Need a simple method of organizing digital images

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by jay_chartwell, Jul 22, 2011.

  1. Currently, I take relatively few photos although I will be taking more in the future. My typical usage is, for example, I'll take a dozen or so photos every week or two and sometimes just a couple of snapshots of the pets.
    What I do is download the images to Nikon Transfer and I end up with lots of folders with just a few images. Some of the images I want to discard immediately and of course images need to be placed within folders of appropriate subjects.
    And I'm left with a card full of images in the camera that I don't want to delete until I'm certain I have the downloaded images backed up somehow. In the past I've ended up with semi-organized CDs and some CDs have duplicates of images that are on other CDs.
    I know I could come up with a rudimentary way to organize my images if I spent enough time thinking about it, and I don't want to sound lazy, but I'm sure someone has some good advice for a simple system to organize photos for my type of use.
    I don't mind spending a moderate amount of money for software if necessary but the solution in my case may be just having a series of steps that I follow every time in order to keep organized.
    To summarize the question: I need a simple system for downloading, organizing, backing up, and deleting from my card small batches images.
  2. Adobe Lightroom.
  3. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Andrew's response is good but maybe a bit skimpy on details.
    Lightroom allows you to organize your images a number of different ways while never touching the original files. This is the beauty of it, the files stay in place no matter how you organize it, and are only duplicated when you have to send them out or upload to the web. In addition, it has a great RAW processor, a number of editing tools, web gallery creation, and things like automated watermarking.
    The only thing you mention that it doesn't do is delete from your card. It will download, and automatically back up to a second drive while you download, but you should put the card back in the camera after all that to wipe the card. Drives are cheap, you should back up to a second drive before you do removable media.
    You will never be disorganized again.
  4. There are two parts to this answer - the method of storage and the method of retrieval.
    With any relational database, there are fundamental rules to follow when storing images. These include (1) saving the image in one place and (2) having a unique name or identifier for that image. The simplest way to save images is by their original name (usually an alphanumeric code) in a named directory. For example, name the directory by date (e.g., of the newest file in the batch) and a brief subject code. The date should be reversed so that it is automatically sortable - e.g., yyyymmdd. The directory plus the file name constitute a unique identifier. You don't need special software to do this. In fact, it is most easily accomplished using the file handling system of your operating system. You don't need to assign key words at this time, as they are actually an aid to retrieval, not storage and maintenance.
    Once you establish a storage procedure, it is difficult to change it without the risk of losing data and the utility of any software you use to retrieve the images. On the other hand, the means of retrieval can be changed easily at any time, with little risk to your data (images).
    You have a lot more flexibility in how you retrieve and use the images, best done with software suited to that purpose. Adobe Lightroom is one of the best, because it stores thumbnails even if the original file is unmounted or moved. Secondly you can assign flags, tags and key words and sort the results by those devices. Finally, you can refer to any one image multiple times without making copies of the original. The original is never changed (unless you make it so), and you can make derivative copies and track them separately (best in subdirectories under the original).
    There are several good books on creating databases specifically for images, videos and music, collectively know as DAM (Digital Asset Management) methods.
  5. I like to shoot objects, textures, etc. I thought about using Lightroom to organize my images, but I don't want to process them in Lightroom. I use Bridge and have folders for each shoot naming the folder with the place I shot at such as antique mall, park, alley, etc. This is not ideal when I want to search for a window, door, flower, or dark sky for example to use in a photo montage. Right now I usually remember which folder to look in for certain images, but eventually this won't work for me.
