Lightroom Tips

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.

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.