Shooting photos can be really fun and creatively exhilarating. But the task of managing all the photos you took, either with your phone or your camera, becomes quite tedious the minute you start transferring them off your preferred camera device and onto a device with
much larger storage, like a computer.
How many times have you come back from a shoot, plugged in your memory card, and hit the ‘transfer’ button only to come back after a while and spend several minutes searching for where you put those photos. Or, you wanted to pull out a picture you took of your friends while on vacation all those many years ago to show to your kids and you just cannot find them?
The reason you are having such trouble is that you probably did not properly organize your photos and now it is a nightmare to store them and find the right photo when you need it. It is kind of like organizing your drawer, white socks don’t go with black ones and ties should not occupy the same drawer space. A well-organized drawer will help you get exactly what you need very quickly and efficiently.
But there has to be a difference between sorting some clothing and sorting between potentially hundreds of thousands of photos that sit on your devices – some of which have to sync together.
The good news is that there is a way to do it and there are software and hardware which can help you achieve the peak zen of your organization.
While everyone has their own system to organize – primarily their drawers but also their photos - let us start with some ground rules for the organization of photos before exploring the exact tools which can help us achieve our goal.
On computers – whether you are using Apple’s macOS platform, Microsoft’s Windows, or any of the Linux flavors, the basic organizational unit remains the same – a file folder. It is equivalent to your sock's drawer. It remains one of the best ways to organize digital photos.
Let us explore some ideas for organizing photos in folders.
The first thing that you will be prompted to do when you create a new folder is to give this folder a name. This is a crucial step to an efficient organization of files.
You need to settle on a folder naming system that not only makes sense to you but also to any person who opens your system – you know, in case you have been incapacitated and there is a very specific but ‘hidden’ folder that you want your friend to delete unless someone finds it.
One method to approach folder naming is to include what event did the photos in that folder come from, and where and when were they taken. For example, if you went to visit your aunt in UAE in March 2022, you can name your folder something like Visiting my aunt in UAE March 2022.
Feel free to pick a naming nomenclature that you are more comfortable with as long as it is easily understandable to someone who is not familiar with your specific naming system.
The beauty of folders is that you can create as many as you want, especially stacks of folders within folders. You can use this to create sub-folders in your main folder to categorize different chapters of your journey. Using the previous example, say we had multiple activities during our visit we could name them out such: Visiting my aunt in UAE in March 2022/Visiting the museum in UAE on March 12-2022
Moreover, locate the option to make your folders transparent or to use a sample image from each folder as an illustrative image for the icon of that folder to give you a snapshot of what is contained within each folder.
Having named your folders with the proper descriptions, taking care not to make the names too long, the next step comes in properly naming photos and adding appropriate meta information and tags.
Metatags are a computer cataloging system that includes additional information about a photograph that can help in sorting and archiving it.
Thanks to advancements in technology, some of this information are recorded and tied to an image automatically as soon as it is taken by the camera. Depending on your settings, this can include the date, the time, the camera and lens used, image size, and even the exact
global positioning of the image.
Did you know that you can edit and add additional information fields into the metadata of a file such as keywords about what is in the picture or other search terms related to the tags?
There now exist software that automatically adds these tags after digitally analyzing the images for recognizable shapes such as humans, animals, sun, tree, etc. Some artificial intelligence – which does the heavy lifting in identifying and adding to the meta tags, can also detect what is going on in the photo. For example, if you have taken a picture of your pet, it can classify what the pet is doing in the particular photo, such as is it standing or sitting or is it saying something. Also, throw in what is the emotion being depicted in the photo.
Auto-tagging software can make this entire process so much simpler and faster.
With photos increasing in size, it is a blessing that not only do we have larger storage options but much more varied ones as well, especially when it comes to physical size. You can choose to store your photos on CDs, DVDs or BluRay discs or physical hard drives. You can now also store images on super-fast solid-state drives (SSDs) or even high-capacity micro-sd cards – just don’t lose these tiny devices. If you have the cash, you can splurge on one of those multiple storage devices like a Drobo which can store on five hard disks simultaneously or do an auto backup at a preset time.
Finally, you now have cloud storage which allows you to access your files from any location which has an internet connection. Of course, if you want to back up all your data on the cloud, it could prove far more costly than just storing them on hard disks and carrying them
Once you have sorted where you want to store your photos, we can get to organizing them.
As I said before, some software automatically analyzes your photos and adds the relevant tags based on what it detects in the picture.
The software choices vary based on the platform while some are super useful features that have been baked into editing software which makes the transition from storage on a computer to editing that much easier. We will explore both paid and free software in the following section.
If we talk about pure organizers, look to Google’s Omni-organizer, Google Photos. For those using Macs and iOS devices, you can turn to Apple Photos.
What is great about such software is that they are both free to use – though extra storage may cost you. Further, they are great at automatically detecting scenes and objects within them, including animals, and automatically tagging them. This makes searching for photos by any identifier, whether it is by date, time, place, or object, extremely easy. That they allow integrated cloud-based backup of your photos – across devices – is a feature that can’t be beaten.
Google photos can even be accessed via a web browser which makes them super convenient to use.
Going towards the paid side, we have Adobe’s own cloud organizing platform, Bridge. Part of the Adobe suite of products, which also includes the very powerful editing and organizing tool Lightroom, Bridge is a subscription-based product with a layout that is quite like the one in Lightroom. This is great for photographers who use Lightroom a lot for editing as it brings familiarity.
Bridge also offers the ability to instantly view the EXIF data – the metadata of a photograph that is embedded in the picture.
If you are working in a large creative team with photographers and editors and art directors, this is fantastic software that helps bring teams together when accessing shared data.
In the same category are Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Elements Organizer, which carry the same basic DNA as Adobe Bridge. Lightroom has the advantage that its excellent organizer – complete with a star rating system – also comes with a powerful editor with the ability to use presets and batch process images making it the all-around winner.
Then there is FastStone Image Viewer which is quite fast and best of all, free for home usage. Its design is not as updated and slick as the products from the Adobe suite but it is minimalistic enough to hold up on its own. You can also compare up to four images in the software.
For those using Linux, you have the option of using XnView MP. There is a windows version of this software available as well.
Unlike the others, this is open source and opens each image in a “browser tab”. It can accept a whopping 500 different file formats while it can convert and export files in around 70 formats.