Awhile back we wrote a funny little post about some things you might or might not care to know about us and I divulged the fact that we’ve collectively taken over 30,000 photos, a number that has increased by at least 9,000 since then. One of our readers commented:
“I’d be so grateful if you’d write a piece about how you organize photos, how you use the back-ups, how you separate out items from a day’s shoot into different albums/categories and then a look at the thought process of retrieving either a specific frame or retrieving a certain kind of illustration.”
This is my attempt to answer Sue’s question and share with you the photo management process I have in place. My system is based on what works for me. You can tweak it to fit your own needs but after a little experimentation you’ll want to settle on one system for consistently handling your images. If not, you’ll have complete chaos.
There are so many different kinds of photo handling software available and I’m not familiar with them all so I will explain to you based on the program that I use knowing that many of them share similar features. If you have a growing interest in photography and are looking for a good program to use I highly recommend Adobe Lightroom.
The Seven Basic Steps:
- Select the Best
- Edit & Enhance
- Tag & Color Code
- Print, Share, Publish
1. Import: The process of getting images off of the memory card and onto your computer where you can work with them.
Use a card adapter in your USB drive or if your computer has the capabilities you can plug the card directly into the computer. (I do not recommend connecting your camera to the computer for transferring.)
I copy the images directly onto my computer’s hard drive. This copy and the external hard drive make two. If you don’t want them taking up space on your computer HD, you can copy them onto an external and burn them off on DVDs or back up your external. It sounds like overkill but you always want two copies in case one fails.
Organize by date. Year/Month/Day. This will make things much easier to find.
Wait to erase the photos until they’ve been backed up properly. The best practice is to Format the card (which erases everything) in the camera that you intend to use it in. This rewrites it and prepares it for optimum performance.
When I use Lightroom to Copy my files to the Desktop my settings look like this:
If you read the screen from left to right, top to bottom you’ll see that I am importing from my Nikon D5100. I shoot in RAW format so I import with the setting Copy as DNG which converts the files into digital negatives in my Lightroom catalogue at the same time that it moves them onto my hard drive as indicated in the top right corner. I often import photos and use the same card without deleting photos (it’s acting as my temporary backup) so I always check Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates. The photos are put on my desktop and organized by date because I have selected that option – 2013/July/30.
I import photos every few days as we travel or every day if I happen to be taking a lot. When I import a batch I add General keyword tags at the same time to make life easier. I’ll talk more about this in a minute. Your software might have this capability as well, you’ll have to check.
Be sure to properly eject the memory card once the download is complete to avoid damaging the card or the files on it.
2. Backup: The process of duplicating the files onto a separate hard drive to ensure you don’t lose anything if your primary hard drive were to fail. Failures do happen so if it’s important to you back it up!
I use a 1 Terabyte External Hard Drive by Western Digital. Adrian and I both have one and we back up our desktops on a regular basis using Time Machine on our MacBook Pro. If you are working on a desktop that doesn’t move, you can set this back up to happen automatically and you won’t even have to think about it. There are many cloud-based options for backing up your files as well but given that we are often dealing with slow internet connections, we went for this solution. We then keep our HDs in separate places and away from our laptops in case of theft. Someone would have to find and steal all of them, which is possible but more unlikely.
3. Select the Best: The process of picking out the best of the best, the ones that you might want to print, share or publish.
I delete the most obvious rejects (eyes closed, out of focus) in camera as I shoot so when I have them all imported I rarely delete images. Instead I sort through and star the ones that I know I’d like to edit and export for future use. This tends to be about a third of what I shoot so in a batch of 100 photos I’ll end up with about 30 stars. Most editing programs have stars for rating and various other methods like flags. You can use whichever one you prefer.
I recommend that you start by simply looking through the photos with no intent to select, just enjoy them and let them tell their story.
Once you’ve had a chance to see them all you’ll want to move through the selection process rather quickly. Use your gut and don’t overthink it or you will put a star on everything and end up with an overwhelming amount of photos to work with.
Ask yourself: Does this image capture a moment or an emotion? Is it beautiful or true? Does it tell a story? Don’t worry so much if it’s a little underexposed or needs to be cropped, we’ll take care of that in the next step.
Then move through each image and only star the ones that meet your criteria. Again, don’t over think it. I promise your gut is the best editor and you’ll get faster at this process the more you do it.
4. Edit & Enhance: The process of optimizing and/or adding creative adjustments to images.
This is a big step and I could write an entire post just on this alone (maybe I will) but the basics are Exposure, Contrast, Saturation, Sharpening and Cropping. These five simple adjustments are available in every type of editing software and will enable you to optimize most any photo.
It’s important to remember that altering your photos with adjustments, filters and cropping can degrade the quality of the photo. If you convert a picture to black and white and save it over the original file, you’ll never get the color version back. (This is another great reason to have a back up because you can always go pull the original file if necessary.) It’s a smart practice to avoid making changes to any original file. If you are using Lightroom or iPhoto you’ll have the Revert to original option and the ability to undo any changes which are only ever applied to the image upon export.
