The Truth About This Whole "Cataloging" Thing

Last week I created a video about my experience with organizing your photos by date vs. organizing them by some kind of descriptive folder. For the most part I expected the response I got which was:

1) A lot of people saying yes, this is the way I do it or yes this is the way that I want to do it going forward.

2) Lots of people saying no way, I love my date organizing structure and I’m not going to change (which I totally expected by the way – the folks I’ve talked to about this believe wholeheartedly in it and I didn’t think I’d be able to change everyone).

But, I started getting a lot of responses that I didn’t expect which were:

3) Why would you organize folders by anything (date or descriptive name). Just use keywords and collections. After all, Lightroom is a cataloging system and that’s what its meant for. Basically, the tone was that folders of any sort, are an archaic way of storing photos.

I wanted to chime in on the topic because I found my thoughts interesting. First off, I kinda agree. Folders are really an archaic way of doing things. They break down at so many levels once you’ve been doing it for a while. I mean, for me personally, organizing folders by date does nothing. I can NEVER find my photos that way because I don’t think of my photo shoots by date – so its not even something I consider anymore. The process of organizing by descriptive name even breaks down after a while. What I like about it is that if I want to find photos of my kids Ryan and Justin at Christmas time its easy for me to go to my Christmas folder (or collection) and do so. But if Ryan and Justin have a school project that they need a great photo of themselves for, how would my organizing structure help me look through all photos of them? It wouldn’t. I’d have to dig through each folder where I knew had photos of them in it.

Keywording must be the answer then!
So this brings me to my 3rd point above which is the whole keywording thing. If I organized my photos into whatever folders I wanted (date or descriptive name or no folder at all), BUT I was diligent about keywording them all the time then I’d have a really easy way to find photos of Ryan and Justin regardless of where they were right? I’d just search based on keywords “Ryan” and “Justin”. And if I was really good, I could even throw in the “Christmas” keyword if I wanted those photos specifically. So it seems, in practice at least, that keywording is the way LR was meant to work and its the way that we should be doing things right?

But… there’s always a “But” :)
If it sounds like I’m ditching my folder organizing in lieu of keywording I’m not. I just wanted to point out that I see the value in what folks were pointing out the other day. Folders do indeed break down at some point no matter how you do it. If you want true power in searching for your photos then keywording is the way to go. But ya know what? Nobody keywords. I know that lots of people commented on it here last week but trust me – you’re in the extreme minority (and I mean serious keywording, not just casual “I do it once in a while” keywording). How do I know this? Because I teach this stuff all the time and I ask the question all the time. I’d be surprised if 10% of the hands went up when I ask if people use keywords. And you know what? I can’t blame ‘em. I don’t do it much either. You know why? Because keywording just isn’t fun. Its that simple. It stinks. No matter how much we try to force people to do it (and believe me, I’ve tried) its not going to change the fact that its boring and most people think they can get away without it (which is why nobody does it as much as they know they should).

I Just Don’t Care
Now, I know my folder system breaks down at some point. But then I realized, I don’t care. It works for me because people rarely ever come up to me and ask for a photo with some odd search criteria that only keywording would help me find. I know where my photos are and I can find them. Should we all be using LR as a cataloging system the way it was meant to be? Definitely! But we’re not. Some people just want to look at their photos. They don’t want keywords, or metadata, or worry about what the heck a catalog is in the first place. They just want to look at their photos and make them look better.

Disclaimer
Before any hate mail starts pouring in, remember I’m just telling you what works for me and asking you to think about whether or not it could work for you. If you shoot two weddings a week or 15 portrait sessions each week or are a stock photographer then keywording should definitely be part of your workflow. I totally get it and disregard all this crazy talk about not keywording :)

Thanks for reading. Feel free to add your opinion.

Author: Matt K

Matt is a full time Education Director for the NAPP and Kelby Training. He's a best-selling author of various books on Photoshop and Photography co-hosts the live weekly photography talk show "The Grid" and is co-host of "Photoshop User TV". In his spare time he practices as a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo and enjoys spending time with his family in Tampa, FL.

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74 Comments

  1. I organize by subject and it’s a pain. I thought it would be handy to organize my kids photos by year so it was easy to find pictures when they were 1, 2, 3 etc. For the most part, that works, but then I lose the ability to organize by event, plus when you have both kids in the picture it becomes cumbersome. So, I’m going to organize my folders by event. Date is largely irrelevant, since the metadata contains that information – I may put the event date on the folder, but only to distinguish between recurring events.

    My ideal would be just to dump all the photos into a big file system and have the file system be able to search and find based on metadata. That’s really what Lightroom is doing – it would be nice for this just to be in the OS. For now, I have to live with folders – which is also to pacify my wife who won’t use Lightroom (but would if there was a network version that could share a common database).

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  2. Years and years ago I worked with Fotostation, and then I have worked with almost every DAM system thats come onto the market over the last 10 years – Portfolio, IView etc etc … but with each change over the years I have kept my folder structure, folders by subject or shoot topic. IE : Studio/Models/Rachel for example for one shoot… everything is key-worded and setup for smart collections for example – Rachel against white background or Rachel in black dress etc etc.

    One thing I have experienced is this works for me, and suits me. It wont be the best for everyone, and nor should it.

    Thank matt for pointing out the pros and cons of the workflow options to organise your photos, is nice to read a post that isnt telling people what to do, but just give out the best info and let us make our own decision.

