Organize Yourself

By Roger (31 July 2014)

The other day, we were developing a Lightroom class and trying to figure out exactly what we wanted to say to help new photographers better understand the importance of organizing their workflow overall, but especially for Lightroom. (By the way, the latest version of Lightroom, 5.6, was released today.) This work needs to be thought out, to some degree, before you even begin to import your photos into Lightroom. I can hear you starting to question that, but let me finish. Lightroom can handle whatever kind of organization you create, but, the more you think it through, the better your system will work for you.

Seward, Alaska. I wouldn't want to lose this file.

Seward, Alaska. I wouldn't want to lose this file.

New photographers are too often looking for a one-size-fits-all checklist, and it just doesn't exist. You can find numerous organizational variations with every Lightroom user you talk to. However, there are some best practices you'll see repeated from experienced users. Use those if they make sense to you.

The fact that you can set things up in any number of ways can lead to indecision about which way is the “right” way. The right way is the way that make the most sense for you. The right way feels so right for you that you'll keep doing it, time after time. The right way is the way to keep you consistently able to find any of your photos, at the very time you need them, with minimal effort. Over the next couple of blogs, I'll give you some suggestions to help you decide what works best for you.

The first thing you need to decide, again, before you get started with importing photos, is where to put the files. My desktop computer came with two hard drives, so I keep the programs on one drive and data on the other. Your photos will quickly begin to grab hard drive space as you take more and more of them, so make sure you have a sizable drive to hold them. If your main computer is a laptop, I recommend you get an external drive (at least one terabyte) for home and a small, portable one if you travel.

Now that you have the designated data drive, you need to plot out your filing scheme. This is the closest thing to a rule I'll write about today – put all your photos into a single folder. Mine is cleverly called “Photos.” Name it whatever you want, but put all your photos into this folder. This makes back-ups easier because you can point your software to this one folder, and you can be confident you have all your files. If there is ever a time you don't use Lightroom to find your files, you'll at least know the folder to begin with. I, also, keep my Lightroom databases in this folder, but we aren't to that point, yet.

Technically, you could be done with your folders. You can put all the photo files into that one folder, and Lightroom can handle them all there. If you want a little more depth to your filing system, you can create sub-folders of your choosing. Most people do create sub-folders, and here is where things get varied.

My opinion is you should keep it as simple as possible in your sub-folders. You might think of subdividing your “Photos” folder in many ways: subject; camera; time; relationship; or themes. If you create a folder for family, a folder for friends, a folder for strangers, and a folder for landscapes, you've just complicated your import process. Let's say you shot some wonderful photos, during the family vacation trip from Virginia, visiting friends in Tennessee, en route to the Grand Canyon. Using highly detailed sub-folders, you'll have to divide all those photos into their individual locations. If you shot the photos in the raw format (which we strongly recommend), you can't even view them with your standard browser. You can do this when you open Lightroom, but you'll have to perform several import actions, instead of just one, since Lightroom will import your photos into only one folder at a time.

Just to show you how complicated this type of folder system becomes, into which folder will you put a photo of your kid, standing by your family friend, smiling in front of a sunset over the Grand Canyon? Please, don't say you'll put copies of photo in each folder!

You could put all of them into a "Vacation" sub-folder. But will you put next year's vacation photos into the same Vacation folder or will you create a new one? Maybe add the location to Vacation or the year.  How will you handle a vacation to several places on one trip? If you want this kind of sub-folder naming convention, try to think it through.

Even though you don't need any sub-folders under "Photos," many are just determined to have some kind of sub-folder structure – me included. My sub-folders are simply by year. It makes me feel better to do it this way because I've cataloged my photos by year since I started. I can't give you a better reason than that. However, one advantage to my system is that I only have to do one import action. I'm not a fan of lots of sub-folders, and this solution keeps the number lower than the one in the paragraphs above. I'm not telling you this is the only way or best way; it is just my way.

For full disclosure, I have two other sub-folders: Scans and Others. Inside “Scans,” I have my old negatives and slides. I, also, put in scans of old paper photographs of family. “Others” is where I put photos from other photographers. For example, my kids' wedding photographs; camera phone photos that were sent to me; or any other photos I've been given that aren't my work. They are all cataloged in Lightroom, and it could find them in my “Photos” folder. I just keep them in separate sub-folders because I like it that way.

Later, you can change or refine whatever filing system you decide on, but try to think through before you begin to minimize your hassles. At one time, I had sub-sub-folders in my yearly sub-folders for each month, but I soon realized they were superfluous and just kept one for each year.

So, take some time to think through your organization scheme before you try to implement it. Notice, we haven't even opened Lightroom, but I know where all my photos reside and simplified my back-up plan. We'll get into some Lightroom organization next week. Have fun!

Marion, Massachusetts

Marion, Massachusetts