While I was in Copenhagen I finally bit the bullet and subscribed to Adobe’s Creative Cloud for Photographers so that I could start using Lightroom. The package also includes Photoshop CC, but I’m not planning to use it for now because I REALLY like Photoshop Elements for scrapbooking and see no reason to switch. I decided that $9,99 was worth it just for Lightroom.
I took the move to Lightroom as an opportunity to refine my photo organization process. Awhile back I wrote about how I organize my digital scrapbooking supplies but I haven’t had a similar system for my photos. With this new found interest in photo organization I thought that documenting my process here might be useful to someone plus explaining has helped me to cement my flow.
Overview: I have almost 10 years of digital photos. My goal with photo organization is to find my photos amongst the literally 1,000s on my external hard drive. Duh. Right now I keep my pictures in folders by year and month (yyyy-mm). So it’s easy enough to find something if I know when it was taken. For me, then, Lightroom adds a few things: a) the ability to weed out the pictures I really like from the pictures I’m ambivalent about b) the ability to find pictures by topic (keyword) and c) the ability toe find pictures by location in the Maps module. Also I should mention that a lot of my process is inspired by Stacy Julian’s Library of Memories system, so if you think something below is total genius it’s probably Stacy’s.
With that said here’s my current workflow:
1- Keep photos from the current month in a folder on my computer (Pictures > yyyy-mm). I keep the folder on my computer during the month so the photos get backed up using Time Machine (just one of many ways I back up my photos.) How the files get on to my computer is a long story that I am still working to improve. Let’s just say the only thing I miss from Aperture is how it worked with Photo Stream on my iPhone.
2- When the month is over, import that folder into Lightroom while moving it to my 1,5 TB external hard drive. My external hard drive is where I store my pictures long term and it gets backed up regularly to a separate external hard drive. I don’t make any changes to the file names, the metadata nor do I apply any developing presets.
3- After import I review the photos quickly and either “flag” the keepers (P) or “reject” duplicates, blurry ones or ones that I know I’ll never use/reference (X). Why don’t I reject the photos I don’t flag? Because I’m sentimental and there are some photos I don’t want to show up in my library but that I can’t bear to delete either. It also helps me to be selective in what I flag because I know something I was ambivalent about will still be there. During this process I also apply a color label to photos that need to be developed. At the end of this I delete all the rejects, because I have enough photos as it is :)
4- Flagged photos are automatically included in smart collections that group photos by quarter. I’ve taken this directl from Stacy Julian’s “Library of Memories” system. Basically the smart collection looks for photos that are flagged and were captured in the specified date range. This is what the organization looks like in Lightroom.
5- The photos with a color label (red) also go into a smart collection called “Photos to Develop.” I use that folder when I want to fiddle around with my photos more. Let’s just say that I’ve been using the power of Lightroom’s “develop” module much more than I used Aperture. So powerful, so easy and so fun to fiddle with. It makes me want to take pictures with my big camera because it is so fun to develop photos from RAW.
6- My next step is to tag and geocode ONLY the photos that have been flagged as keepers – i.e. those in the quarterly smart collections. Again my tagging structure is based on Stacy Julian’s Library of Memories system: All About Me, People I Love, Places I Go and Things I Do with sub-tags under each. I will go into more detail about my tagging system in another (possibly series) post(s) – it’s too complex to include here – but that’s the general approach.
7- The final step in my process is what I like to call “quality assurance.” This is where it gets fun ;) In quality assurance I use smart collections to look for flagged photos that fall into three things: a) photos without keywords, b) photos without GPS data and c) photos missing both keywords and GPS data.
I am okay if there are photos in the first two categories. For example, I might have a close up picture of my cat that doesn’t have GPS data but where the photo was taken isn’t important to the story. I know that I’ll tag it “Blossom” and find it so I’m okay if that picture is in category b. Landscape photos, on the other hand, I try to make sure all have a geotag at least by city/country. The same goes for keywords: I’m okay if photos don’t have a keyword as long as those are pictures I am most likely to look for by location. I know that I will never get to zero photos in category c, but I do try to minimize them as much as possible.
So why all the double checking? Because my phone automatically includes GPS data so long as it’s connected to wifi or my cellular network. When I’m traveling, though, it may not include because I’ve turned it to flight mode and photos from my big camera also doesn’t include GPS data. So there may be photos that have GPS data but that I would look for by topic and vice versa.
This is admittedly a lot of work up front, but easy to keep up with month to month. What do you do differently in your photo organization?