Organizing Your Digital Images
By Nancy Hill
Remember all the space all those photo albums took up on your shelf? And what about all those boxes full of negatives? How annoying were they? Thank heavens for digital images that can all be stored neatly out of sight on your computer. It sure makes life simpler. Right?
Your digital images need at least as much respect as you showed your prints, and because there aren’t any negatives to fall back on, you need to make sure you back up your images as well.
In this article, we’ll focus on organization. Not a glamorous topic to be sure, but there’s also nothing glamorous about foaming at the mouth when you can’t find the image you need.
Here are the steps I recommend taking.
1. Only download your good images. If an image is blurry in your camera, it’s not going to miraculously come into focus because you’ve stored it on your hard drive.
I highly suggest deleting images from your camera before you even begin downloading your memory card.
If your downloading software allows you to select which images you want to download, delete unwanted images directly from your software program before you begin the download. It’s way easier than downloading the entire memory card and then deleting the images you aren’t crazy about.
2. Download frequently. I download after every shoot. Then I erase all the images on my card and reformat it. By doing this consistently, I always know my memory cards are empty and ready for the next shoot. It also usually means I’m downloading a manageable number of images to label and file.
3. Determine where you’re going to save your digital images and always store them in the same place. For example, if you have a My Photos location on your computer that you decide to use, then download everything directly to that directory. At the moment, creating a special folder called “For my eyes only” of naked baby pictures of your child might seem like a good idea, but a year from now, you probably aren’t going to remember where you stored those pictures.
As soon as you complete your download, back up your images. That way if you make an error, you’ll still have the original download. Another alternative – the one I use – is to download everything into a folder called “Original digital files.” Then I do a “save as” for each image and name it at that point. I like to see the images enlarged, so this also gives me an opportunity to view each image full screen. Flaws show up that I can’t see in thumbnails, so it’s worth the time to do this. I can then delete images that just won’t work.
4. Figure out a filing system that makes sense for you. This will take some thought. While many articles will advise you on various ways to file photographs, you know best how your brain works. Ask yourself, “If I want to find this later, where would I look?”
Many people like to begin with a folder that includes the year the images were made – e.g., 2007, 2006, etc. This isn’t a bad idea, but it’s just the beginning.
Inside each folder named by the year, create sub-folders so you can more readily access the images you want. For example, you might have sub-folders with the names of each family member, one called “Vacations,” one called “Nature,” etc. You can also create sub-folders inside of each sub-folder. If I have more than 50 images in a folder, I try to break it into sub-folders.
If you are also scanning in old photos whose dates you are not certain of, you might want to create a separate folder for that named something like “Scanned Photos.” Then create sub-folders inside that named according to subject – e.g., sunsets, family outings, pets.
5. Name your photos. Be as descriptive as possible within the space limitations of your software. For instance, instead of simply naming your daughter’s photos Amy 1, Amy 2, etc., try something like Amy sleeping, Amy playing dress up, etc. This will make it much easier to find your pictures.
I also put “bw” at the end of a file name if I’ve converted it to black or white.
If there is more than one person in the image, use every person’s name in the file name. This will make it easier to find when you do a search.
Digital photo software can be very helpful. There are numerous products available, and it may come with your camera or your computer. Additionally, you can either find it in shareware sites or you can purchase it.
Features to look for include the ability to view thumbnails, rotate photos, assign key search words, and to assign batch names. It’s also really handy to have a lengthy description field that allows you to make notes about your pictures – like where you shot them, any special techniques or filters you used, where you’ve stored the backup, etc. Some software programs also automatically add dates to your photos.
The best thing to remember about organizing your digital images is to stay on top of it. Don’t be a slacker when it comes to putting things in the right folder. Organizing photos balloons out of control with amazing speed. However tempting it may be to tell yourself you’ll put those pictures away later, the longer you procrastinate the more unmanageable it all is.