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Three Reasons Why I Don’t Organize My Photos By Date in Lightroom

After I shared the basics of my organizational workflow in Lightroom last Friday, I had a question in the comments section that I thought I might answer today. The question was:

“I’m still old-fashioned – I use folders that have file name with the date and description of whatever I’m shooting. Do you ever have trouble finding anything? I think I’d go bonkers if I didn’t use a date system!”

I don’t organize by date for three main reasons:

  1. I actually used to organize by date when I first started using Lightroom, but organizing by date requires you to remember, to some extent, when you shot all your photos. I have 12 years of photos in Lightroom — I can’t remember whether I went to Spain in 2011 or 2012. I can’t remember if it was April, or May or June. It relies too much on my memory, and I spent a lot of time searching through folders and finding out I was searching in the wrong one.

When I organize by name, finding my photos is so simple.

When I want to find my trip to Spain, I go under Travel and there it is; Spain. If I’ve been to Spain more than once, I would name the 2nd one with something that might separate it from the first trip. For example, my first trip would be named “Spain.” The 2nd trip might be “Spain with the kids” (see above). A third might be “Spain” (third trip)” or even “Spain 2017” but either way: when I look in my Travel Collection Set, I would easily find all three Spain trips in order alphabetically. Easy peasy. I don’t count on my memory to find my Spain trip; just simple organization using plain-English descriptive names.

When I was shooting football, I would organize by Season at the Collection Set top level, so I would have a Collection Set named “Football” and then inside of that I’d have 2014, 2015 and so on, but inside of each of those Collection Sets, there would be no dates. Just Bucs vs. Raiders, Cowboys vs. Eagles, and so on.

The 2nd reason might be even more compelling

2. I don’t have to organize by date, because Lightroom is already doing it for me, automatically behind the scenes, so if I ever want to organize my photos by date…well…they already are. So, me naming everything by date is redundant to what Lightroom is already doing for me. Here’s how to see your images sorted by date.

STEP ONE: To see your images sorted by date (and even by the day of the week), start by going to the Catalog panel and click on ‘All Photographs” (as shown above) so you’re viewing your entire catalog.

Want to see the shots you took on Tuesday, May 2nd, 2012. Here they are.

STEP TWO: Next, go to the Library Module; press the Backslash key ( \ ) which brings up the Library filter. The first column shows Date and there they all — every image in your entire library, sorted by year, month, day, and even day of the week. This is all happening automatically without any input from me.

Actually, maybe the third reason…

The third reason is that with my collection sets, collections and even the files themselves named with simple descriptive names, I don’t have to do any keywording. None. Zero. I don’t do any keywording whatsover and I can find the images I want in just seconds. I got a whole segment of my life back when I stopped keywording and I haven’t looked back.

Hope that helps.

Note: There’s no reason to be defensive in the comments if you organize by date — if you feel it’s working for you, and you’re happy with it; there’s no reason for you to change. I’m just showing you how I organize my images using descriptive names, and the reasons why I do. It may not be right for you, especially if you’re a loser. (Oh come on, that was pretty funny, right?). Just kidding (of course).

Have a great week everybody!

-Scott

P.S. Speaking of Dallas (well, I did mention the Cowboys), I’ll be right next to the Cowboys stadium in Arlington in just a few weeks for my “Ultimate Photography Crash Course” seminar. Nearly 200 photographers are already signed up — come on out and spend the day with me. Tickets and more details here.

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39 comments

  1. Scott Gerber 9 October, 2019 at 13:45 Reply

    I had almost as much fun reading the comments as the article itself. Sharing one’s organizational preferences ruffles feathers as much as Mac vs PC, Canon vs Nikon or Republican vs Democrat.

    Fo the record, I still organize by date because I’m very OCD and like my files organized at the folder level on my computer. And because I originally learned that method from you at one of your seminars years ago. LOL

    I import by date and name each folder “YYYYMMDD Short Description” and then rename each photo “YYYYMMDD_Sequence#.dng” I might add a few keywords but don’t get too in-depth.

    I’ve never really used Collections, but I’m strongly considering adding Collections so I can sync my favorite photos (Picks) to Lightroom Mobile. Anyway, always appreciate your insight and your willingness to share your ideas and workflow. I’ve picked up far more than I’ve ignored over the years!

  2. Tom Spine 8 October, 2019 at 09:45 Reply

    Bob Sanderson’s question remains unanswered, and it is my question also. Bob asked it this way, “If I asked to see all of your photos of green herons, how would you locate them without keywords?”

    Since I mostly shoot birds, the way Bob formed this question resonates with me. Because I use keywords, I can find all of the photos I have taken of any given species, no matter what date or what location. But the question can be generalized as to how do you find ALL of the photos you have taken of any given thing, no matter what date or what location? How, for example, would you find all of your photos of a specific professional football player, no matter what season or what team they were on? Or how would you find all of your photographs of the Eiffel Tower?