    Can I organize using Lightroom and then open and process in ACR or Photoshop? The downside is the cost for Lightroom is $199 right now. More than I want to pay.
  6. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    The LR processor is the same as ACR. It doesn't really make sense to use LR and then process in ACR.
  7. Jay - As Edward describes, I think you need to consider the whole process, not just the software that you can use as a tool. That's like buying a hammer and then being told "there, now you can build a house". It might take a little more of a vision than that.
    I think you're asking the right questions - how/where to download in a non-chaotic fasion, and then how to make sure your photos are backed up. There are multiple discussions on these forums about that, but I don't recall a recent discussion about the end-to-end process.
    What I do is download the entire card to a working directory - just named with the date (e.g. 2011.0745), then I sort through that and put the "keepers" into any individual directories. I store by location & date; but I'm sure other people store differently - it doesn't matter as long as it works for you and you know how to get to a particular photo. I rename the photos with some set of standard conventions (I use photo elf, but any number of tools will work) so I can search by a person's name, a date, a location. And then I regularly (at least weekly) back up to an external hard drive (1TB = about $120 now); I have three of those and I rotate them through weekly backups, and keep them away from the house for disaster protection. I haven't used CD's / DVD's for years - that's just another confusing element and a single point of failure.
    So, think through the whole process and adopt a strategy that works for you. You don't have to fix all the photos and get them completely in shape before you start something like the above - you can go back and work with photos for years, and keep the latest version on-line; and back it up regularly to keep it off-line.
    I'm sure others have methods that work for them - perhaps this post will get some more thoughtful responses to help you.
  8. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    File renaming and moving to new folders is a dangerous way to play. There are way too many things to go wrong. With Lightroom, or similar software, you can leave the original files wherever they are and use keywords, collections, and even catalogs to sort your photos without moving or renaming.
    1TB drives are down to $70. Also, DVDs are useful as backup because they are easy to ship to another location on a regular basis and they handle certain types of disaster far better than hard drives. A spindle of DVDs bouncing around in an earthquake will probably survive better than a hard drive.
  9. I've tried Lightroom and still use it in the process, but perhaps because I've been around computers and PC's for 30+ years I'm not comfortable with "leaving everything where it is". I want to control the physical location, and in almost a decade of handling digital images I haven't lost a single photo that wasn't handy to recover through thinking through the whole process. I understand that everyone is going to develop their own approach, so I'm fine with what you suggest Jeff.
    I don't agree about the hard-drive vs. DVD thing actually. I've lived through earthquakes without a problem on the hard drives - plenty of problems with PC's falling off the desk, etc.. I do use DVD's when I travel, to backup images and send them home along the way to supplement my laptop storage through the trip, but once I'm home the photos go into the process I outlined above the DVD's become part of the dust of history.
  10. Jeff S. is right--Lightroom's Develop Module is ACR--with a few user interface enhancements. Watch for 1 day internet specials on LR3 (Amazon and NewEgg come to mind)--often have deep discounts. Also you can download a 30 day trial from Adobe. To get started right with LR, I suggest visiting "". Great tutorials on setting up LR to get the most out of the catalog features. As a long time PS/Bridge user I wondered why I needed LR--now I do 80% of my work there and find older photos much faster. Good luck.
  11. >I've been around computers and PC's for 30+ years I'm not comfortable with "leaving everything where
    it is". I want to control the physical location, and in almost a decade of handling digital images I haven't
    lost a single photo that wasn't handy to recover through thinking through the whole process.