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  3. Hi Matt,

    I guess how we organise our photos be it by folders or keywording, it’s a personal choice. Me, I organise mine into Job Numbers, so each photo shoot is given a running number eg 0001 and a descriptive name eg 0001-Dewis Family Shoot. When importing the images from the CF card, they are converted to DNG but also renamed: 0001-001, 0001-002 and so on …

    Now I’m guessing that this wouldn’t be to everyones taste but it works for me and makes things easy for me to find. I’m also sure there’s a simpler and more effective way to work but until the time arises for me to check it out, I’m gonna stick at this technique.

    Thanks for the post and keep up the great work,
    Glyn

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  4. my two cents on keywording:
    I’d do it; I’d be in the minority I suppose, but I’d do it religiously – IF the keywords were stored in the EXIF data, and not in some catalog software database.
    I don’t fancy the prospect of being tied into a certain application, be it Lightroom or whatever.
    What happens if / when the next great program comes along? Can’t move, would lose all my keywords. Unworkable.
    It’s a shame, because I’d love to be able to tag a photo with multiple keywords. That would help when searching for those images which fall into two or more categories.

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  5. Thanks, thnaks al lot for this post. Now I know I am not alone organizing just in folders. As I know it is the first post which tells the truth.
    I doing it exactly as Anthony.

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  6. I have worked with and taught database programs for years. The hardest part was teaching the students the value of using drop down lists to populate data fields and how easy it makes to find information later. That’s why I love LR. That’s all keywording is, a consistent list of words to describe your work and help you locate it later.
    With that said you do need some folder breakdown and that’s why I use dates. I gives me a starting point. I also use a date/sequence numbering system for file names. Again, just because I what to make it more meaningful that just the camera generated numbers.
    I agree with you that one has to be diligent in keywording. My biggest failure is that I will select at import for all the files and not all may not end up correctly keyworded. Example if I have pictures of my grandchildern, (Sara and Jon) I will keyword both names at import, Then I have to remember to go to the individual pictures and delete the incorrect name. I do that for speed in getting the pictures uploaded and only worry about the images I select to PP and use.
    My 2 cents.

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  7. Is keywording not the perfect “outsourcing” task? Let’s say you have 5,000 photos that need to be keyworded. Each photo takes an average of 20 seconds to keyword. That’s rougly 30 hours of keywording. Pay someone $12/hr to do it — and you’re looking at $360 or $72/1000 photos. Obviously you won’t do it — cause its a horrible task and you value your time more then that. But if there is value in having keyworded images (and there is — think stock photos) then why not outsource it?

    Now the question becomes – has anyone done this, and what has been their experience. Who would you use?

    I was thinking about doing this for all my photos I have on my smugmug website – http://www.thepupil.ca I would simply make a special password for this person or company and they’d be able to do this overnight while I sleep. Hmmm….I just might…..

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  8. Since you asked about what works for me…

    I initially missed the feedback on the video, but this is a so well know discussion… within the field of content management (my profession).

    The thing is that there is no right or wrong. Some people are primarily search focussed and need keywords. Others focus on structure and will be helped with a folder hierarchy. But even then, many use both depending on the search question they need to answer.

    Not only the folder structure will break. Keywords will break at some point as well. A keyword assigned to just 50 photos will work. Assign it to 5000 photos and you start looking for more granularity and will start adding additional keywords to 5000 photos. Are you? The larger the volume grows the less likely it becomes that you can keep avoiding synonyms and stick to the predefined keyword hierarchy. Oh, you didn’t define that up front? Well, even if you did, new keywords could be assigned today to photos from a year ago because back then you could never imagine that this photo needed to be found by this new keyword.
    But this doesn’t keep me from assigning keywords (and especially for those photos I publish on Flickr)

    The point is, that both folders and keywords aren’t perfect but together you can go a long way. And since many of us probably use LR just for themselves, just do it the way you like it.

    Because of all this, I use both keywords in the LR catalogues and a folder hierarchy with “yyyy-mm-dd topic” folder names on the file system. For transportability I also use more catalogues (different topic per catalogue) where I group folders from various dates on the same topic. When away from home I can take just the catalogue I need on my HD without dragging a terabyte along.

    I do all this for the very same reason as you do it your way: it works for me.

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  9. While I make use of keywords and collections, the folders will never go away. No matter what program I use to access my files, I want to make sure I can easily and quickly find a clients files even if that programs crashes on me. Not like an Adobe program EVER crashes on anyone. Sure I can reinstall, recover my catalog, etc. But if in an emergency I need to plug by backup storage drives into another computer I want to see a folder for every client and every job. Something with a date, something with a name or description. I can’t have 1 folder with a few hundred thousand assorted files.

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  10. I agree with Nick in Post #4 above. All of the keywords are tied to LR and not stored with the photo.
    When the next best thing comes along, and you better believe that something better WILL come, then all of that keywording will be lost. That’s a lot of work that ties you to a specific program.

    As for me, sorting by date works great and I love it. I almost NEVER keyword, b/c it’s such a pain. Sometimes it takes me longer to find something specific, but it’s not too bad. Especially since I can generally remember approximately when I shot something, i.e. I took that trip in the summer of 2006, so let me look in that general area, and I’ll find the photo I’m looking for.

    Love the blog Matt. Keep it up! post more often please! :)

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  11. Hi Matt,

    Nice pros and cons. My biggest regret is that the Keyword Set area isn’t big enough to hold my various common keywords, hence I seem to be retyping them far too often. My idea would be to copy the auto suggest feature from google into the keyword panel so as I type it brings up the previously used keywords.

