organize photos, keyword categorization will also make it much easier for you to write SEO-friendly alt text when uploading photos to your online portfolio.
07. Schedule regular backups
As you continue to develop your skills and grow your digital library, you’ll come to the realization that finding the best way to organize photos is an incredibly important part of becoming a professional photographer. A clearly structured library will significantly cut down the amount of time and energy it takes you to find specific images, as well as allow you to determine your strongest areas and those which require more development.
In order to make sure your photo library is always organized, you’ll need to reshape your workflow around it. Ideally, you should properly file your images right after a photo shoot or during a trip if you’re away for a significant period of time. By doing so, you’ll be able to avoid having a lot of work pile up, which can keep you from having an up-to-date archive.