How can I better organise and file my photos?

At present I meticulously add metadata as EXIF tags to my photos using Microsoft Pro Photo Tools, which also lets me place them accurately on a map. The thing is I tend to leave photos in a folder based on the date I downloaded the image from the camera.

This is fine for finding shots taken in the last month, or for birthdays, but virtually impossible to remember months ago where I was in the second week of September -- what tips do you have for organising your files on disk? Are there good cataloguing programs out there that rely on the EXIF data so that I don't have to double enter? It'd be really cool if there was something that would let me poke at a map and say "what have I taken near here?"

Answers 18

  • The key is adding some specific tags every time you import.

    I use Aperture (which is Mac-only,) but Lightroom has similar capabilities, as does iphoto.

    What you need to tag depends on what you shoot, and what you think you might be looking for someday, but this works for me:

    • The people in the pictures. I use Apple's "Faces" feature to tag people in the pictures (sometimes it recognizes them itself). This is key for me, so I can then pull up pics of my Mom, with me, but not with my brother, for example.
    • The place the pictures were taken. Again, Aperture has a nice, pre-defined "places" tag that can read any associated GPS data, but you can also just manually add tags for this: (NYC, Our Lake House, Oz, whatever.)
    • An event name. New Years 2008, Tom's 30th Birthday, Walking in NYC Mar 2010, etc.
    • Any relevent themes or types you might look for someday. This one's optional, but if you sometimes want to find a picture of a flower, or animals, or you generally shoot in ways that are thematically bucketed, this can save some time.

  • It doesn't make a lot of sense to organize photos by something that is already in the EXIF data, like the date the photos were taken. I organize my photos in folders by event/location. The most important thing is to make sure you tag as much as possible when you import. The chances of going back later to tag are basically nil, so you need to make sure to do it when the info is freshest in your mind.

    another opinion: Thom Hogan's workflow

  • If you don't want to pay for Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture, you could go with Apple's iPhoto or Google's Picasa.

    I'm most familiar with iPhoto; it does a fair amount of hand-holding when it comes to organizing photos. Smart Albums are really nice; you write the filter logic, and iPhoto shows you the matching photos on an ongoing basis. Works wonders for the sort of stuff you'll probably be doing.

  • I've been using Picasa version 3.6. In addition to tags and geo-tagging, it also recognizes (some) faces and can attach "name tags" to photos. I use separate folders for the date the photo was taken grouped by months and years, e.g. Photos\2010\07\0720.

    Picasa orders the pictures by folder and date, or album and I can also search by tag, person, or caption text.

  • First of all, you will save a lot of effort by adopting a software that includes worflow management and Digital Asset Management. Aperture, Lightroom, or even Adobe Bridge to name a few.

    This is a bit arbitrary but works for me as a hybrid between a keyword-based and a directory-based workflow management. I use a very specific directory structure explained below.

    While I do like and use metadata, keywords and smart collections, there is a drawback to them: what happens if I want to look at and search my files on a computer that doesn't have Lightroom installed for example? How can I share my photos on my network with devices like an XBox or an old piece of electronic that only supports a directory-based structure, as opposed to a database? What if I need to quickly send my photos with my phone, or create a ZIP files for friends or clients?

    In my directory structure and database I keep track of both the RAW files and sRGB JPEG exported copies. The JPEG files are stored in a subfolder level by broad category first (say Celebration, Concerts, Sports, Urban Exploration). At the second level I use a strict "What - Where - When" naming convention automatically generated by Lightroom (most DAM apps support this feature). The RAW files are stored by year, then by date with a short description.

    It looks like this from both the catalog/database/library view and a basic File Explorer (this is only a subset of course):

                St. Patrick's Day - Albany, NY - 09, Mar/
                    St. Patrick's Day - Albany, NY - 09, Mar - 01.jpg
                    St. Patrick's Day - Albany, NY - 09, Mar - 02.jpg
                4th of July - Albany, NY - 09, Jul/
            Urban Exploration/
                Hudson Cement Factory - Kingston, NY - 10, May/
                2009-03-22 (St. Patrick's Day)/
                2009-07-04 (4th of July)/
                2010-05-12 (Hudson Cement Factory)/

    When I import my RAW files, I let Lightroom put them automatically in a RAW/year/year-month-day folder, based on the date the photos were taken on. I then add a suffix to that directory with a quick description (say St. Patrick's Day or Hudson Cement Factory, etc). I select all my RAW files, and update their metadata by setting the Scene attribute to "what" the subject is (here St. Patrick's Day or Hudson Cement Factory, which I still have conveniently in my Copy/Paste buffer). I also set the Location attributes, i.e. the City, State and Country. The earlier you set this kind of metadata, the better.