    Thanks
    Duncan

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  12. Hey Matt

    Keywording and Collections were precisely what I was thinking when reading your original post. So for me, the date folder hierarchy makes the most sense. As you correctly point out, whatever you use will break down at some point. I just stick with the most objective structure, which is by date. Going beyond that is exactly where Collections come in. And if I recall I’ve seen more than a few of your workflow videos where after sorting your initial input down to picks you create a Collection.

    I’m surprised to see I’m in the minority for keywording. I will apply a global set of keywords at every import, and then afterwords will go through and add specific ones to the photos individually or by groups. Using either the paint brush or the Keyword window. Keywording, in my opinion, is one of the greatest features of Lightroom and other cataloguing programs. And beyond facilitating ad hoc image searches, they also increase the value of Smart Collections; the better your keywording, the more options you have in creating them.

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  13. Hi Matt,

    Folders might be a thing of the past but if you start dropping 50,000 photos in one folder, the system performance (NTFS pretty sure, not sure about OS X) will soon become sluggish. So depending on how many photos you take it might still make sense to split them in folders by year and month, just to reduce the number of photos per folder.

    Thanks for all the good post.
    Ciao,
    Luciano

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  14. I suggest “Lite” Keywording – assign fewer keywords covering larger categories (think keywords like vacation, location, holiday, etc.). You can apply these keywords when you import. Once you’ve figured out which photos are your true keepers you can tweak keywords, like identifying people.

    The problem with keywording is that most people feel obliged to catalog everything like it is for a stock photo agency. That takes too much time, so you’ll never do it. With a few keywords you end up with a reasonable number of photos from a search that you can review in Grid mode.

    It makes it so much easier to find that picture for your spouse – you know the one on your VACATION to ARUBA.

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  15. As for which way’s right, all of them are. Lightroom is designed like that. Otherwise we’d also have only one way of rating photos as well.

    Myself, I use folders, (I guess I’m old school), with both the year and month, and a description. I like to keyword, but agree with those above that it’s frustrating everything is tied to the catalog. The more work you do in Lightroom, the more you’re tied to using it. To me it *almost* makes Bridge/Camera Raw a better option.

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  16. Pre-Lightroom I didn’t have a keyword tool, so I used descriptive folder names. To help sorting, these were ordered using a YYMMDD prefix… occasionally several topics per day. Scanned hardcopy photos had a similar treatment.

    For backup convenience, I grouped those working-folders under super-folders… one per CD. The latter were constrained to annual sets.

    I still use this method under Lightroom, albeit now backing-up to HD instead. I’m also adding keywords (retrospectively too) prompted by needing Smart Collections identifying grandchildren… my easy primer to making 18th birthday albums (2 done, 6 to follow; maybe others pending?).

    Other keywords have been added en-route, notionally to facilitate holiday albums and the like. You never know what photo-project might spring into mind… have I got too much free time in retirement?

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  17. I keyword my personal photos, and only then by people’s names and major events so I can find them quickly for whatever I might be working on. Otherwise I even organize my exported JPEGs by date! But for jobs, I do a new catalog for each one, so keywording wouldn’t help anyways.

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  18. I store my images in folders because 1) the OS requires it and 2) it makes sense to at least minimally separate images in some way, whether by date, subject, event, job, etc. I use dates for folder names because LR extracts that from the EXIF info and I don’t have to think up a descriptive name for the folder. I assign major keywords to all images on import (e.g., Vienna Senators, Waters Field, ). After “picking” the best images and creating a collection, I keyword only those images in the collection that need keywords. For example, if a parent asks me for copies of images for a player, I’ll keyword that player’s images so I can create a Smart Collection. At the end of the season, I can then simply export all the images for that player from the Smart Collection. LR does the work for me throughout the season. But I don’t keyword *every* image because not every image needs specific keywords. That’s the workflow that works for me.

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  19. I have always thought I wanted a system that would allow me to quickly find the exact photo I was thinking of at any moment. I never found that system with slides, negatives and prints, but digital images gets me closer. It is so much easier to keyword digital files than films and prints and then the computer does the work of keeping track and finding them. I keyword all photos that I keep I don’t keep every photo, I edit severely often in several passes. Every photo gets some keyword. Later I may go back and add additional keywords to help refine a search. It is so easy to do now that I don’t understand why most people don’t keyword. I mean if you are spending time making adjustments to a photo how hard it is to add a keyword? But then I never understood how people stuck all their prints in an old shoe box and threw the negatives away either.

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  20. I used to hate LR because it would never really work with my folder structure, which was a mishmash of dates, locations, subjects, but it mostly worked for me for years.

    However, the day I stopped fighting with LR and let it manage the folder structure, is the day I fell in love with it. Now, I almost never look or use the original file and never worry about where it’s located. Most of the time, I don’t even have the drives showing, because I use keywords and collections. Never been happier.

    As for Nick (#4), when you want to move to the next big thing…if it can’t import LR keywords, how could it possibly be the next big thing?

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  21. When you start talking about a completely flat directory structure, you alos need to look at limitations that might exist for backuping up these wonderful photos. Unfortunately, sometimes its still nice not to exceed some MB size for a single directory of files, just because it is easier to drag and drop this onto some other device (DVD or what ever) to get a backup.

    I think keywording is the way to go. Maybe you can;t go back and do all the old photos, but certainly, take the time to start on any new imports now.

    I agree with the previous response that the recent keyword used list is too small as well.

