How To Organize Your Digital Archive

How To Organize Your Digital Archive

Any professional photographer will tell you that the time they spend on administrative tasks is probably double the time they spend actually photographing. Ranked most important among those administrative duties is the ongoing management of their digital archive. Because if you can’t find your images, then they are as good as not taken.

The hardest part of getting organized isn’t doing it but deciding to do it and actually putting the time aside. With this as your only hurdle, the best method is just to dive in and get started.

Step 1: Start by gathering all of your digital files. Collect them off flash drives, memory cards, various devices, cloud storage, etc. Then create one master folder on your primary computer and place all of the files in this one folder.

Step 2: Copy that master folder to an external hard drive.

Step 3: Find and delete duplicate files. It sounds daunting, but if you don’t do it at the outset, you’re just creating more unneeded work for yourself later. Look for files with a _1 or _2 after it, and then search for those filenames to locate the duplicate files and delete them.

Step 4: Create main subfolders within the master folder that divide your images into broad categories. The title of those subfolders and what they comprise will be unique to each photographer. But for some, it might make sense to create three main subfolders, one for raw images, edited images and low-res images. For others, creating subfolders for editorial work, commercial work and personal work might be more relevant.

Step 5: Continue your folder hierarchy by creating subfolders within subfolders, with each subfolder gaining in specificity. Be logical and consistent in your folder naming so that in the future, it will make sense to you.

For example, you could create one subfolder for each client, and within each client folder, create subfolders with the name and date of each project (both key information during searches). Within those subfolders, you could batch rename all of the image files to include the project’s name and date, followed by a unique number:


PROJECT SUBFOLDER: HongKongProtests_6.23.19

IMAGE FILENAME: HongKongProtests_6.23.19_001

Step 6: Exploit the power of metadata. Metadata allows you to embed details within an image file—the date, the location, caption text, keywords, your personal ratings, copyright information, etc.—a lot of which can be batch applied. With this level of granularity, you can find images exponentially more quickly, so try to make it a regular practice to embed metadata every time you import images.

Step 7: Continue to archive in consistent, logical ways. Once you’ve created a structure for your digital archive, keep adding folders and files using the same naming and organizational methodologies as you create more work.

Step 8: Backup your master folder in two distinct places: on another external drive and on a cloud.

Step 9: Enjoy the feeling of being organized! Now that you can locate your images easily, you can concentrate on other more passionate tasks: photographing.

2 thoughts on “How To Organize Your Digital Archive

  1. Pertinent stuff – but insofar as renaming the file images I have used the approach of YYYY-MM-DD-whatever-nnn as this allows for easier searching when sorting by filename. Of course with a DAM like Lightroom and the like this becomes less important, but nevertheless if HongKongProtests were shot in October and “IndiaKashmirscenes” had been shot in September, a sorting by file name will put them in reverse chronological order.

    After all, if you have 5K images in your 2109 folder of a few dozen gigs finding a particular file is likely going to be a lot simpler if you remember you did it in June, rather than pore through whatever semi-random namings you gave them through the year.

  2. I cant stress enough the value of filling out the IPTC with captions and keywords. This is not as daunting as it sounds. You should put basic info – the who, what, when ,where and keywords on every photo upon ingest, You can do this in Light Room but a much better solution is photo mechanic.

    Searching then becomes easier. I wish light room was a better DAM. Has anyone found a good solution for a personal DAM?

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