    I use keywords extensively for exactly these types of inquiries or searches, so I’m really curious how you would go about it.

    • Scott Kelby 8 October, 2019 at 19:02 Reply

      Tom, the name of the article wasn’t “Three reasons why YOU should not organize by date.” But clearly, that’s how you took it. Go watch my course at KelbyOne on my “SLIM SYSTEM” (Simplified Lightroom Image Management” System) where I do a timed search for images just like you’re talking about, and you’ll see how much faster I can find the images I need without having to keyword every image. There’s a whole section on why this system works for me, and thousands of Lightroom users around the world. If my system doesn’t work for you, don’t use it – simple as that. Also: I don’t have situations where I need to find all my photos of green herons, or anything like that whatsoever. If you do run into situations like that often, this system might not work for you, and that’s OK. I was sharing MY workflow, and why I don’t organize by date. I didn’t say that YOU have to organize that way – I just shared my own workflow. I’m allowed to share my workflow here on my blog, right? In the post above, near the bottom, take a moment to read the paragraph after the word “NOTE:”.

      • Tom Spine 8 October, 2019 at 19:22 Reply

        I apologize if I came across as trying to be critical. That was not my intention. I wanted to understand how you would do a use case that I run into quite often, so that I could better understand your workflow.

  3. Craig Bobchin 8 October, 2019 at 09:33 Reply

    I use a hybrid system, like Denni, I’ve been using Lightroom since Beta (longer if you count Raw shooter Pro whic Afobe bought and merged with the nascent LR.).

    I finally settled on organizing my images by year then subject, so I will have a 2019 folder then a subfolder named Aquarium visit, or Joshua Tree. Since LR will create these folders on import, I have the year and subject on my hard drive so I can easily find my images outside of LR if I want to use Capture 1 or DXO Photolab 2 for processing.

  4. Jack 8 October, 2019 at 08:31 Reply

    Here’s what i don’t get about your system, especially since you don’t use keywords. Suppose you have taken three different trips to Alaska, Hawaii, and Baja. Those photos are in their respective folders, without keywords. These are a few from among many locations and folders Much later, you want to find photos of whales taken in those locations. With judicious use of keywords it’s obvious, but how do you do that without keywords?

  5. chris schmauch 7 October, 2019 at 23:21 Reply

    This is fine if you a) commit to LR for life, b) don’t need to find files via spotlight/finder, c) commit to a single catalog file only

    If you have to deviate in any of these, the system falls apart.

    • Scott Kelby 8 October, 2019 at 08:17 Reply

      If you name your files with descriptive names (which I do), how is it I can’t find my files via Spotlight? It finds them no problem? Were you really going to have any success with a spotlight search for files named “_31A1499.CR2”? Also, Adobe recommends that you only use a single catalog file. Without it, you’re having to open multiple catalogs and do searches one by one, and Lightroom quits and restarts.

  6. marc labro 7 October, 2019 at 22:56 Reply

    hello,
    just sharing my experience…
    because i don’t want to be married with lightroom and use ON1, Luminar3 and windows explorer, i still use a general Photo folder in which i create year folders (ie: Photos\2019) and dated subfolders with a meaningfull name (ie : 2019-10-08_dog in the garden). i add some basic keywords like travel, birthday, dog,…
    what i like in this method is to backup easily the last month or year on my usd/external disk in windows explorer while with your method which is very nice, i don’t know how to find what has changed recently.

    • Scott Kelby 8 October, 2019 at 19:08 Reply

      That would be easy – I don’t have any photos of green herons. LOL!! 🙂 Most photographers don’t need that level of organization – stock photographers do, journalist do, engineers do – but not most regular folks. Most folks can skip keywording altogether. I did it for years and I wasted all that time, because I don’t need to pull up green herons, or individual items like that across any group of images, and if I did once or twice or year, since I name everything with descriptive names, it would only take me a few minutes to fine them, maybe once or twice a year. Let say it took me 10 minutes (it wouldn’t take me nearly that long, but for example sake, let’s say it did). I would have saved hours upon hours by not keywording in the first place, so if it takes me 10 minutes a year, versus many hours, I’ll go that route. Also, you can see Adobe is moving away from keywording by adding AI to help you find images by their subject automatically. I could probably do an Adobe Sensai search for “Green bird” and have it find all the green herons for me without me ever having to keyword anything. That’s where things are going, just so you know.

  7. J K 7 October, 2019 at 16:47 Reply

    I’m a function / event and portrait photographer… naming by date is the only way for me. All my shoots are in the right place, I know what is left to be editied using colour codes.

    The other benefit is that I can find the pics easily out of light room as and when I need to. So for me win win.

    I can see if I was a wildlife or travel or sport photographer a different classification would be useful.