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  22. I do a mixture of both… My shoots are organized by year/month/event, so an example structure looks like this.

    Folders:

    /2008
    /2009
    /05 May
    /06 June
    /07 July
    /David & Jessica’s Wedding
    /Julia’s Birthday Party

    This is my folder structure.

    In addition to this when sorting my photos I use Scott Kelby’s technique in his Lightroom book of having 2 collections for each event – my good photos from that event, and my “selects” or my absolute best from that event. The rest of my photos are usually not post-processed but are stored in the folder structure for safe keeping if I ever need them for some reason (however, bad/blurry photos are rejected and deleted).

    I also organize these collections in collection sets just to allow me to more easily condense them.

    Collections:

    /Concerts
    /Family
    /Weddings
    /David & Jessica
    /David & Jessica Selects
    /Torger & Joanna
    /Torger & Joanna Selects

    You are totally right with keywording – it’s super useful but such a pain to do that no one ever does it. The nice thing with this system is I can easily find photos by date using the original folder structure if needed (plus if the unthinkable happens and I somehow lose my Lightroom catalog and backups, I have at least a rudimentary folder structure to base a rebuild off of which includes event names).

    But more often I can just sort through my Collections and choose only the Selects if I just want the best, or if I want more volume I can go into the main collection folders as well.

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  23. I use folder structures and names to store my photos. These may contain locations or other information that helps me group my photos by something that makes sense to me. For example:
    /USA/New York
    /USA/Vegas
    /Europe/London
    /Europe/Hamburg
    /Diverse/Home
    /Christmas

    Apart from helping me find photos (I do not use lightroom exclusively), this also helps me process the photos that “belong” together if I need t copy them to a cd, back them up etc.

    I did try to move to a date structure, but had a hard time locating photos as a result…not really a problem if you only use LR to find photos, move them around etc., but this is not really what works for me.

    I also try to keyword, but do not always get beyond a basic keyword that applies to all photos. Occasionally I have the discipline, but not always. So I can’t really say that keywords have helped me tremendously in finding photos.

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  24. Maybe I’m the only one that doesn’t know this, but I’ve made mistakes in how I have images arranged in folders and would like to make a new arrangement. What’s the recommended way to rearrange? Do you just move stuff around while LR isn’t running, then restart it and tell it go find everything again?

    The longer I put off rearranging, the more daunting the task looks.

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  25. @Kurt,

    I fell into the trap of moving photos around outside lightroom and all connections are lost in LR as a result. You can clearly re-create the links to the photos, but I found this to be a painfull process. I finally gave up and started over. I could do that since I only had less than 2000 pictures in lightroom…but I guess not everyone is in that position.

    Having learned the hard way, I now move things around from within lightroom.

    BTW this situation is what led me to store the sidecar files (.xmp) with the actual photos so if I loaded them again, at least I would not lose my edits…

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  26. Got a question, about your Folder Structure.
    How do you separate from 2 different event days, but the same event type. Like Christmas, Eastern and Birthdays. These things happen every year. Do you put them all in the same folder, or do you create for example christmas 2008, and christmas 2009 folders?

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  27. For new shoots you can loosely keyword on import which takes most of the drag out of it. For those thousands of previously imported photos i strongly recommend the LR Spray Can. Open the thumbnail grid, close the filmstrip and sidebars and swiftly ‘graffiti’ your way through the database in no time at all, it’s a very fast and accurate tool.. and not as ‘boring’ i promise you.

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  28. I really liked the meta by date search you showed in your video. It could alter my approach.

    Right now I use a hybrid approach… it’s by date, but each folder also lists description text about what I shot that day. So if I have two topics in one day – it will end up being two folders.

    ex.
    2009-10-11 Sara BDay Party
    2009-10-11 Macro Gerber Daisy

    What I like about this is I have the ability to find by date or by subject. Plus I have a visual diary of what I’ve done with my life!

    Yet if I rearranged just by topic, it would be a lot easier when I want to view the same subjects over time… But I could just use collections for that… Or I could just finish keywording all my photos (a project I started – and stopped – at some point.) Yikes…can of worms.

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  29. I don’t know what “pains” all you guys suffer from – I do keywording while reviewing my pictures. I rate them with the start system and I have prepared keywords that I just add by clicking these awesome boxes in LR. What I always do is classifying them by “landscape”, “people”, as well as “texture”, “structure”, “sky” so that I can use it later on in Photoshop as retouching material. This is really not that big of a deal and you can easily crawl through hundreds of pictures. What I don’t like, too, is entering keywords manually (different ones for each picture).

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  30. @Kurt – you should just be able to rearrange using the folders inside Lightroom, I move stuff around all the time like this.

    Though there is the possibility of a crash/corrupted library file… which could possibly mess things up because your backed up catalog wouldn’t know your photos have been physically moved and resyncing the folders may not retain the lightroom edits.

    I’ve only used Lightroom for a couple months and I’ve had a crash/library corruption so I’m wary about it… but they might be much more rare and I just had an unfortunate exception. ;)

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  31. I do use keywording. Its fantasticly easy and effective in Lightroom – but here is a health warning for those considering it. DON’T USE TOO MANY KEYWORDS – I suggest 9 would be a good number because they all fit into the “keyword suggestions” grid in the Library module. But the main reason for not having too many is that because as Matt suggests, keywording becomes a pain: you have to assign keywords in order to retrieve using keywords, and for every photo you import you need to consider which of your existing keywords are applicable, then assign it. You just can’t do that if you have dozens of keywords – it just takes too long and becomes a pain.