    When I'm done processing, keywording and geotagging my RAW files, I export sRGB JPEG copies (and upload them to Flickr from Lightroom later on). My export preset automatically creates files that follow the "Scene - City, State - YY, Mon - Counter" naming convention, fields that I have filled by now (the date is found in the photo itself of course). I finally use Lightroom to quickly move the files to a subdir under a broad category subfolder (Celebrations, Urban Exploration, etc).

    At this point what I have is a catalog/database that I can explore by metadata (date, location, scene, keywords), as well as a reasonably clear directory structure that I can use without Lightroom. This directory structure tells me what, where and when just by looking at the file names. My XBox will organize and present my photos the same way. A simple file search will quickly retrieve my photos based on these criteria.

    This whole JPEG directory doesn't have to be managed by LR, but I found it pretty convenient since I still have a lot of JPG files that don't have a RAW counterpart. Why manage some, and not the others? Granted, keyword searching will return both the RAW file and JPEG file (since the JPEG file has the same keywords), but this can be easily worked out by adding a rule that will filter our either JPG or RAW/DNG files (in smart collections especially). I also use smart collections of course, to keep track of the files, versions and virtual copies I used for clients, galleries, contests and print shops.

    Anyway, this worked fine so far, but I have only 6000 photos in there.

  • I use the following directory structure (in Aperture)

          Event A
          Event B

    Beyond that I use keywords and EXIF data to create smart albums based on ratings, people, places etc. I find that this scales very well.

  • For me its a mix of tools:

    I have my camera set to create a new folder based on date automatically.

    My photos are then imported from the camera into a folder with the date taken and the camera name is added (automated in the import software).

    I then add a location or reminder to the folder name eg 2010-03-27-EOS40D-Special Event. This means they stay sorted in chronological order year-month-day. Within this I put RAW, Edited and Uploaded folders for workflow.

    Once imported I add tags, people, places etc using Photoshop Elements, although plenty of other tools would work just as well if not better. This is the most time consuming part but doesn't need to be done immediately as the folder naming is often enough to help.

    This means i can quickly find what I am looking for either in a standard explorer window or via Elements.

  • Sounds too simple but I found Windows Live Photo Gallery the best out there. First of all it's free and built into Windows. The most important features for me are that I can tag pictures (and it actually touches the IPTC metadata so it's portable over different file-systems if you have both Windows and Mac) and find them very easily using Windows search or the search functionality built into almost any image organization software. Tagging files lets you organize the files as you want on disk (I go for the directory-per-date).

    Everybody told me that iPhoto on Mac was fantastic but with more than 20Gb of images it becomes a problem since it creates its own library (double the files). Also if you don't "import" it won't touch the original files, so the day you switch computers or something goes wrong and you lose the library file you are desperate :(

  • I have a horrific naming scheme that renames based on EXIF taken date and the MD5 hash of the photo. This lets me keep things in chronological order while also differentiating between different photos taken in the same second and edited photos. It's sounds really ugly, but I haven't found a better way of keeping track of unique and duplicate photos across multiple computers.

  • Adding my voice to Picasa, however it is VERY important to use the tagging feature of the latest version along side with (or instead of albums)

    Picasa stores the tag(s) you add to a photo right into the EXIF metadata which means your tags (albums) will live on even if you pull the photos away from Picasa or stop using it altogether.

    Picasa has a feature that will create a 'virtual' album based on a specified tag - my plan is to migrate over all my existing Picasa albums to tags right in the photos - this is especially important if you store your photos on an external HDD and access them via different computers/programs.

  • Picasa will show you your photos on a map, and you can definitely zoom into the map to see all the photos around a given place. It'll also let you geotag by positioning photos on the map -- I find it easier to use for geotagging than Microsoft Pro Photo Tools.

