My Digital Photography Workflow: Organization

This is part two of a three part series on photography workflow. In part one, I discussed in-camera workflow. This included everything that I do before and during a shoot to keep myself in check. Now we'll look at what I do after the shoot, and how I handle the digital files.

When I'm done shooting, I'll usually go straight to the computer and download all the photos. I keep my photos on an external hard drive (250GB) dedicated just to photos. I have a folder for each year on the top level just to help separate things out. In each of the year folders, I create a new folder for each time I download. Some people take it a step further and have a folder for each month, but I don't. I name the folders using the scheme “MMDD” so everthing stays in chronological order. After I download the photos, I format the memory card on the camera so it's ready for the next shoot. The photos on my hard drive are also backed up through an online service called Protect My Photos. This service automatically backs up new photos online with software that runs in the background.

Once the photos are on the computer, I open up the photo organization software. I use Google's Picasa because it's fairly intuitive, easy to use, and it works well — plus it's free. Picasa automatically brings in new folders from my hard drive and separates them by year in a tree structure. I have the software set to only bring in JPEGs, which load faster than the RAW images (one reason I shoot RAW+JPEG).

Then I do an initial scan of the images to separate out the bad, okay, good, and great photos. Bad photos get deleted from the hard drive (RAW and JPEG). The okay photos get their RAW files deleted, leaving only the JPEG. These are photos that I will have no intention of ever selling or showing off, but I want to keep them for whatever reason. Good photos don't get any treatment — I keep both files. These are the photos that might amount to something if I got creative with them. The great photos also keep both their files, but they also get a star so I can pick them out easily.

After I've deleted and starred some photos, I keyword the photos. Keywords require a bit of extra time up front, but they can save a lot of time later. I just do a first layer of keywording at this point — which includes location (city, state, park, river, lake, etc), subjects (tree, cloud, animal, building, etc), and colors if they are a main focal point in the photo.

The last step prior to editing is to apply a label to the starred photos. In Picasa, labels are like albums or virtual folders. You can group photos from many folders into these labels without duplicating the photo. I have a label called “Process” that I tag all my starred photos with so I know which photos I need to edit. I also have a label called “In-Process” for those that I'm working on. When they're done with editing, the photo gets a label for the correct category of finished photos (could be things like “Black & White”, “Trees”, “Flowers”, “Buildings”, “Graffiti”, etc).

That's the general flow I typically use for organizing the digital files on my computer. The next post will cover my post-processing workflow (Photoshop), and how I control my editing of the files.

How do you organize your photos, and what software do you use?