    As for Ryan in post no. 7 suggesting that each photo takes 20 seconds to keyword. If that is true then he is doing it seriously wrong. 20 photos per second would be closer to the truth. Shift or Ctrl click your photos to select and then click one of the 9 keywords in your keyword suggestion grid. One shoot can be done in just a few seconds. One holiday takes just a few minutes. You’ll find that most neighbouring photos have the same or similar keywords.

    As for

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  32. For thoe that organize by dates and by categories like I do… I would *highly* recommend using a year/month structure and not using a specific day structure.

    Unless you are taking hundreds of photos every single day that just divides up your photos much more than is actually necessary.

    If you need to find Christmas 2009, going to the 2009/December folder, even if you had an event/shoot for every single day in that month, it’s only a short list of 31 events and easy to find christmas… organizing by the specific date is an extra micro-management step that is not really needed and mostly gets in the way.

    If you ever do have a scenario where you need to find something by specific date you can always filter via metadata timestamp, but in my experience I have never needed to find something that specific.

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  33. I’m a “by date” organizer (for DAM purposes) and a keyworder and proud of it! I was at your LR seminar in NYC, and honestly was disappointed so little was said about rating and keywording. Of course, I needed more education about developing, so it was ok in the end, but I thought you did a disservice to one of the strongest capabilities of the program. I was THRILLED when I found out that the large collection I’ve gathered over the years could be tagged with various topics (date, event, people names, locations), etc, in order to make it easier for me to go through my collection to find the photos I most want to use for my projects.

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  34. I used to keyword all my images as part of my workflow as it is such a powerful tool for searching for that exact image you’re looking forward. I also used to back up on a weekly basis, which gave me a warm smug feeling.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t have the setting in Lightroom to save the sidecar files with the original RAW file. When my computer crashed & I had to restore from the back up all my images were safe & sound but I lost all the editing data, presets & the keywords associated with the images. I now find it really hard to motivate myself & keyword my images & I cry about it still.

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  35. I have a question very on the subject, I think :). I use by-date folder system in Lightroom. This weekend, I was shooting AirVenture- 3 days of photos, 3 separate folders. So first thing I did was to create a Collection and put all the photos in there. Then I started to sort through, and as far as I can tell- I cannot remove from the disc photos from Collection! Moreover, I cannot use my Pick or Reject system, because if I go back to date folders, the flags are not there! I ended up marking rejects with 1 star :(. Kind of defeats the purpose. Anybody any thoughts on that?

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  36. @Jessie, thanks very much for sharing your method, I think I’ll modify my work flow a bit to incorporate it.

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  37. I’m a date organizer myself, but you’ve really got me thinking about the whole “no folder” system. Which leads me to two things:
    1) You said about 10% of people keyword. But if they knew that they HAD to rely on keywords (because they weren’t using a folder system), maybe they would be more likely to reliably keyword? I know if I take the plunge, I will have to be diligent. Which leads me to…
    2) How do I go from my current system to a no folder system? Do I just stop uploading in folders from here on out?

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  38. About folders and sets in lightroom.
    When i import, i sort through good and bad photos before adding them into a set, however the odd time there is one ive missed. The problem i face is that when i am in the set looking at this photo and decide to delete it, lightroom just removes it from the set (not the catalog) and dosnt give me the option to delete from disk. I find myself having to go into my finder and delete it manually.

    Is there an option that would help me lightroom?

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  39. @Ivan,

    I currently put them in the same folder. However, I name photos based on event and data. For example,
    XYZ birthday 2007 01

    When I look at a folder, I it will always sort by XYZ then date, which is what I am after. This works quite well for me as the photos will also be sorted accordingly in LR (which I guess they would be anyway due to the exif information.

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  40. I’m an organization freak, I guess. I organize my images by descriptive folders AND use keywording. I detest having to scroll through image after image, looking for that particular one. My system helps me stay on top of it and, therefore, I can free my mind to be more creative.

    There have been several articles in PS User Mag on organizing images in LR, and I’ve employed many of those suggestions and ideas. It’s really helped!

    John

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  41. i’m a strange mix of obsessive compulsive, and creative. studied art and a little chemical engineering – so cataloguing can be fun, but it has to cater for both of my extremist set of needs.
    i run a Drobo with 6TB and loose individual backup drives off site that i fill up and ship off as time goes by. the offsite ones are then labeled with the dates of the first and last folders dates (see below).

    this is my system process:
    - each shoot has a folder in “yyyy-mm-dd – *description*” format. that way it will stay chronological on my external drives.
    - each folder is colour coded thanks to Mac in broad themes like green for nature & landscape, red for products and jobs, purple for weddings, etc. this helps to make things faster to find (i’m dyslexic so colours work much better when finding a folder in MacOS finder.
    - each folder has its own Lightroom catalogue to speed things up in the editing stage. here i HAVE to delete all the shots that dont make the grade as keepers.
    - i import that full catalogue into a general catalogue for all the similar coloured folders like Nature & landscape, but i only keep the starred shots in the general folder, thus removing unstarred shots from the catalogue but not deleting it off my drive (as it is still in the folder catalogue, for example: keeping the 7 shots of a panoramic sequence on the drive, but not letting it clog up my big catalogue.
    - the bigger general catalogue thus has all my best shots in it while stille having all the date search options in the filter as well as being chronological in my panel on the left in LR.

