We all have a lot of digital pictures. We take them on our iPhones, with our big fancy cameras, and store everything on our computer and in the cloud. But what is the best way to organize this mountain of photographs? While there are several different approaches to dealing with this particular situation, I will delve into how I choose to organize and store not only my client images, but my personal ones as well.
First thing’s first
First of all, make sure you get your images off your phone or camera, and unto your computer so that you can work with them. Organizing means that you go through the photographs and file them away with proper naming and filing, mainly so you can find them again when needed. While you’re at it, you can also crop, color-correct, and enhance your images, too.
Name and Organize by DATE
Keeping images organized by year, month, and date is a wonderful way to tame the mess of photos. For clients, my folders are named in the following format: YYYY_MM_DD_ClientName_TypeofShoot (so something like 2019_02_01_Smith_Family_Newborn). This allows me to quickly find the client files when I need to, by either searching or drilling down through the folder structure. It keeps everything together. And for personal photographs, I always include the location in the folder/file name, or the activity/event if the location is something generic, like our home. And it’s important to rename every file, not just the folder (so that you can still find them if they get moved).
On a Mac (and I’m sure Windows machines have the ability as well), you can select all the files you want to rename, right click, and “Rename” them to something better than the default name/number. Do this for every image set and try to organize your shots after any big event or at the end of the month if possible to keep them in line.
One of the best tips for keeping your pile of images manageable is to go through them and delete the photos that aren’t worth keeping. We usually take a lot of doubles - images that are almost identical. So in a group of 20 photos, maybe only 3 are worth keeping (this specifically applies to portraits of children, who tend to move around and make silly faces all the time). I personally use Lightroom to manage my images, but you can use iPhoto or Adobe Bridge to look at the photos you have, choose the ones you want to keep, and delete everything else. It might seen terrifying to permanently get rid of images (especially if you’re thinking that storage is cheap and you should keep everything, just in case), but it makes your life so much easier in the end.
*Tip: Zoom in, to look at the images you’re keeping at 100% scale to make sure they are actually in focus (and not blurry). Out of focus photographs can look totally fine when you’re looking at them small, but they won’t be usable for printing in the end.
Keeping pictures on your computer’s hard drive isn’t the best idea, and having a secondary hard backup is essential. Now, it doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple external hard drive will do the job just fine (albeit you can always have an automated server backup as well), as long as you check on your files and move them to a newer hard drive backup every 5 years or so (this solves the problem of potentially ending up with photos on an obsolete technology). The biggest takeaway is that you should always have at least two copies of whatever you’re trying to preserve, in case one fails. Which brings me to..
Your second copy should ideally be in the cloud (aka, online server backup). You can use Google Drive, Amazon, iCloud, or Flickr. In fact, use two if you can, just in case. A lot of these services are fairly cheap.. so after your files are nicely organized and properly named, back them up online. And as a bonus, it’s a great way to share with family and friends!
One word of warning, make sure your online backup of choice does not automatically compress and resize your images. This means that Facebook isn’t at all suitable for this purpose. And the other thing to watch out for is with services like Dropbox, files are mirrored from your hard drive.. this means that if you delete a file, it will also be deleted online. Ideally, you want the freedom to free up space on your computer as the drive fills up without losing your images, which is why I recommend a non-syncing service instead.
Tip: Automation is your friend! I have my personal iPhone photos automatically upload to Flickr. This is a fantastic backup of the stuff that’s on my phone without me having to think about any of it. The key is that once they’re uploaded, they stay online, even if I delete them on my phone.
And finally, the best way to preserve the photographs you want to keep (ideally forever) is to print them! So order prints, make an album, or do whatever fits into your schedule and personal preferences - either every month or at the end of the year. And keep those digital copies safe by using the methods above, so you always have a backup if you ever need it.