    That’s a good idea IMHO. In other words, I propose a well structured folder and sub folder organizing
    strategy using Lightroom. I don’t like the idea of being simplistic with a folder of images and expecting
    to locate them using just keywords or worse, any proprietary catalog method, they are fragile. With a
    good folder structure, you can find images easily without the DAM or if you switch DAMs, its very quick
    and easy to rebuild the new catalog. Now I DO use LR to find images, I do use Smart Collections
    (based on metadata), I do use keywords. All are useful. But I don’t fully depend on them. I want a
    backup plan. That means structure in terms of folders, the folder names and in my case, using the file
    name and folder name together (the Lightroom Folder name token makes this very easy and effective).
    Part of the file name can be generated and updated based on where that file resides in a specific folder
    thanks to this token.
  12. I have a collection of tens of thousands of images (they were called "slides") and developed a coding and organization based on dates and descriptive names, and grouping in "group" slide boxes by project, date, roll#-image#, etc. Depending on when the picture was taken, not all these data are present in a give case, but the principle holds.
    I kept this system as I digitized my images and added new ones, so in the end, I use a hierarchical system of folders in folders (called "subdirectories"). When Aperture and Lightroom came out, I got copies of both, tried them out and decided that the labor of getting images into those programs exceeded the benefits to me. As a result, I just use Bridge and Photoshop together, and can lay my hands on most any image within minutes at the most (witness "No Words" forum).
    If I were starting from scratch, I'd definitely use an image management program, probably Aperture since I'm a Macmujihadi, but it's too much trouble for me to go back and start over, given where I am already.
  13. Lots of good responses here. I will add my $0.02.
    1. Decide on a standard name structure for your pictures. I use YYMMDDxxxx where YY is last two digitals of the year, MM is the two digital month, and DD is two digit day and xxxx is 0001 to 9999. This approach assures that each picture as a unique identifier. I never use descriptors in the title as it really does not help me find a file.
    2. Get a DAM. Digital Asset Management Tool. A number of people have suggested Lightroom. I use Aperture and there are other out there. I transfer my pictures directly from my card into a file structure and in the process rename them according to step 1 above. My file structure consists of either a standard Aperture Library as managed pictures with the name of the library YYMMDD or series of folders on an external drive where my original digital assets are maintained. The series of folders has the following architecture. Top folder is year (e.g. 2011 Pictures), contained within this folder will be 13 folders (one for each month of the year, e.g., January 2011, February 2011 and etc) plus one folder entitled Misc 2011. Inside the month folders, I store the individual session shoots in folders labeled YYMMDD (RAW files are stored in a YYMMDD NEF folder, but you can also add JPEG folders or whatever you want. I keep a small independent database which links text and descriptors to the YYMMDD information.
    3. Once I have transfered the pictures off the cards, I generate two additional backups of the information so I always have three copies of the information. So in the case of a shoot I did yesterday, I imported the pictures into a Aperture library as managed pictures on an external Western Digital Passport drive (The library was called 110723.) I copied this library to a 4TB external WD My Book drive into a folder called 'Working Projects' and then backed up the 4TB external WD My Book Drive to a second 4TB external WD My Book Drive.
    4. I do all my work on the original copy on the Passport drive (not the fastest solution, but neither am I) and once I have done all my editing and clean up I import the library into my master YYYY library which resides on my internal machine drive and relocate my master files to an external drive, again making two additional back ups of the Master YYYY library as well as my primary digital images.
    I process about 30-40,000 images a year and gave up on CD/DVD storage a long time ago when drives started to become less expensive. I buy Western Digital drives as I typically have had pretty good success with them, they have reasonable warranty periods and they promptly replace problematic drives with a pretty simple replacement system.
    A lots of words but it can be reduced
    1. Consistent method of naming that does not require to remember anything
    2. Good DAM software
    3. A consistent method for backing up your pictures (at least three copies with at least one copy far away from the other two copies)
  14. I would have suggested photomechanic, but for only a few images per folder, lightroom is a much simpler option.
    For many thousands of images, you might want to:
    import with Nikon transfer (to dated and tagged folders, e.g. 20110724-baseballGame/101ND200/...)
    keyword and rate in photomechanic (and launch capture NX / photoshop..., or export/email images)
    import to lightroom and search, sort or develop non Nikon pics (maybe also export and launch CNX2 or photoshop)
    Also change the file names at import so it's easy to figure out which folder it came from. e.g. 20110724-092932-_DSC2210.NEF
  15. Lots of good answers above.
    Developing a good workflow is not something to be done quickly.
    I would say before developing a good workflow, immediate attention is needed with the existing files.

