This guest post is by photographer and organizer, Regina Mountjoy. I'm excited to feature her because she's a guest speaker in the Creative Haven on April 27th. Would you like to be there? Check out the Haven. And enjoy!
I’m a professional photographer who produces and archives on average about 10,000 images a month. By necessity I’ve created a system that allows me to efficiently file, archive and retrieve those images for myself and for my clients. The system I have developed over the years has worked well for me professionally and is the same system I use for my personal images.
Why is it worth having a filing system for your digital photos?
The whole point of taking pictures (in my opinion) is to look at them after the moment has passed and to recreate special memories. A filing system allows you to keep your visual memories in order and easily accessible. It also keeps you from feeling buried with yet another task lurking around the corner draining you of creative energy.
If you do not consistently edit, file and backup your files, your beautiful images will be lost in the mass of the unfiled and unidentified. Guilt will gradually creep in around the edges of your thoughts and even begin to take away your joy in having made the images in the first place. Worse yet, if not sorted and backed up, you may lose your files if/when your computer crashes or CF card is corrupt or phone is dropped in a toilet.
Take heart! Creating a good working system is not as daunting as it might seem. And once you create it and put it in place organizing your images will become so easy it will be habit forming!
Categorizing (or organizing) your digital photos
I keep my files in chronological order. We have enough family and personal events that I have an individual folder for each event/shoot. Each individual event folder is named with the date and event.
Inside each folder I have at least 2 folders: one for the original images and one of the final edit (or processed images). If I’m really on top of it there is also a folder for my very favorite images to use in the year’s slideshow. I always number the folders so they are in order. I really don’t like to think much when I’m sorting!
Along with the event folders inside the main yearly folder I also have one “catch-all” folder for all the miscellaneous photos. Just as it is essential to have a “junk” drawer, I have a “misc.” folder for each year. It contains the same interior folders as the individual event folders with a few extras. Note: if looking through all the misc. images I see a group that can be put into its own folder I do so.
If you don’t really have “events” and are just snapping randomly a few here and there on any given day, it might be best to keep your files in monthly folders. Then you can edit at the end of each month. (I would recommend putting the month’s number at the beginning of each title so the folders stay in order. But I would personally also include the name of the month. I like to label things as clearly as possible so I can quickly identify the folder I need.)
Editing your digital photos
Putting your images in folders labeled by date is very straightforward. It seems that the editing part is where most people get hung up. The big issue seems to be the getting rid of. “How can you delete your images??!” people ask me. It is really hard- I agree! So I don’t!
I edit from the other direction. My first sweep is to select the strong shots. I don’t think about it or use this time to even enjoy the image that comes later. I go through and take the strongest images and put them in their own folder. Then I look through those images and if there are shots that are similar, I decide on the best of the set and move the others back into the “original files” folder. So I’m not deleting anything. I’m just putting the strongest images into one place. I’m separating the awesome from the okay. From the final selection set I choose a few of my absolute favorites – the ones that really make my heart go pitter-patter – and open them up in Photoshop to tweak a bit.
Extra tip about color conversions: If you are interested in converting some of your final edits/favorites to BW, here is my philosophy: If your reaction to an image is a “wow- that color is gorgeous!” then it should stay in color. Otherwise it should be converted to a high-contrast black and white image so that the colors don’t distract the eye from the shapes, expression, texture and emotion of the image.
How often to edit/file you digital photos
If I don’t keep on top of my professional files weekly I am buried. Yuck. My personal photos, however, require only monthly attention.
Just like doing bookkeeping, laundry, dishes, processing email, etc. it is MUCH less daunting to edit as you go. I encourage friends and clients to at least file their digital photos as soon as they have finished shooting a set and ideally take the extra 30 minutes to edit also. And if you are just shooting intermittently I recommend copying images from your phone/laptop/camera at least once a month.
Edit as you feel inspired. I love to do this while we are watching a favorite movie or traveling or on a quiet night with a glass of wine and great music.
You are much more likely to use your photos and can access them super quickly when they’ve been sorted. If you have a system that makes sense to you, you will much more likely to keep up with it. If the system I use is not intuitive and/or does not flow for you or if it does not inspire you to create a system that works for your unique creative brain, schedule a session with Jen. She can gently and adeptly guide you through the process of creating a system that works for you. I’m speaking from personal experience here!
Backing up your files
It is essential that you realize that your computer IS going to crash. (Jen here: Agreed. It's just a matter of when.) I have lost more images than I care to mention due to carelessness and CF card + laptop failure. So I am very disciplined about filing my images consistently and ALWAYS having my images in at least two places. It only takes losing your images once to kick this habit into gear. I personally have a mirrored RAID system. My best friend uses an external drive and “time machine” for her mac setup. Definitely peruse Jen’s blog post about preventing a backup debacle. Or do a Google search for backup solutions. Get your images on a cloud. So many great options. I am using Dropbox quite a bit these days for sharing photos with family and clients.
Use your photos!
I feel like we are experiencing a bit of withdrawal and are starting to crave tangible forms of the images we love. Here are a few ideas for getting those pretty pics off the computer into the “real” world. Don’t over-think it! Just play a little!
Photo Books (http://www.mpix.com/products/photobooks/photoalbums)
Canvas Gallery Wraps (http://www.mpix.com/products/homedecor/gallerywraps)
Charm Jewelry (http://www.kimbrastudios.com/)
Tipsey metal art (http://www.alittletipsy.com/2011/11/pictures-on-metal-11x14-metal-art.html)
Regina Mountjoy has run her own fine art photography business, Recherche Photography, for over ten years and has a thorough working knowledge of the wedding & portrait photography business. She's been passionate about organization her entire life! She's read books about it for FUN! It is her favorite thing to do at home and for others. She's always helped friends and family declutter their homes and implement organizational systems.
What photo organizing techniques do you use?