What You Said: How Do You Manage and Organize Your Photos?

By Jason Fitzpatrick on May 27th, 2011


It’s easy to amass a pile of digital photos but a little more complicated to keep them all organized. This week we asked you to share your photo management techniques and now we’re back to highlight your tips.

Photo by John O’Nolan.

It seems we have no shortage of shutter bugs in our readership; you were full of tips, tricks, and insights on how to effectively manage photo collections.

Folders and Filenames For The Win

By far and away the system that the majority of you put your faith in was that of a series of dated folders and file names. Both casual and professional photographers alike preferred a folder/file based system before anything fancy like tagging even entered into the picture. Pat Obrien writes:

I do professional photography, so I have it split out slightly. I have a root folder called “Master Photo Library”, then it splits out from there.

If it’s for my own personal photography, then I have it go into “\Personal\YYYY\MM – MONTH\MMDD – Project Name”


YYYY is the year
MM – Month is like 01 – January,
MMDD – Project Name is like 0101 – Boston

If it is business, then back to Master Photo Library, then;

\Clients and Events\YYYY\CLIENT NAME\MMDD – Event Name


YYYY is the year
CLIENT NAME is the client’s name, like Joe and Jane Smith
MMDD – Event Name is the month and day, like 0508 – Engagement Shoot

The vast majority of readers used some variation of the reverse naming scheme, such as all folders being labeled YYYY-MM-DD SomeTitle.

Interoperability is Key


While there were many variations on the folder/file naming schemes the motivating principle was a mistrust in closed-system management of photos.

Photo by Nikko Russano.

Bemental highlights the dangers of propriety systems:

We used to use iPhoto and similar solutions, but I’ve since been moving away from programs that use their own propriety libraries. Libraries have a tendency of going corrupt, hence data loss, etc.

Indeed, there is an inherent risk in spending hours and hours tagging and organizing your photos if all that information is stored in a simple and local library that could be wiped out (or separated from the files it is cataloging, therefore rendering it useless). Mark understands this all too well:

I was once burned by a photo organizing/editing program that stuffed all my photos into a filing system that only it understood. If I was looking for a pic I shot of my kids at the beach three years ago, it could easily be grouped into a folder with christmas pics from six years ago and a pic of my dog from yesterday. So, I ditched that program and downloaded Picasa and love it.

However, I set up my own filing system based on the date the photo was taken. Each folder gets a YYYY-MM name. I almost never use sub-folders in my photos. That way they always line up chronologically in the filing system if I’m looking for a photo and don’t feel like starting up Picasa, which is very slow (my only gripe). I let tags and other Picasa features do all the rest of the organizing I need. I do have a handful of special folders, such as one for downloaded artwork, one for documents that I have scanned and one for old family photos that I’ve scanned that I can’t always date accurately. My most important premise is to keep it simple.

Although the majority opinion leaned towards using rigid folders and file name editing to mark photos indepdent of any program there were dissenting opinions. Brodiemac writes:

I really used to be anal about my pictures. They were all put into folders YYYY-MM. Well so many of these modern programs that can sort them for you according to the metadata of the pictures themselves, I really don’t care anymore.

He raises an interesting point. If your photos are backed up properly and you’re not worried about having to do some extra leg work if the metadata somehow gets corrupted or overwritten, you can save a lot of time by just letting your photo application of choice (such as Picasa or Lightroom, both popular among readers) do the work for you.

Visit the original article for a more in depth look at the individual naming conventions and methods your fellow readers use.


Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/27/11
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