    I would suggest:

    _ buy an external backup drive.

    _ CREATE new folder(s) on your computers hard drive, give an easy to understand name.

    _ COPY all the photos to the newly created folders, verify that all photos are copied and the files valid

    _ COPY the folders with photos to the external drive

    _ reformat the card in the camera (before you forget if you downloaded the photos or not)

    _ delete the original download folders created by you cameras software.

    Ideally, two backup copies are much more desirable than a single backup.

    Then, relax and take your time to purchase a program for further organization. I will second Lightroom as
    a good choice.

    Your choice of software, workflow, naming conventions is a personal choice. Lightroom may be overkill
    unless you have 1000s of images. But, no need to rush so long as you have backups.

    Question for Edward mentioned about several books available regarding DAM. Can you list
    a few?

    I have just one: The DAM book by Peter Krogh. The book is excellent, has a ton of information, I've
    learned a lot and occasionally go back and learn some more. However, for the average non-professional
    like myself, the book is way overkill! Hence, I ask for additional recommendations.
  16. If you are using a PC, one vote for IrfanView. It's a free program that you download. Good for transfering (with a new name) images from your camera's SD or CF card. You can simply make a folder:
    and then put a
    July2011 folder in the 2011 folder.
    Then put a
    A_D70s_1Jul11 folder on your computer.
    When you transfer files, you select the A_D70s_1Jul11 folder and let IrfanView do the work. About $200 cheaper than what Adobe offers.
  17. Jay, I am an Adobe Lightroom user and I agree with what has been said about Lightroom by other good posters above. And I also agree with all that has been said about developing a consistent cataloging and backup practice.
    Just to suggest another option, if you are a casual shooter (i.e. don't do photography professionally or as a serious amateur), you might want to consider Google Picasa 3 software, which is free. It does all that you want (to quote: "I need a simple system for downloading, organizing, backing up, and deleting from my card small batches images."). Picasa allows you to choose what you want to do with the files in the memory card after you've copied them into another location: (1) leave them alone (2) delete only copied photos or (3) delete everything on card. In its heart, Picasa is a cataloging software, but it lets you do so many other cool stuff, too, like digital editing, making collages, backing up files, etc.
    Did I mention that it's free?
  18. You didn't mention Mac or Windows, but if you have a Mac and don't want too much hassle? iPhoto, and it's free.
    If you are more in to it all and think you'll grow at photography, invest in Lightroom.
    The deep hole of paranoia about backing up photos can run as deep as you want. At a minimum before deleting off the card, set up an external drive with Time Machine, and then grow from there into rotating off-site and online backups.
    Most importantly, have fun and make it easy. Any flow you decided on that is too time consuming or complicated will eventually not get done and you'll be back at square one.
  19. Lightrooom is: easy downloand, where you organize your photos any imaginable way you want;allows you to back to another drive as you download the photos; and there are few way to delete photos, as you are importing them, or one by one, or you can select a batch to delete. Best of all all your RAW shots can be stored in an original and unprocessed way, so you can go back and tweek the photos million different ways or until your hard drive fries.
  20. I think the OP may be starting to understand that there is no perfect way of handling files.

    I like the idea of using dates in the folder structures. I think it has helped me, because when I try to use subjects in
    the folder names I change my mind the following year and it just becomes a big mess.

    I would like to think key words or tags are the way to go and use them in lightroom, but when I import a batch of
    images I rarely add key words or tags. Mainly because the batch will have more than one set of images, that is they
    will not all share all key words/tags. So I do end up with some what of a mess still. But, having them in a date order
    will allow me to find specific events.

    I like the idea of facial recognition and having that add key words/tags automatically. However, to be realy helpful it
    would need to recognize things besides faces. And, Adobe would have to include the support in it's "Pro" products and
    not just the consumer ones.
  21. Hi! O.P. here - I'm finally getting around to starting this project.

    (Thank you to all who contributed your very useful replies).

    I've downloaded Lightroom and gone through some of the tutorials.

    To get started, I have a specific question:

    One or more persons posted above suggested I get the images into folders before using Lightroom.

