Three things prompted to write this post:

  1. my growing collection of photographs in various formats, and subsequently multiple hard drives
  2. the need to be able to find any photo quickly
  3. my experience of using Spotlight to find files quickly on a Mac – and my desire to replicate that functionality in Windows.

I believe I’ve hit upon a simple, quick and functional solution to the problem of dealing with hundreds of photo files.

It’s pretty easy — and you could definitely have come up with it yourself, but sometimes you just need to read about someone else applying a method to feel sure about it in your own scenario. Here it is:

When I complete a shoot, I immediately offload all my RAW files from my camera’s SD cards (SanDisk makes my favourite ones) onto my external hard drive (Seagate and WD drives, nothing fancy). I name the folder like so:

YYYY MM DD Assignment Name Goes Here

Photography folder structure

Photography folder structure

The reason why this works is because I can easily sort folders by looking at them in ascending or descending order. I also use descriptive folder names instead of truncated ones so that I can use a search program (like the amazing Everything for Windows, which allows partial strings/words and can ignore uppercase/lowerc/ase variations in your queries) and type in any of the words that describe the shoot and find the photos I’m looking for — without having to remember a separate naming system and the code I may have used for a folder name.

Editing and saving photos

Next, I use Adobe Bridge to group multiple shots that are similar to each other, view each group as a stack, pick out my favourites from each and edit them one after another in Photoshop. I then save my edits as full-resolution, uncompressed TIFFs in a sub-folder of the original RAW file folder.

When I’m finished editing, I use Adobe Lightroom to batch convert all my TIFFs into JPGs at a desired size (usually 1 megapixel 72 dpi JPGs at 100% quality), as a sub-folder of the TIFFs folder.

So, here’s an example:

  • 2012 09 01 John Doe Outdoor Profile at The Excelsior (RAW files)

2012 09 01 John Does Outdoor Profile at The Excelsior TIFFs (TIFF files – edited photos only)

  • 2012 09 01 John Does Outdoor Profile at The Excelsior JPGs (JPGs converted from TIFFs)

I’ve been using this system for over two years now and it’s worked really well for me thus far. The complete file name also allows me to recollect the location and exact date of each shoot, so I can find out everything I need to know about it at a glance.

Using descriptive file and folder names, along with Everything, makes using Windows a whole lot better. I can’t imagine having to sift through folder after folder like I used to anymore. Everything is super-quick and does a great job of finding your files. Be sure to set it to run at startup.

Freeing up space

If you shoot often, you’ll inevitably end up filling your hard drives really quick — my Canon 500D/T1i generates RAW files that are roughly 20MB each, and edited photos weigh in at about 40-60MB (TIFFs) each.

The first thing I do after submitting my photos from an assignment is to open up the RAW files folder in Adobe Bridge again and delete all the bum shots (blurry/out of focus/blown out highlights) that I’ll never find use for. I’ll then see if I can prune the RAW set some more by deleting near-duplicate photos and other images that I won’t need. Once I’m done trimming the fat, I backup the entire folder, RAWs, TIFFs, JPGs and all to a second hard drive.

That’s all there is to it! Let me know if you’ve any better ideas and methods for staying organised.