  8. STEVEN GOTZ 7 October, 2019 at 16:16 Reply

    Interesting article.

    I shoot at the Zoo a few times each week, and just import my photos to Lightroom from the memory card, keywording at import and I let the folder name be the date. With 750 animals at the zoo, keywording is the only way I could deal with anything since each day might have anywhere from one to 20 or more species.

    However, when I shoot headshots, I tether, and when I import the capture catalog to my main catalog, the folder names are that of the client.

    When I shoot on vacation, they get imported into the laptop and I name the folders according to where the photos were taken. When I import that catalog into the main catalog, the folder names match the sites.

    So, basically, each type of shoot gets a slightly different treatment.

      • STEVEN GOTZ 8 October, 2019 at 19:48 Reply

        Maybe.

        But the filenames are pretty much irrelevant since I keyword.

        I have no idea what the file name would look like if the words Oakland, zoo, animal, elephant, female, M’Dunda, quadruped, and mammal all had to make it into the file name for me to be able to use a search to find all female elephants, or even just the one named M’Dunda. If I had to change the file names for every set of shots, it would be a major hassle. Keywords are easier. At least, for me they are.

        I get that keywording takes time, but I have a special smart collection that warns me if the keywords include zoo and animal but don’t include the species. I can then go back and remember to finish until that collection is empty.

        Keywords are also handy when getting shots ready to sell for stock.

        But for headshots, I only use “Headshot” and “People” so the file name can simply be the person’s name.

        But that has always been one of the advantages of using Adobe products. We can all have our own opinions, and do it our own way, and yet still use the same product.

  9. Nina Cleven 7 October, 2019 at 16:14 Reply

    How do you organize what you put in a collection set if you are on a trip that covers several countries or states, etc.? Do you make collections for the various countries(or states) you visit, then break those down into categories for landscapes, urban, macro, etc?

    • Scott Kelby 7 October, 2019 at 16:59 Reply

      Hi, Nina – I don’t take it that deep. For example, last year I did my Photo Walk in Innsbruck, Austria, but I wound up visiting Germany and several other cities in Austria. They are all inside that one Collection Set called “Innsbruck Trip.” I don’t’ break them down any further than that except to make my Picks (keepers) and Selects (I covered my basic workflow here last Friday if you want to check out how I organize a trip like that – you might find it helpful). 🙂

    • Mike Worley 7 October, 2019 at 18:40 Reply

      I address this particular issue with collection sets. For example, I have a collection set labeled ‘European Volleyball Trip 2016)’. Then in collections under that, I have the countries we visited – Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Czechia, France. I don’t go deeper than that as far as file organization. However, while I don’t keyword, I am fairly meticulous about titling photos, and even captioning them if needed. (I use voice recognition software to dictate captions.) So for example, if I want to find the photos I took at or in Il Duomo di Milano (the Milan Cathedral), I can just put that in a text search.

  10. Tom Hogarty 7 October, 2019 at 15:54 Reply

    For me the second reason is the most compelling. The third reason is also very compelling but it’s a good chance to remind folks that Collection metadata like the name of the collection isn’t saved into the metadata of the file if you want that persistent data portability(#DAMNerd).

    Regards,
    Tom Hogarty
    Adobe

  11. Peter Doran 7 October, 2019 at 15:24 Reply

    Is there a simple approach to making the change to collections? I have many years worth of images stored in folders by date, and I’ve always just ‘picked’ the keepers as I edit. I have always relied on my memory to find particular images, and filtering by ‘picked’ has always helped, but I can start to see the downside.. It seems like a daunting task.

  12. Andrew Davies 7 October, 2019 at 14:38 Reply

    The basic filesystem organisation should work outside of Lightroom, from a backup point of view this seems odd.
    Whenever you plug in a backup drive it should be obvious what is missing from that drive. Raid or online synced backup isn’t the best option with malware encryption on the rise.

  13. Reid J Thaler 7 October, 2019 at 12:18 Reply

    I’ve used Lightroom since before it was officially released, when it was in beta. I’ve been teaching Lightroom since 2012. When I work with students individually, probably about 90% of what I do is to straighten out their catalog and help them figure out where they accidentally downloaded their images to .

    Scott, the problem with your system is that it totally falls apart once you leave the library module. Simply, LIGHTROOM WANTS YOU TO PUT YOUR BETTER WORK INTO COLLECTIONS AND NOT BE FISHING AROUND YOUR FOLDERS SINCE YOUR FOLDERS ARE ONLY AVAILABLE IN THE LIBRARY MODULE AND NO WHERE ELSE IN THE PROGRAM.

    A variation of your approach works better, and it’s generally what I suggest for people that shoot for clients. But many of us multiple types of images each time we download a card. We may have shots of our kids, images from the beer can by the side of the road, our critters, that don’t fit neatly into a location-based folder structure. Trying to organize your images by location or subject is so 1980s. As the adage goes, a picture is worth, maybe not thousand words, but usually a good three or four. And you can be perfectly organized and never use a keyword. Put your better stuff into collections!