    If I do that, I would have to rename those images that have the same filename - i.e. sometimes when I download images
    from my camera's card, the filenames start over with "DSC_0001.jpg" creating duplicate names.

    So, do I rename the duplicates manually while sorting to folders


    can I use Lightroom and its renaming function instead?
  22. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Import into LR by date with folders for each date. That eliminates any problems.
  23. "...folders for each date."

    What date period? If you mean each day, wouldn't that create a lot of folders - a folder for each day I shoot?
  24. Thank you, Jeff - Do you mean a folder for each day? Wouldn't that create a lot of folders - a folder for each day I shoot?

    And do I have LR rename the images as they are imported?
  25. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I always import by date. It allows me to sync with my calendar - if I am looking for something specific, I know when I was there. However, I also use keywords and collections in LR to allow me to view things by parameters other than date.
    I don't rename images, ever. Keywords and collections are fine rather than renaming.
  26. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I always import by date. It allows me to sync with my calendar - if I am looking for something specific, I know when I was there. However, I also use keywords and collections in LR to allow me to view things by parameters other than date.
    I don't rename images, ever. Keywords and collections are fine rather than renaming.
  27. I don't know about LR, but in Aperture, I renumber the files with the schematic of yymmddxxxx so each picture has a specific number. I figure I will never shoot more than 9999 pictures on the same day. Once imported into Aperture, I relocate the masters into a folder system that looks like:
    2013 Pictures--January 2013, February 2013 and etc and then in each month's folder will be series of actual picture folders labeled yymmdd. All content and derivatives related to the masters are contained in the yymmdd folder. In this approach all of the pictures have a master number and are located outside of the Aperture database, just in case the database gets corrupted.
    With this approach all I have to remember is the day that I did the shoot which can be linked to my calendar functions.
  28. I should add that I do the picture renumbering upon import into Aperture.
  29. I don't import. Never did.
    I shoot to fill up a 1gig SD card which comes to 93 Raw images max but have honed down my shoots covering a single event or subject to around 25-50.
    Copy the folder containing the image on the SC card onto my desktop, rename the folder with words that describe the subject or event and include month/year numerically.
    Drag this folder to my "Pictures" folder in Mac OS X and begin applying custom EXIF Metadata template, culling and editing in Bridge CS3. I gave up keywording each image because it's just too time consuming and I can never get any images to show up doing a keyword search anyway. Naming the folder works fine for me for hunting up an image. I can remember events more as opposed to dates I took the photos.
    Who the heck can remember what they shot on August 6th, 2011? I can't. But I do remember Apt-Abstract-Sunlit Blinds/Chrome Sauce Pan or Landa Park-2010 Flood Damaged Bridge as the names of folders.
    Just a heads up on the "File Info" menu selection in Bridge AND Photoshop. I finally found out how both my emails, telephone, name/address ended up embedded in the EXIF metadata of every image I've posted on the web. It seems the "File Info" menu selection operates permanently separate in both Bridge/Photoshop from what's entered into the custom EXIF template the user creates in Bridge and applies to their images ACTIVELY with "Append Metadata Template".
    I'm guessing how this happened is I'ld done a photo restoration job and thinking I'ld embed my personal contact info only to this set of images by entering this data through "File Info" IN PHOTOSHOP ONLY only to find that doing this applies this information to ALL images when "Appending Metadata Template". I tested this out on one of my flickr images and was able to remove the personal information by changing it in "File Info", not by editing the Metadata Template in Bridge.
    "File Info" menu is in both Bridge and Photoshop and act as one. IOW what you enter in "File Info" in Bridge shows up in Photoshop's "File Info" and vice versa. Could it be any more complicated, Adobe?
  30. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Who the heck can remember what they shot on August 6th, 2011?​

