I have well over 80,000 unique photos on my hard drive, dating back to March 13, 2004. These do not include the boxes and albums I also have of physical pictures. Over a third of this number were taken in the last year, alone, due largely to shooting for three conventions and two mini conventions. That’s a scary trend, especially as I move toward shooting events professionally.
When you’re drowning in this many photos, it begs the question: how do you organize it all? I’ve migrated from one organization scheme to another and back again. In short: it’s an extremely difficult task!
At first, everything was simply dumped in the “My Pictures” directory. That was fine while I only had a couple hundred photos a year – a fun picture of the nephews, a pretty ski slope, cute kitties. But come 2007 and the official upgrade from film to digital, it was all downhill. We were then talking in the range of thousands of pictures each year, and the numbers only grew with my passion.
I then adopted an events-based organizational structure. Family, holidays, events, misc – I hate “misc” anything, yet it haunts me wherever I go; it’s obstinately unavoidable. This worked well for me for many years.
Then came Photoshop.
Once I started editing photos, I wanted to separate edited from raw. This led to Event/Some Fun Event/Fixed/Edited Photo 1.jpg. I even got into a bad habit of naming every. single. photo. ::shudder:: Why, past Me? Just, why?
I continued like this until I started caring about editing everything that came out of my camera – no raws allowed! I wanted to go back and edit all that I hadn’t. How do I tackle that in a systematic way?
I worked alphabetically, but I fell dreadfully behind in such a daunting task, especially as I couldn’t stop my trigger-happy finger from adding to the growing problem. It came to a head when I started making annual Christmas cards featuring photos from all the adventures upon which we had embarked in the past year – sort of a pictorial Christmas letter. I wanted a fast way of identifying what we had actually done recently, but nothing was organized chronologically.
Yep, that’s right. I was a Photoshop editor long before I discovered Lightroom. It was actually con shooting that introduced me to it, and it was a godsend. Lightroom naturally imports new photos into date-titled folders, so I decided to go with it. I then upended the directory structure I had, and what emerged was a single directory with date-organized raw (unedited) photos and separate directories with event-organized edited photos. They link to each other, so I can still find all associated pictures either by date or by event.
This still isn’t a perfect system. First, only a portion of my pictures are actually organized in this way. Going forward, I have been good about adopting this system; 2016 and most of 2015 are fine. However, anything earlier is a mix, at best. That still leaves at least 50,000 pictures still left to organize. It’s a daunting project.
Further, what do I do with pictures that I have no intention of editing? Do I put them in with the raw pictures, because they’re unedited, or do I put them in by event? Will I search for it by date or by activity? Do I copy it so it’s in both? (Hint: NO.)
What do I do with pictures I didn’t take, myself? I care about personal pictures of family, even if I didn’t take them. If my sister and I were both at the same event, both taking pictures, does it make sense to separate the two batches of resulting photos? Lightroom can easily filter by photographer if I really want to, so perhaps it’s best to just keep everything in one folder for viewing/searching.
Which brings up another thought: does it even make sense to have a separated date structure? As long as the pictures are imported to Lightroom (which I do for all new shots now), it’s easy to search by date as well, which was the point behind organizing it in that way to begin with. But I’m then right back to where I began. #photographerproblems
The one thing I’ve learned and decided: pick one thing and just do it consistently. Right now, I’m suffering from many schemes trying to live harmoniously on my hard drive and failing miserably.
Worse, with the many reorganizations I’ve put the drive through, I managed to lose an entire directory of photos – “Concerts and Shows.” This included Muse at Red Rocks, Rock Slope in Steamboat, Yellowcard, and a couple Warped Tours. I’m not sure how they went missing, but *poof* – vanished. I keep hoping I’ll stumble upon them in one of the numerous backups, but these all seem to have been performed AL (After Loss). I’m devastated by the loss, of course, but I know it could have been far worse: I could have lost “Family.”
In the end, it’s important to keep to a single organizational structure. I should have planned a bit better before deciding upon one or another, taking future use into account. And advice for the fellow photographers: if you’re going to change it, be sure you have a solid backup before moving things around, and try to move everything as quickly as possible so you aren’t left with inconsistent, warring schemes. Adopt something that will work long-term and with tens of thousands of pictures.
How do you organize your photos? Do you have something that works well for you? Feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear about it!