The Best Ways to Organize Photos for Any Photographer

Best Way to Organize Photos

Aside from knowing your craft and keeping your gear in good working order, the most important part of photography in the digital era is taking good care of your digital assets (files created by your camera and editing software). Even as a beginner, you need to understand the best ways to organize photos and take care of them so you always have access to them.

Here is a five step process to safeguard your photos. Starting from the time of capture, we’ll help you understand the best ways to organize photos so you can carry-on doing what you do best: capturing moments.

The Goal – Plan for the Future

I take approximately 300,000 images every year. Between my client work, personal projects and simply creating a record of my life, I have a lot of data to manage. In the beginning, I had folders such as “Weekend Away 1” and “Weekend Away 2” containing photos, video and even my processed files. If I had continued with a haphazard system like this, my drives would be impossible to work with now. Start by taking stock of your current assets. This will give you an idea of what needs to be organized.

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Best way to organize photos with Michael Clark

Step 1 – Pre-Shoot

From now on, digital asset management starts before you even record files to your memory card. Most cameras will allow you to set a custom filename or folder setup within the camera itself. The best ways to organize photos is to separate images on a shoot-by-shoot basis. If this is not your style, at the very least, make sure your camera’s time and date are correct. This will make it easy to sort files later on.

Best Way to Organize Photos

Step 2 – Create a Naming Convention and Structure (and Stick to it)

Once you’ve captured your images, you’ll need to organize them on your computer. The best ways to organize photos on a desktop is by creating a folder structure that is meaningful and easy to navigate. This is an essential step to keeping your images organized and being able to find them later. Personally, I like to do everything manually, but you can have your favorite software do this for you as well. I create folders one by one within a larger structure and copy my files into them after every shoot. This structure abides by the following convention:

Date – Shoot Type – Client Name

The date is added in reverse to ensure my folders stay chronological on all devices. So, a family session with the Jones family on May 10th, 2018 would look like this:

\Photos\Client\20180510 – Family – Jones

You could add location or other information to this structure, but that can easily be added to keywords later on.

Inside each folder, I create folders for each photographer (if there are multiple photographers present) and inside that a folder for each camera. You could also create a naming convention in each camera that would make this step unnecessary. The key is making sure that no two files in the folder have the same name.

Step 3 – Organize Within Your Favorite Software

The next step in ensuring your photos are organized in the best way possible is adding additional metadata to further categorize them. Using your preferred software (I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic), begin by keywording all of your images. Useful keywords include locations, techniques, times of year, clients names (don’t expect to remember all their names!) and the type of shoot. Mark the images that are your favorites from the shoot as well. I use flags in Lightroom for this. This is also the time to add GPS data or facial recognition if you use it. Your aim here should be to give yourself as many ways to find these images later as you can. Jared Platt’s class The Ultimate Lightroom CC Workflow is an excellent resource for this step.

Best Way to Organize Photos

Step 4 – Store Your Edits

If you’re exclusively using software such as Lightroom, you may not need to store edits outside the program itself as the changes you make to the image are stored in the program’s catalog file. However, if you’re creating new files using software like Adobe Photoshop, you will want to keep your edits nearby your originals in your folder structure. I recommend a sub-folder within the originals folder to make it easy to find them later on.

Step 5 – Back it All Up

The most beautifully crafted file system may calm your O.C.D., but it won’t save your day if a drive becomes corrupted or outright fails on you. This is where you need to make a backup of everything. Don’t be fooled into thinking that your one external hard-drive is in any way, shape or form a backup. One drop, spill or thief and you’ll lose everything.

Two physical copies in different locations at a bare minimum is considered a backup. Even then, I would recommend adding some form of cloud backup to this as well. Check out A Photo Back-Up Guide: 4 Ways to Safeguard Your Images for more details on backup.

Sett up a practical and efficient workflow with your photography with Michael Clark. Learn more.

Best way to organize photos with Michael Clark


Dylan Goldby FOLLOW >

Dylan Goldby is an Aussie photographer based out of Seoul, South Korea. His primary business is family portraiture, but he frequently travels to add to his ongoing Tattoos of Asia project.