    This is why there is keywording and collections in Lightroom. You don't have to remember the date. However, I shoot a lot of events that are identical except for the date. Sometimes people ask about a specific photo I took at an event and I can't find it until they give me the date. It gives multiple routes in. Lightroom is far easier for this stuff than Photoshop in my experience.
  31. I can not tell you what I shot on a particular date. But if someone asks me pictures for 'so and so wedding' or 'remember those HDR images of flowers you shot' I can usually come up with the date pretty quickly or at least close enough to find it within a few minutes. This is a slightly different problem to solve.
    But, having said that, you should use whatever method you can best remember.
  32. It's too late for me to change my digital management workflow because I've come to find out that I've accumulated 3000 Raw images not including the jpegs I took when I first got my DSLR back in 2006.
    Did any of you know about the way "File Info" works as I outlined?
  33. I have lost images when backups failed. Storing you images so that they can actually be retrieved is an important part of this. Do you intend to store RAW files, digital versions along the way? Do you intend to organize by location, date, subject, or place in a single DB and retrieve using keywords? How many images will you ultimately have and how big will the DB be? How many DVDs/CDs will it take to keep an air-gapped hard copy? How many copies do you need to be safe? All drives fail as do all physical media -- eventually. My current strategy, which is far from foolproof, is to have at least three backup copies plus the original. Two digital backups on large multi terrabyte drives (memory is cheap and you don't need fast retrieval times) and at least one hardcopy on DVD. DVDs are fragile, but only a last resort for me. I also might think about different strategies for original RAW files and processed images.
    You also should ask yourself whether or not you should exercise a delete strategy. I delete nothing. That over exposed image may have some areas in the shadows I want to use at a later date.
    I'm not aware of any program that can operate at a cost hobbyists or anyone short of a corporate supported photographer can afford that is truly foolproof.
    Fortunately memory gets cheaper by the hour, but camera manufacturers keep installing larger sensors! This is a race that will continue into the foreseeable future. I'm not as active a photographer as I once was, but I have over 110,000 digital image files across about a dozen terrabytes of drives and I still worry.
    I do use LR and find it a good place to start, but you still need to set up routine backup procedures and keep to them.
    I think an operating rule here is that when things go bad it is only your favorite images that will get lost!
  34. In Windows, I have 3 sub folders under the Pictures folder.
    1. Intake - This is where I import or upload photos to from my CF card. The files are grouped into subfolders broken down by year, and then by month and day taken. I know this duplicates the Calendar function of ACDSee Pro 6, but this allows me to retrieve source files even from outside my photo organizer if I have to with any photo aware file manager. Since I rarely delete anything this gets pretty large This is also where I sort, rate, apply keywords and create the order in which I want to process the Photos.
    2. Work In Progress - Just what it says, when I start to work on a photo, I first copy it over to WIP. All intermediate versions get saved to this folder. Up till now, I've just been dumping stuff into thisfolder 'Willy-Nilly', but the way I work, I could be juggling 20 - 30 work in progress photos at a time. I'm thinking about adding project related subfolders with names like "Thanksgiving 2011" or "Julies Wedding" with folder names pulled from ACDSee categories. I'm still dithering about this since I COULD use the ACDSee categories as this dileineation as well. But something in me is attracted to physical separation. I need to think about this some more.
    3. Done Photos - any "done" photos get placed in this folder It duplicates the folder structure of the Intake Folder structue but only includes photos that I know I won't revisit. Now there could be other versions of the same source photo still in WIP if I am exploring other options, and I could move a photo back into WIP if I decide I'm not as "done" with a photo as I think I am.
    I'm glad I wrote this out. By writing it out, I see where I am doing things manually that I could let ACDSee take care of for me. The question I need to resolve is, "Do I WANT ACDSee to do some of this for me?" After all, my switch from Lightroom to ACDSee was pretty painful primarily because the Lightroom database is a black hole into which meta data goes in, but comes out with great reluctance. Now ACDSee's database is much simpler, but it is proprietary rather than using a standard RDBMS, so data goes in, and it is even harder to get out if I want to switch organizers again in a few years.
    This has been a good exercise that I recommend to all photographers.

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