The fundamental problem with digital picture organization is the very large quantity of pictures that one has to be able to manage. Only by dividing this large quantity into smaller and more manageable groups of pictures, one can successfully organize their digital pictures. This approach is nothing new; it is in fact an application of the age old principle of “Divide and Conquer”. This is how the Romans used to conquer new people and lands, they would turn them against each other and would divide them before they would conquer them.
Divide your digital pictures so you can conquer them
When you have lots of pictures you have to help yourself…otherwise you’ll go crazy. I found that the easiest way is to divide my pictures into categories of events and create special folders for them. So, I have folders for events for my FAMILY, events at WORK and at CHURCH. It is important to note that I don’t organize them based on who is in the picture, but rather on what the event is for.
This categorization helps me a lot when I need to find any picture. It works a little bit like a dictionary. If you’re looking for the definition of “photography” for example, then you look for the letter P and you don’t start at A. This is why dictionaries are helpful. You divide all the possible words into “categories” based on what the words start with. The result is that you can conquer individual words.
My folder structure
If you have looked at the picture organization method I teach on this site you’ve probably noticed that I create a folder structure that looks like the diagram below.
My Pictures FAMILY 2006 2007 2007-11-23-Malibu-day-trip 2007-11-29-ToysRUs-new-toys WORK CHURCH MISC
What are the categories (or domains) of your pictures?
You may ask “where did you come up with these folders: FAMILY, WORK, CHURCH, MISC ? My pictures don’t fit within those folders!” The answer is simple: “I have created them to fit the way I take pictures”. To get more specific…I’m talking about the domain of my pictures. In my case my domain is “events”. I take pictures at events at my CHURCH at WORK and with my FAMILY. So the domain of my pictures is events and because of that the top most folders represent categories of events. So, I want to separate events for my FAMILY, for my WORK, for my CHURCH and eventually some other pictures that don’t fit in those three. I believe most people take picture within this domain.
What is the criterion for organizing your pictures?
The next question is: what is your criterion for organizing your pictures? The answer obviously depends on your domain. If you domain is events then your criterion for differentiating between events is date. The answer to this question will drive how you name each folder that contains pictures from one event.
Another example would be if you’re traveling a lot and want to organize your pictures by countries you have visited. Your top folders would represent countries like: USA, France and Netherlands. Then you would place your pictures from the different photo shooting trips in the various country folders. Again this is a different domain for your pictures: countries. Then your criterion for differentiating between your sets of pictures could be city and that would drive you to create subfolders for each city you visit in that country. You can think of many other criteria for organization like: product id, part number, car type and so on.
Putting it in practice
Once you determined the domain and criterion that fits your purpose, then you create your top level folders. Later you may realize that you can create even higher level folders to identify groups of folders. For example your criterion is: Product Id. After you create a folder for each you may realize you have too many and then you create groupings of products: electronics, furniture and so on.
This is a basic application of the age old method called “Divide and Conquer”. You’re dividing complexity into smaller and similar problems that can be solved easier.
A folder based method will not be efficient if you want to organize pictures in more than one domain. You would need special software that will allow you to assign multiple keywords to images. These keywords can span multiple domains and thus you can perform complex searches against your pictures database.
Essentials for organizing your digital photosOver the years I have come to rely on only a few products for managing and backing up my large media collection. These are my essential products and services I have been using for many years to keep things organized and safe. Even though these are affiliate links, I wholeheartedly recommend them.
I recommend using Adobe Lightroom Classic CC via the annual Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Lightroom has excellent photo editing capabilities. Yes, Lightroom has a steeper learning curve as you have to learn to keep your catalogs in sync with your hard drive. However, Adobe Lightroom makes most sense especially when you do lots of image editing.
If you don't like the subscription, you can get also download the last standalone Adobe Lightroom 6 for Mac or Windows (while it is still available). However, the product is no longer maintained by Adobe.
Excellent Lightroom and Picasa alternative. If you're looking for a cheaper and simpler photo manager then ACDSee Photo Studio for Mac or ACDSee Pro for Windows is my preferred solution for organizing your media on your computer. It has a very fast browser, beautiful image editing capabilities and you don't work with catalogs at all.
In addition, make sure you have an inexpensive and reliable external hard drive for backing everything up. It is absolutely essential for backing up your media regularly.
If you're looking for a reliable unlimited cloud backup service, I recommend Backblaze Cloud Backup. I have used Backblaze for my online backup for more than 3 years now. All my files are safe and secure and I have never had any problems with them.