Organising Photos - Part 1

The Good Old Days

Shot during the ‘good old days’ on Kodak film.

Shot during the ‘good old days’ on Kodak film.

When I first started out with photography, back in the film days, the importance of organising photos was not even a concept for beginners or amateurs – short of writing “Christmas 1992” on a packet of 6x4s you just got back from the pharmacy. Or maybe after a few years you dumped a few hundred photos in your size 7 shoe boxes and labelled them “1995-1998” and “2000-2003”. That, at least gave you an inkling of the possible chronology of the photos in the box. Hold on, where are the rest of them?

Back then, most photographer hobbyists wouldn’t have too many to sift through, after all, film was expensive and so was getting them printed. A few dozen rolls of 36 or 24 exposure 35mm negatives maybe. After a few years you have accumulated several hundred photos!

Fast forward to 2016; some of us have accumulated a few hundred photos last week! A few thousand photos last year.

My Lightroom Catalog from 2015

My Lightroom Catalog from 2015

Do you know how to find them all so you can look at them again, or share them on some social media platform or find your favourites to work on them more? Are you relying on using Mac Finder or Windows Explorer to scroll through hundreds or thousands of images?

Have you given up looking for them? Do you take hundreds of photos on your holidays or at a special place, download them and never, ever look at them again?

Such is the plight of the digital photographer.


Organisation is the solution to getting your digital assets organised. Don’t think of it as a boring task (OK, it’s not that exciting I admit), it can be as simple or as complicated as you like. I want to share with you over a multi-part post how you can go from zero to hero with asset organising and keywording. Or at least somewhere in between so at least you can find SOMETHING in the future.

I will start with this first blog on keywording photos on some real simple starting blocks – basic organisation of your folders and image files – and progressively, with future posts, move onto some more intermediate keywording ideas and onto some advanced keywording strategies which involve nesting, selective exporting and keyword lists.

So starting with the simple ideas first – this is really for the beginner organiser . (I say beginner organiser, not beginner photographer – I know so many good intermediate and higher level photographers who just haven’t gotten around to this keywording and organising business yet).

You don’t need special software for this – MAC Finder and Windows Explorer will allow organising (or tagging) natively, but dedicated photo library software will be much, much faster and make organising photos a breeze. They are plenty to choose from, some of the more popular are Adobe Lightroom and Bridge, Capture One Pro, Adobe Photoshop Elements, ACDSee, iPhoto … the list goes on and on.


Here are a few tips to get you started; I find these are easy to implement even if you already have a decent photo library or are just beginning and don’t want this to get out of hand.

First, begin by organising your folders in Finder or Explorer. Keywording or tagging doesn’t care about photo locations, you can have photos all over your computer and if properly tagged, then you will find them no matter what. The same in reverse too; you could have thousands of images all dumped in one folder. But some simple housekeeping will keep you sane. There are many strategies as to how this should work, but this should give you an idea of one way you can organise. You can then modify it to your own needs.

Start by having a top level, or parent, folder called ‘PHOTOS‘ – this is where everything will eventually live.

Inside the PHOTOS folder, create multiple folders with the year as its name.

2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and so on as far back as you need to. This should be at least the minimum.

Put all the relevant photos of each of these years in the respective folders – you can easily see the date the photo was taken in Explorer or Finder.

You could stop here, but I would try go one step further if you can. Inside each of the YEAR, organise by month and event/subject. So something like:

01-Snow In The Park , 01-London Skyline , 01-Walton Bridge, 02-KewGardens, 02-Porsche, 03-Kew Gardens, 04-Bluebells Blacks Park

Organisation of folders

Organisation of folders

So here, I use the month 01, 02 etc and the subject or place. I went to Kew Gardens in Feb and March and it’s easier to keep them separate.

Move all of your pictures into the relevant places and it will make organising and then keywording photos a bit simpler.

Part 2 of this topic will cover basic keywords and getting started with a Lightroom keywording workflow. 

More soon /JF