Many people enjoy applying effects and filters to their photos. It’s a fun way to express the overall mood of the moment you captured or give your own interpretation of the experience. It’s definitely a personal thing and you can play around with all the various options to see what you like. I tend to prefer a more true to life look so I make basic adjustments and add a simple vignette before exporting, very rarely applying filters or strong effects.
5. Tag & Color Code: The process of adding keywords and applying other categorical distinctions to photos in order to make them easier to group and find in the future.
This is another big step in the process that I could go on and on about but the point you want to take away is that keyword tagging is meant to make your life easier so don’t overcomplicate it.
I choose keyword tags (which I’ll just refer to as Tags going forward) based on how I use the photos or envision using them in the future.
I consider there to be two types of tags: General and Specific. A General tag can be applied to every photo being imported. Specific tags only apply to certain photos within the group.
My General tags always include – 2013 (year), The Beautiful Occupation (once we are home I won’t use this tag), Thailand (Country), Bangkok (City) and I can apply them during the import process or by selecting multiple photos and applying them all at once.
If you come home from a trip to San Diego and import your photos, you can apply the tags 2013, San Diego Trip, California during the import process because they’re General and apply to every photo being imported at that time. You might later go through the images and put Specific tags on photos like Zoo or Balboa Park.
If the photos aren’t from a particular place or event then you can skim through and only apply tags to specific photos that you want to collect. Maybe you want to do this Pinterest project. Create a tag Red. Maybe your daughter loves to play dress up and does it often. Create a tag Dress Up. If you really love gardens you might create a tag Flowers. There are many possibilities but again, don’t overcomplicate it and add 10 tags to every photo just because you can. You’ll end up quitting altogether because it’ll be too overwhelming. The purpose is to make things easier to find in the future depending on how you might want to print, share or publish them.
My Specific tags are based on reoccurring themes of our travels: Temples, Markets, Beaches, Sunset/Sunrise, Festivals, Rituals, Transportation, Food, Home Sweet Home (my tag for all the rooms we stay in), Aceiphonography (my collection of Adrian taking photos) and Acetakestouristpics (the many times he has offered to photograph tourists).
Color Coding is another way that I like to organize things. We take so many photos of each other in really cool places that I wanted a quick way to pull them up so I designated colors – Adrian is blue, I am red and photos of us together are purple. Lightroom has this really fantastic feature that lets you create a Smart Collection. That means every time I label a photo purple, Lightroom automatically puts it into my collection called A Team. I can just click on that collection and there we are.
I understand not all software will give you that option. You could just as easily tag photos with names to make specific people easier to find. Or if you use something like iPhoto with face recognition, it will do most of the work for you.
To sum it up: Think ahead of how you want to print, share or publish your images and let that help you decide on how to organize them. Pinterest project? A photo book? A gift for the grandparents? Use tags or colored labels to make it easier. Apply General tags during import to save time. Apply Specific tags to photos you want to collect.
6. Export: The process of getting images from your photo editing software to a format where they can be printed, shared or published.
Before you export your photos you need to decide what you are going to do with them. Then you can determine what size and type of file to choose (most often you will need a .jpeg).
For Example: I want to take all my edited photos from the temples of Angkor Wat and put them on our Facebook page. I know they must be .jpegs and that they don’t need to be bigger than 150K (kilobyte) so I will export them into a newly created folder on my desktop and resize them at the same time.
You can see I am exporting the photos to my Hard Drive, into a specific folder on my desktop that I’ve named Angkor Wat. I rename all my photos using a Custom Name – Original File Number. The Custom Text is always the location of the city it was taken and the original file number is kept.
The image will be exported from a DNG to a JPEG file in the color space of sRGB (it’s ok if you don’t understand what all that means, the default settings will usually be set for you) and I choose to limit the file size to 150 k since this is for Facebook. You can change that based on how you want to use the final image. I resize the file using the Long Edge options so that no matter how I’ve cropped it during the editing phase the dimensions won’t be altered. It’ll just make the longest side 900 pixels and that will enable the file to get down to 150k or less. I also use the Sharpen For: Screen option.
If you want to print a coffee table book of your vacation photos check the printing guidelines from the company you want to use and ensure you know the correct file size, type and color space.
The important thing to remember when exporting is that you don’t want to save over your original files. Think of the originals like old film negatives, tuck them away in a safe place and don’t screw with them.
7. Print, Share & Publish: The process of making your images available to the public.
Now you’re ready for the best part! Turn your beautiful photos into pieces of art, share them with your family and friends or use them on your blog or in your latest project. Whatever you do, don’t let them sit on your HD forever, collecting virtual cobwebs.
Here are some great resources for learning more, printing, sharing and publishing:
Digital Photography School – Great resource if you are interesting in learning more about taking great images and post production.
Ken Rockwall – This guy keeps up a fabulous site with tons of content as well as thorough reviews. If you are looking at buying a new piece of equipment, his website would be a great place to start.
Smug Mug – Online storage space for sharing and even selling your photographs. You can also order prints, books, gifts, etc.
My Publisher – I love My Publisher for coffee table books. They also offer calendars, stationary, cards, etc. Beautiful stuff.
Was this helpful for you? Is there a step you’d like to know more about? A specific question you’d like me to answer? I love photography and I love talking about it so let me know.