Updated: January 1, 2024 | Contains affiliate links

When folders are not enough…image tags are your friends.


It is rare when a complex problem can have a simple solution. Most of the times however, a complex problem can have a simple solution that only works well for some of the times. When “some of the times” is “most of the times” for you, then the simple solution will work fine. However if “some of the times” does turn out not to be “most of the times” then the simple solution breaks down very easily. This is the case with the folder based method of organizing your pictures. So, how do you know when folders are not enough?

When do you need image tags?

The folder based method of organization is indeed very simple and efficient and indeed very cheap…it is actually free. It is arguably the best method of organization for most digital camera users. However, there is a point when this simple and efficient method is definitely not enough. So, what is the tipping point? How can you know when you should start thinking about getting more power through your organization method?

What is the basic problem with folders?

The problem with a folder based method is that a folder based organization structure is one dimensional. What does this mean? Essentially, it means that an image can belong to one and only one folder unless you copy it in more than one folder.

Folders work great if you have one basic criterion for organizing your pictures. Something like events would work great with folders. Or something like cities. All of these examples would work with a folder structure that I describe in detail in this article. The problem with a folder structure starts to arise when you have more than one criterion for your pictures. If you have events, people and landmarks and you want to be able to organize them by all these criteria without copying images…well, then you have a problem.

Let me give you a simple example: let’s say you visit Paris and you take tons of pictures (you should do that for sure if you visit Paris). Then you come home and you create multiple folders with the date and Paris as the place. Something like:


This is all cool. But then you realize you have too many pictures and you want to show your friends all the Eiffel Tower pictures. You realize then that you have those pictures in all your three folders. You have only one solution: You can create another folder called Eiffel_Tower and copy all the Eiffel Tower pictures into this folder. This will work but you just created two copies of the same picture in two separate folders. Depending on how many times you have to do that you can fill up a hard drive very quickly.

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Wouldn’t it be cool if…

So, wouldn’t it be extremely cool if you wouldn’t have to copy the pictures into a new folder? If you could just add some keywords to your pictures it would be great. You could add Paris to all your pictures from Paris, but the ones that have the Eiffel Tower in them you can just label as Paris, Eiffel Tower. All would be complete if you could not search by Eiffel Tower and voila!…your Eiffel Tower pictures would come up without you having to create a special folder. Yes, you know where I’m going…folders would not work for this! You need a special kind of software to enable you to do this: tagging of images.

But again…how do I know when I need more?

The simple answer is when you find yourself often in the scenario I described above. How often? Well, often enough to get you frustrated and want to be able to search by keyword a lot of times. That’s when you start looking for DAM software, which stands for Digital Asset Management software. There are many of them on the market, and they are not cheap. I’ll write more about these tools in another post.

What about my folders?

Some people argue that once you start using Digital Asset Management (DAM) software you don’t need to worry about your folder structure anymore. However, I believe that you have to maintain your carefully constructed folder structure and build your set of tags (or keywords) on top of the folder structure you have already created.

Essentials for organizing your digital photos

Here are the essential products and services I have come to rely on for many years to keep my media collection organized and safe. Even though these are affiliate links, I wholeheartedly recommend them.

Excellent Lightroom alternative. If you need a cheaper and simpler photo manager then ACDSee Photo Studio for Mac (save 20% until Feb 15th) or ACDSee Photo Studio Professional for Windows (save $20 until Feb 15th) is my preferred solution for organizing all my media. It has a very fast browser, great image editing and it's simple to use.

If you do a lot of image editing like I do, I recommend using Adobe Lightroom Classic CC via the annual Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Lightroom has best photo editing capabilities even though it has a steeper learning curve. Adobe Lightroom is my favorite for image editing.

I recommend Backblaze Personal Cloud Backup for affordable & reliable unlimited cloud backup. I have been using Backblaze for backing up all pictures & videos for more than 5 years now. All my invaluable digital memories are safe and secure. This is the best solution especially if you have a large quantity of media files.

Use a reliable & affordable external hard drive for backing up everything on your computer. It is absolutely essential for keeping all your memories backed up and safe.

Start organizing now using detailed, step-by-step instructions and videos:
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