    - I would like to see LR incorporate folder colours (as they have with coloured thumbails) so i can match my folders in LR to those on my physical drive.

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  42. i shoot for stock a lot of the time and do a lot of keywording myself. 9 keywords is not enough by a long shot.

    it would be awesome if you could build a keywordset of as many words as you like (25-50 even) or at least let you shoose how many options show in the suggested keyword grid. that grid can auto-shrink as the suggested keywords get less.

    i use multiple catalogues – one for each job – is there a way for each new catalogue draw on previously entered key words form another catalogue? or that all catalogues draw from the same pool of keywords?
    i have way to many images to have one big LR catalogue with all my images in it.
    help?

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  43. Hi

    I travel a lot and keyword like crazy. I also used to design databases for a living, which is what keywording is–a database. I have found over the years that people will use “flat” organizational structures like a spreadsheet (or a folder system) when it is clearly better to use a database. I don’t know why but I know it’s a fact.

    The other thing I have noticed is that people use collections over keywording. Same story, flat over database. Scott Kelby even mentions in one of his books that; if he needs a food shot he looks through collections he knows have food shots in them. A simple keyword-food-and all that would pop up in an instant.

    Obviously each individual will choose what they prefer, but I seriously believe that keywording, even really simple keywording, is something more people should think about using.

    Before signing off I just want to make it clear that I am in no way criticizing Scott, he’s one of my gurus.

    Interesting Post

    Al

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  44. I like many things about LR, but the cataloging piece not so much. Before LR, I was using IView. Now I am using both LR and Expression Media. As for a directory structure, I use DVD-sized directories for ease of backup, based on date shot.

    I think that keywording comes down to volume. If you are gong to need to quickly find a picture of a particular football player, or one of your kids, then keywording will save your life.

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  45. Hay guys (Nick and others) when you keyword and if you have LR set up to automatically update the metadata to the files (or you can manually update the metadata) then – in the WINDOWS OS environment at least – all your keywords go in to a nice little field (stored with/in the picture file) titled Tags. So if the next generation program has any hope of being successful it will pull in your keywords :).

    As for using keywording – I use it most often. When I import I put general keywords that describe the photo shot like kids, Yellowstone or whatever fits generally across the board. This seems to work for me because I can get close when searching and I have a wife that remembers at least the month and maybe the date of most events. Where I get into trouble is when there are photo shots from multiple events (on the same memory card) like some of the kids and then some later in the day of nature. When this happens my keywording has to happen after the import and generally then it will not happen.

    If I have ever need to create a slideshow of a specific event or person then I painstakingly and most often sleepily go through my ENTIRE LR library(s) and find pictures of the event or person and keyword their pictures. Here is the tricky part, when I do the keywording I filter and EXCLUDE the event name like exclude Yellowstone. That way after I keyword the picture it is removed from my grundle of pictures and I move onto keyword the next picture. After I am all finished then I search for keyword Yellowstone and export for my slideshow.

    Works for me.

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  46. I organise the photos into folders by year, and date, for ease of backing up, re-organising when moving into long-term archives, and for file / folder recovery (should I ever need it). To me, this makes sense on a PC.

    I use LR, keywords (for the past couple of years I have been adding keywords when importing the images), and collections (smart or otherwise) to organise and find images in the active part of my LR catalogues, or the off-line versions in the long term archive areas.

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  47. I am a birder, and I use keywords for bird species. I have about 300 species and 20,000 images of birds, and keywords are the only way to handle this sort of collection, as far as I am concerned. I also assign star ratings (eliminating everything that I would give fewer than 3 stars), so when I want, for example, my best shots of an Eastern Wood-Peewee, I just search for that keyword and 5 stars. My hard drive is organized around folders by date, but that is useless for finding what I want, when there may be shots of dozens of species in a single day.

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  48. I do both. I’m one of those people in the rare minority, apparently, who keywords her photos. I try to be pretty detailed about it, depending on how much time I have. I like knowing I can rely on that search function. I;d like to also use stars, but have not been able to get into the habit of it… same with flags.

    However, I will also likely never give up folders, either. I don’t like being so tied to Lightroom that I HAVE to open it just to find a picture. I also share my computer, and photos, with my husband, who doesn’t care to have to deal with extra software and goes straight to the folders themselves. My folders are organized by year, month, and then folders named with the content.

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  49. All the wonderful things that you may be able to do with keywords aside – you would be mad not to use some kind of folder structure. I like to think if Lightroom crashed – I would still be able to find my photos.

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  50. I used Lightroom as soon as it was published and developed the following system which still serves me very well. It may help others:

    1. I previously organized images by folders (date or topic) and I was dying and overwhelmed.
    2. It took a month to keyword all existing images using Lightroom. This takes an anal personality and not for everyone (but it’s worth it).
    3. I keyword new images around import time (very easy… usually one keyword per image, sometimes two).
    4. I only have a handful of folders organized by camera, other people’s images (folder called Random) and scans of older prints. I could probably have just one folder for all 17,000 images but I have a few thousand in each of these folders.
    5. Images are sorted by Capture Time in each folder.
    6. Searches can be done by metadata date (like Matt recommends) or by keyword.
    I find this system easy and efficient thanks to Lightroom’s organizing features and would strongly recommend it for your consideration.
    Best wishes, George

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  51. By the way, keywording is not difficult. Let’s say you return from a trip to Niagara Falls and you have some nice pictures of the falls and also some of the family. After you import them, select all of the new imports and drag them to the keyword “Niagara Falls”. Then select the family shots within the same group and drag them to the keyword “Family”. If you want to be more specific, go ahead. You can create a hierarchy of keywords within keywords. There, it really is easy when you get used to it. You can probably categorize a whole day’s shoot in a minute or two and keep everything in one folder. Good luck.