    Unfortunately, it only maps the photos in the currently selected folder, and doesn't recurse into subfolders. But you can define a new album (containing photos from many folders), and map all of the photos in that album at once - so you could conceivably have an "Everything" album. Personally, I organise into folders based on year and location, so usually I'm only looking at a single folder at a time.

  • I find organizing photos by year / month - 'Event name' is good - but always remember to use a long and descriptive folder name.

    I now have 10 years worth of photos (about 70,000 pictures) and a way that I have found to share my organised photo collection is via this online Photo Service called that I have set up.

    From the description of the service: This service offers an application you can install and it will upload your entire collection. Once the collection is online - you can share with friends and family. Their search facility is fast enough for my purposes (in my experience it doesn't take me more than 2 seconds to find a folder or tag). I use different tags to mark my favorite pictures of my children - so by searching for the tag - I get an overview of them over the years. The uploader is available for Windows and MAC. When you add to or change your photo collection - just re-run the uploader - and it only sends the updates to the online system.

  • This is my basic tripflow.

    Import photos on your disk in some folder named "TODO" or something like that. If you can put photos for each day (or week/month if you do not shoot much) in a folder. Create a "sorted" folder, that contaoins folder like this

    2012-12-20 Trip to the lake
    2012-12-31 New year eve
    2012-01-03 walk to the park

    and in each one put your photos

    After that use Picasa. In Picasa catalog put the "TODO" folder and the "sorted" one. Move stuff from "TODO" to the appropriate folder in "sorted" (crating a new folder if the case). Picasa will have also some nice features to search using critaria different than the folder name. But I wouldn't put too much time in hiper-organinzing photos, especially if you just keep them because you enjouy looking at them time by time.

    In this way you will not be liked to one specific software and if one day Picase will not be there anymore, you still have your photo decently organized.

  • As it's not been mentioned anywhere above that I can see, let me add Photo Mechanic to the discussion.

    Photo Mechanic does a couple of things brilliantly:

    • "ingests" photos straight from memory card
    • allows you to rate your photos using 8 colour coded levels quickly and easily
    • Allows you to apply IPTC tags to images using a very intelligent system of merged fields and pre-populated data
    • Allows you to move your selected images to different locations, rename, etc...

    It's not an image editor, it sits between (eg) lightroom, Bridge or Photoshop and your memory card to select, tag and classify your images before you get around to editing them.

    I would struggle to live without it now - and finding images later is a breeze!

  • Google Photos is an excellent option to keep your original photos, order by date, location, faces, elements, etc. You can access to them from any navigator, avoiding to lose them in case your device is broken or stolen. The only problem is if you want to save the original one, you'd probably have to pay, unless you have a premium account given by a company or yout former university for example.

  • Late to the party, I know.

    But… better late than…

    I have fallen into a naming scheme which is simple but comprehensive. I've written about it here before.
    It's Of-ness and About-ness - not a very catchy name for the technique, I'm afraid.

    As someone who uses images a lot, I am constantly looking for resources and filing ones that I can use.
    It's flexible, simple, random access, and high-performance.

    Every image sorted falls into two categories simultaneously: What the picture subject is—it's OF-ness. What is the picture OF? For example, I have several images OF sunsets, say. That's the main folder - It's a folder (or category) OF sunsets. It's descriptive of the image.

    The second category for all the images is a tag that tells me how the image can be used. The application of the image (most images) can be unlimitled. In a word, its ABOUT-ness. What is the picture about? Obviously, a picture of a sunset can be about a sunset. Sure. It gets a "sunset" tag.

    In addition, however, the sunset can be an analogy about retirement (tag), end-of-life (tag), climate change (tag), solar energy (tag), 'Summertime' (tag), astronomy (tag), etc.

    You could use any simple indexing system to relate all the info to an illustrated catalogue through only a picture serial number. Any relational database would work.

    I use a wiki for its speed and flexibility. There are a few proprietary and open-source wikis available.

    Disclaimer: I'm emphasizing, not hollering :^)

  • Try out the ACDSee photo manager, it's the best thing I have found for very large collections of images. Adobe Lightroom or Bridge are good also, but ACDSee is much better.

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