    There are two words that I tell my students to keep organized: Import Preset, make on to download by date and you never have to update it, use it religiously, and you’ll have a folder structure that follow the chronology of your life You also eliminate the possibility of operator error . The folder is a little bit like the library card catalog system (now I’m feeling really old…) It simply tells you where the images are stored, but the descriptions on the card catalog are more like a collection, it describes the contents, which can include many categories.

    I have heard of one photographer that actually disables his folders from displaying in the library module, because he downloads and puts the better stuff into collections and has no need to go back to the folders.

    Again you can be perfectly organized and never use a keyword. I may have a collection of flowers, but choose to give them keywords based on type and color. It’s your choice. The more time you spend organizing your images In collections and with keywords, the easier it is to find them. It’s your choice. Not sure what collect an image belongs in? No problem, but them in both. Otherwise if you are searching for the great wedding photo of your friends enjoying a glass of wine at sunset, in Paris, you have to remember which folder that was in, was in friends, weddings, wine, sunset, Paris? Who knows!

    • Scott Kelby 7 October, 2019 at 14:46 Reply

      I don’t use the Folders panel at all. Zero. I only work in Collections and the collections panel appears within every module of Classic. I’ve been using and teaching this method for years, and I get letters from all over the world from people who have switched to this method and the #1 response is, “Thank you for giving me my life back.”

  14. Scott Kelby 7 October, 2019 at 11:26 Reply

    To Denni – using my method you don’t have to keyword – that’s the beauty of it. I don’t add any keywords whatsoever, yet I can find anything I need in seconds. I do notice that you skipped over the part about not being defensive in the comments, though. LOL! 😉

    • David 12 October, 2019 at 16:19 Reply

      I think Denni missed the point that you have said constantly this is your workflow and it may not work for anyone else however it is what you do.

  15. Denni 7 October, 2019 at 11:11 Reply

    Exactly. You REALLY don’t need to remember when you shot something if you have keywords and metadata. Storing by location is a great way to humble brag, though.

    Scott is missing the point of storing by date. It’s easy, clean, efficient, and effective.

    But hey, we ask do our thing, right?

  16. callmebob 7 October, 2019 at 10:41 Reply

    it’s an odd request, I’ll admit. Could you please post the 1 photo in your LR catalogue that was shot at exactly 18.5mm ? And maybe the 2 at 4.15mm too. 🙂

  17. Donald Gallagher 7 October, 2019 at 10:38 Reply

    To each his own…. since I keyword heavily for every image, why bother with descriptive folder names when Lightroom defaults too date order and keeps things in a DATABASE that is searchable by any piece of metadata? In my opinion, organizing manually is a waste of time when the computer can do it 1,000 times faster.

    I found articles on how to create a hierarchal keyword list more important and allowed me to set up a quick and easy method of standardizing my keywording quickly.

    Seems like manually organizing is simply fighting the automation of Lightroom’s database system.

  18. Nancy Kirkpatrick 7 October, 2019 at 10:29 Reply

    As a newbie, I followed advice to organize my files by date in LR. I believe I was one of the first users of LR, but I wouldn’t swear by it. Organizing by date worked nicely for awhile. But as my library grew and I branched out into multiple interests, it no longer served me as well. At some point I reorganized into folders. Animals, Architecture, Birds, Clients, Flowers, Macro, Local, Travel, Textures and other major categories in between. As I retired from certain types of shoots, like Weddings or Events, I removed them from my catalogue, although those are still searchable in Dropbox where all my originals are stored. If I want to sort by date, like when making a book, calendar or slideshow of what I did in a month or a year or with a certain kens or camera, it’s easy in library as described above. I’ve been doing it this way for many years.

  19. Gary Kranston 7 October, 2019 at 04:58 Reply

    Thanks for the info Scott – lol, didn’t think my question would generate an article! I see where you’re coming from and can see some advantages, but when it comes to the repetitive naming it probably depends on frequency. I go for photo walks frequently here in our small downtown – once you’ve hit 20 or 30 of those, not sure there’s a good way to do that no matter which system you use. Nice to hear your approach – thank you!

  20. Rudi 7 October, 2019 at 04:19 Reply

    Yeah! “I’m a loser baby”! That’s indeed funny. My folders are organized by date, event and venue. Though the LR search will find anything (if you tagged it right) I use collections in the manner you described here Scott. So I’ve all I need.

    • Scott Kelby 7 October, 2019 at 11:28 Reply

      Hi, Rudi – that’s the thing – you mention “tagging them right.” I don’t tag at all – that’s the beauty of the system – i don’t add any keywords whatsoever and I can still find everything so quickly. 🙂

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