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  52. One of my first photography professors (back in the film days) was telling my class one day how he had to hire an assistant to help him organize and sort through his thousands of slides/film; His advice start a system now for filing your images and it will save a lot of time down the line.
    Like many, I use the date and time approach. Of course I try also to use keywords now that I shoot primarily digital. I like to use folders and sub folders and the list goes on.
    Although there may not be a perfect system, anything is better than nothing, otherwise like my photography professor you may end up have to hire some help.

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  53. My two cents on this stuff: i prefere keywording and told LR to write metadata to the files (or sidecars) as soon as they change. So i’ll have the possibility to find my photos even without LR.
    One thing about the keywords: even if you use hiererchical keywords, they must be unique. Otherwise you won’t be able to click on that little triangle on the right of the keyword to filter it. I founf this while keywording my holiday-photos where i used a keyword “beach” under the location. I used this keyword last year within a different location (there are may beaches ;-) )
    Bug or fearture????

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  54. Matt,

    I use a sort of hybrid system for cataloging.

    I create a folder for the year named ’2009′.

    After a shoot, I upload my images using the LR import function that assignes the date. HOWEVER:

    Inside that folder, for each shoot, I name the folder 2009-mm-dd description.

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  55. I often wondered if software like Lightroom rewrites a JPEG fully (including extra loss of the picture) every time a keyword is written to it or does it just write the keywords into the file?

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  56. Matt,

    Note: I don’t know why my previous comment submitted itself before I was finished.

    I use a sort of hybrid system for cataloging.

    I create a folder for the year named ‘2009?.

    After a shoot, I upload my images into the proper year using the LR import function that assigns the date. HOWEVER: I also click on the date that it wants to assign and add a descriptor phrase.

    So Inside each year folder, each shoot is named 2009-mm-dd description. For example: 2009-08-10 Ellen xxxxxxx Portrait Session

    The reason I do this is for backup reasons and to be able to find my photos using other tools besides LR.

    I use Microsoft SyncToy to automatically backup my images daily to a big hard drive, and it works based on the microsoft directory structure.

    My method also allows me to find my images using another program, say Nikon Capture NX. If I just use the LR tools, my photos end up so that I can’t find the right one using another software tool.

    I should mention that I often get requests from a client from several years ago who wants a reprint of a particular shot. All they need to do is tell me their name and the year of the shoot.

    Russ

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  57. Hi Matt,

    I have a question.
    Is there a way to filter on Metadata status?

    I have set up a smart collection where I filter on “Edit Date is in the last 1 day (or last 1 hour)”.
    This helps me to identify for which files I will have to write metadata back to the files.
    But as long as the timewindow is active, all files stay in the smart collection, whether the metadata status has changed or not.
    Also it doesn’t help to identify if any changes have taken place outside of Lightroom.

    I’d really like to filter on Metadata status but can’t seem to find a way.
    Hope you can help.

    Greetings from the Netherlands,

    Marco

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  58. What I do is I organize by year and then “project name” or “event” and mix it up with keywords. That way I can always remember what year I did something and then find the specific event. If you use this setup with clever keywords you will always find what you are looking for and as since you do this year by year you get to “reset” your folder names. I agree a 100% ‘by date’ system is pointless, esp as you can always browse by date in LR2. Why reinvent the wheel?

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  59. Hello Matt,

    it’s my first comment in your web-site and first of all I’d like to thank you very much for your LR and PS KillerTips. You are the best. This simple issue about organizing photos is so interesting for all because everyone do it as it fits their needs but it’s always there is some kind of desire to optimize the system more.

    That’s why I’d like to ask you. Could you share with us you experience ranking and marking photos? I never mark photos by color, and do not have any ranking system. Just 5 stars – for the best pictures and 4 stars – for nice.

    I also will be glad to see the experience opinion of all you, guys.

    Greetings from Ukraine,
    Aleks

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  60. I agree with the article about descriptive file and folder names — that system eventually breaks down no matter how you do it. The article says that using keywords to catalog photos would seem to be the answer, but ultimately concludes that almost nobody uses keywords because it’s just too inconvenient.

    I’d like to offer a totally different view. Drawing on my background in computer science, I have developed a comprehensive file and folder naming scheme designed to meet the needs of even the most demanding professional photographers. My system is based on two simple rules:

    Rule #1: Every photo taken throughout the photographer’s life must have a unique filename with a consistent format, no matter when or where the photo was taken or what camera was used.

    Rule #2: Every photo shoot must be stored in a separate folder with a unique name in a consistent format.

    The easiest way to satisfy both rules is to use filenames based on the date and time of image capture and folder names based on the date and time the photo shoot began. Since photographers travel all over the world, the time zone must also be included in both file and folder names — otherwise, naming clashes can occur. If you shoot in burst mode, you must also append a frame number to the filename to handle multiple frames per second.

    My system gives each file and folder a unique name in a systematic way which can be totally automated with the right software. I’ve actually implemented this system, and it works quite well. Once named and stored, the files and folders are never moved again, ensuring that the Lightroom catalog always knows where everything is.

