A recent post on 35hunter about tagging photos got me thinking about how I organise my own photos. I posted a comment describing my tagging strategy but on reflection, I realised that for me, tagging is very much secondary to folder structure.
Featured image: screenshot from ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018, showing the first part of my folder structure.
At this point, a confession. I studied information management at university, so taxonomies, metadata, and folder structures are very much my comfort zone. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it simple. But if I take some time to explain my approach, hopefully some people may find it useful.
Spoiler alert. My approach is really, really, straightforward. Don’t expect anything complicated.
My photography is all location based, so my folder structure reflects that. I live in Edinburgh, so my largest top level folder is called Edinburgh. Within that folder, I have a series of subfolders for various parts of Edinburgh: the New Town, the Botanic Gardens, Leith etc. Whenever I take a series of photos in, say, the Old Town, I save them into my Old Town folder. If the photos are digital, they already contain date information so they sort automatically in date order. If the photos are film scans, I edit the date tags so that they correspond with the date the photo was taken, instead of the date the photo was scanned. At the same time I rename the photos so that they are – to some extent – descriptive of their comments. For example, a photo of Victoria Street might be named Victoria Street May 2015 evening, followed by a running number.
Sometimes I tag the photos – add metadata, in old school language – but not as often as you might think.
I use ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio as my photo organising tool. It feels slightly old fashioned, but in terms of functionality, it does everything I need. And incidentally a key part of my workflow – altering the capture date for film scans – is a task that can only be done with an EXIF editor like ACDSee Ultimate. Adobe LightRoom doesn’t offer that function. At least, not without a plugin.
For other locations, outside my home town, my folder structure reflects the number of photos that I need to organise. For example, I have lots of photos taken across the whole of Scotland, so every county in Scotland has its own folder. First comes the county folder – for example Fife. And then within my Fife folder, subfolders for St Andrews, East Neuk, Fife Coastal Path, and so on.
On the other hand, I have far fewer photos of England, so my approach blends two approaches. Those parts of the country which I photograph regularly – London, the Yorkshire Dales, Brighton – have their own top level folders. The rest of the country is covered by a single folder, which contains subfolders covering the rest of the country.
Outside the UK, my folders get even bigger. A single folder for the whole of Europe, for example.
Ultimately, my aim is that I should be able to locate any photo within three mouse clicks. Photos > Edinburgh > Old Town, Photos > England > Northampton, or Photos > Europe > Prague. Another feature of my folder structure is that it’s entirely independent of my cataloguing software. If I stopped using ACDSee tomorrow, I could still find my images just as easily using On1 Raw, LightRoom, or even Windows Explorer.
Of course, I’ve just scratched the surface. I’ve barely touched on EXIF data or tagging. I haven’t mentioned what I do with photos which aren’t location based.
Perhaps my folder structure isn’t as simple as I made out. How do you organise your photos? Let me know in the comments.