Taking photos has never been easier with an ever-advancing digital photography technology. However, the ability to archive them has become more difficult due to the overwhelming number of photos allowed by the advent of digital photography.
A photographer can easily shoot tens of thousands of digital images per year, but how are they ever able to find anything? This is when a photographer needs to figure out a workflow and stick with it. From capture to delivery, a workflow that truly works for you will not only simplify the post-processing of images, but will also improve your efficiency and consistency in general. I was often asked by fellow photographers, “What’s the best workflow?” and the fact is there, there is none. There is no industrial standard and everyone has their own preference when it comes to photo-processing software. Therefore, you have to figure out what works for you.
A workflow defines a routine from taking images, transferring them to a computer, organizing them, post processing the images, backing up and final delivery. In this article, I am going to give you some tips on organizing photos based on my own experience and workflow. Feel free to tweak them to whatever works for you!
Tip #1 Backup all and backup often
Even though I clearly remember my college professor stressing the importance of backing up often and onto two separate devices, I did not always listen. Then, lightning struck my laptop and my hard drive was gone. It was a hard lesson to learn. Now I backup often and store images in three separate locations (just in case!). I backup all freshly taken images from the camera to my computer. I also burn a DVD with all the raw images. Although I will be eventually sorting and processing these photos, I’d like to keep a copy of the original raw files from the field. I then backup photos I have edited to an external hard drive. This backup copy is updated often with new edits. After I’m done with this batch of photo editing, I burn another DVD with all of the final images on it.
Tip #2 Keep folders small
When using Windows to import photos, they are stored under a common folder titled “My Photos”. This folder gets very large over time which might slow things down quite a bit. Therefore, I keep my photos filed directly under my C Drive with the following structure: top folder by year, subfolders by event.
Tip #3 Organize images by event
There are many ways to group photos, such as renaming photos with dates or event types. I find it cumbersome to rename, so I keep the original file names and group images by the event. For example, if I take 800 photos at a wedding in Chicago, I’d keep the file names and group them under a folder called “Chicago Wedding- (Bride’s name) and (Groom’s name)”.
Tip #4 Sort images in Bridge
I find Adobe Bridge extremely useful in viewing and sorting raw files. After the importing raw images from the memory card to my hard drive, I open the image folder in Bridge. Bridge allows me to selectively view my images by setting filter criteria (for example, type of lens, ISO, shutter speed, etc.). I often go through all images in the Preview Mode, which can be accessed by choosing View > Preview Mode. In Preview Mode, the forefront image is enlarged for you to view details; you can go through the rest of the queue by clicking the Left or Right arrow buttons on your keyboard. As I go through these photos, I rate them by either rejecting them, giving them a star rating (5-star rank for the best ones, 4-star rank if I’m indecisive), or color labeling them. There are five different colors labels to choose from, but to simplify my workflow, I only use two colors to avoid confusion. In general, my star ratings indicate the photos I want to keep and work on, and my color labels indicate what I want to show to the client.
Tip #5 Create a PDF contact sheet
Adobe Bridge features a very easy way to make a contact sheet in PDF format. A contact sheet is a document that shows thumbnails of the photos you selected, all aligned in rows and columns that you specified. After all of the sorting is done, I go back into the main Bridge window, and filter all color labeled photos and select them, then choose Window > Workspace > Output. After, click on the PDF button on top of the panel. You can choose to preview the contact sheet in the main window, or open it up later from Windows Explorer. The contact sheet can then be shared with clients for quick review.
I once read that every 2 seconds, we snap as many photos as all of humanity took in the 1800’s. Many photos got lost from poor archival methods and lack of backups. I urge all photographers: Get organized, now!
Hope you find my tips helpful, and please share your own tips on organizing photos.