    To make keywording practical, you just need the right tools. I recommend Photo Mechanic with the Controlled Vocabulary Keyword Catalog. This is the best way I know to easily and systematically enter descriptive IPTC metadata for all the photos in a shoot. Plus, if you publish your photos on PhotoShelter, your clients and buyers will be able to find your photos easily by searching the IPTC metadata online. It’s a fabulous benefit of the discipline of keywording and captioning!

    Frederick W. Chapman, PhD
    Founder & President
    F.W. Chapman Solutions

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  61. Thank you for the thoughts on organizing and keywording in Lightroom. I am definitely not “normal” in that now I have a system set up I enjoy keywording my pictures! It’s a lot like knitting – therapeutic – if you have the right tool. And Lightroom is pretty good, although I am now stretching it to its limits.

    I get a tiny kick every time Lightroom’s “Keyword Suggestions” reads my mind and offers just the keyword I was looking for. Kudos to the engineer who designed that.

    I wrote a lot more about this and other Lightroom ideas on my blog here: http://bkkphotographer.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/the-truth-about-this-whole-“cataloging”-thing/

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  62. Appreciate the blogs.

    I’ve been looking for some sort of solution to being able to open catalogs on a network drive. I’ve searched the web with no solution, I figured by now someone has a workaround for it. I’m currently using a Drobo, connected to my network.

    The only way I can get it to work is by connecting the Drobo directly to my Mac via USB – no network configuration seems to work.

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  63. I’m brand new to LR. In a Lightroom 2 video by Matt on Kelby.com, he highly recommends putting all photos into one folder. He named if “Photos”. This folder will have sub-folders.

    Question: I’ve put all of my photos into “My Pictures” folders within “My Documents”. Any reason to change this? (I have plenty of storage on my PC’s hard drive, which I back up daily to an external hard drive.) For further safety, I also copy “My Pictures” to a second external hard drive.

    Thanks

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  64. For me the big advantage of date folders is that it makes it much easier to see if backups are working correctly. If I have a 20090820 folder on my main drive & also on all my backup drives there is a fair chance I have everything and the backups are in line.

    If I was trying to compare one disorganised folder with another, it would be really difficult.

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  65. I like to organize by both of them. For example I would do 2009-05-13_San_Fransico.
    So you kinda get the best of both worlds.

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  66. You could view folder names as just another sort of keywording. (Further keywording or collection naming is needed to make a huge catalog more accessible–that’s where LR comes in.) The most neutral sort of folder naming that works well with the underlying OS date.

    Which brings me to this…is anyone else unhappy with LR sorting date names alphabetically? Since when is this list pleasant to look at:
    April
    August
    December
    February
    January
    July
    June
    March
    May
    November
    October
    September

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  67. Data organization, not just photos, has been one of the major problems since we stated collecting information. Truth of the matter, there are even standards out there to “help” categorize and, so the belief goes, find information.

    The argument about folders and/or keywords is moot since, in all reality, folders are just another form of keyword meta-data that is supported directly by an implementation called a “file system”. If one accepts that fact, then using keywords in meta-data is essentially and extension of “folders”.

    Think of a flat surface where all the photos are laying and all the photos had meta-data, which they do and keywords are only one component of that meta-data. Now imagine that all the photos had strings that linked the similar meta-data tags together in some order. You could grab the end of one of the strings and pull up and there would be a set of similar items categorized by the meta-data be it dates, keywords, camera type, etc.

    Personally, I use every bit of the meta-data to categorize, identify and search for images. The best, and I will gladly argue this with anyone, is the catalog and filter feature in LR 2.0. There are more ways to identify individual images and sets of images in LR than any other piece of software I have used. Take full advantage of it and do add keywords when you import images. By the way, file names are conceptually also part of the meta-data set :-)

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  68. Regarding metadata I’ve been wondering if all the keywords I’ve used to catalog my photos are actually written to the actual photo file? I recently deleted a photo by accident and after restoring the photo from the recycling bin, the keywords were missing. I’m troubled because I’ve spent a great amount of time cataloging photos in Lightroom for easy retrieval using keywords. Any suggestions on how I can ensure my keywords are not lost?

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  69. Kreg:

    If you set your Lightroom Options to save metadata to the photo files then it will re-populate everything if you have to re-import. It’s in “Catalog Settings…Metadata…” Check the “automatically write changes into XMP” option. You can also do it manually in Library View by pressing Ctrl-S on a PC. (Metadata…Sava metadata to file”.

    I keep the option set and then I am fine if I have to restore my Lightroom catalog from the photos.

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  70. I think is best to use both – keywords and folders. If you are using web services like flickr then you won’t need to enter keywords again. The same applies for stock sites. Folders also keeps all photos organized as in a lot of cases for it is faster to find photo I need (don’t do too much detailed keywording).

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  71. I use a blended approach by creating folders during the initial import that are a combination of date and subject as follows:
    “200911 26 Thanksgiving Orlando”
    This gives me the quick reference I need for a manual search (by topic) and a clean organizational structure at the desktop level for backup and archiving. All these subject folders are subfolders of a parent that is just the year (“2009″).

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  72. One more bit of minutia to consider when confronted with the task of keywording your photos. If those photos will eventually end up on a website that you are trying to attract people to (and who isn’t), exporting the keywords allows you to use them as SEO optimizers. Those numbered folders won’t climb the Google ladder for you.

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  73. Hey guys,

    I couldn’t agree more. I really donhttp://bestelectricshaverhq.org – ‘t get why more people just don’t get it.

    Great post, keep it up.

    Cheers!

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