How do you organize your mass piles of images? Do you throw them in labeled folders or use some sort of file-organizer program, and which way is the easiest?
My way isn't necessarily the easiest, but it works for me. I break down the images into folders labeled with major categories - Family; Friends; Events; Landscape; Travel; etc. - then into sub-categories within those folders (when I have enough images to make it worthwhile) - and then by year - and finally, by month. For instance: My wife's 60th birthday is in a separate Events folder; Images of our grandchildren are in Family folders that go by name/year/month; Shots of our close friends (I don't take as many as our own family) are usually by Family_Name/Year; Travel shots are saved by Location/Date, and so on. I has never taken more than a few minutes to find a shot as long as I know the year it was captured.
There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs. -Ansel Adams
Whether you use an organizing program, like Lightroom, or not the first step in sound image management is a strong folder system. How you create that folder system is entirely your choice and should be based on what you do and what you shoot.
For my own purposes, I have two approaches for the different things I do. For my commercial work, I have a master folder called Commercial. Inside that are folders for each of my clients. Inside that are folders for each project I work on for a client. Multiple projects means multiple sub-folders for each client. Inside each of the project folders I have sub-folders for file type - RAW, JPEG and TIFF. If I need to provide JPEGs in a specific aspect ratio or both larger and smaller JPEG images, those too will be separate folders.
When it comes to my personal work, I group by location or project. For example, I've shot in several places in NY State so I have a master folder called NY State. Inside that are sub-folders for each location within the state where I've shot then inside those are the JPEG, TIFF and RAW folders. I have a project I'm working on to photograph lighthouses across Canada so I have a master folder titled Lighthouses. Inside that are sub-folders for each lighthouse and inside those are the file type folders.
It may sound complex but it's really not. It allows me to quite quickly look for and find images without a lot of work. I also use Lightroom but even with Lightroom, a sound folder system is still important. Keywords are also important but don't replace a good folder structure. Keywords can be used in DAM applications like Lightroom but also in a browser application like Bridge. I think the PS Elements Organizer also allows for keywording. You have to be careful and consistent in your keywording too. Using, for example, USA for some and United States for others, those images won't show up in the same search for the string 'USA'. Some state abbreviations are similar, for example VA and Virginia. Keywording becomes more important if you're trying to search for images across hard drives or across folders. If, for example, I've shot waterfalls in 10 different locations but the images are on different hard drives or in different folders and I don't have a master folder called Waterfalls, tagging the images with the keyword waterfall will find all very quickly. You can also use collections in Lightroom or Bridge to do the same thing.
Unlike Richard, I don't use year. If you shoot a lot, trying to remember what year a shot was taken, particularly if you've shot in the same location or area over a number of years can be quite difficult. I wouldn't even be inclined to use year as a keyword because it's included in the image metadata which is already searchable. Definitely NOT saying Richard's approach is bad or wrong. It's just an example of how you have to come up with an organising methodology that works for you.
Think about your folder structure and what would work best for you and think about keywording to come up with a consistent method for adding keywords to images. I don't bother with the star ratings or other, similar things like colour coding images. Some people do but I've never found it was a relevant option for my purposes.
I use Lightroom. I also use master folders by year for my original files. Each job/session gets its own folder within the appropriate year folder with a semi-descriptive name. From there, I add keywords by group so I can search for things.
I actually don't keep any exported JPEGs or TIFFs, though. I use collections in Lightroom to organize my final edits. Once I've exported the final products for clients, I upload the whole shebang to Zenfolio and then delete them from my hard drive. I keep three backup copies of my original files, so I can just export them again should I need to. Saves me some gigs.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is to keep your keywords consistent. it will make your life much easier in the long run.
Hey guys thanks so much for the help! All your suggestions are great and they will surely help me in organizing all my photos into an easily accessible system. My current system is essentially just a big folder where I dump my photos but now I have a better sense of what I can do for a sub-folder structure. I also have PSE so I'll check out that keywording system!
I think I pay $100 a year for unlimited. But, I've had an account for two years, so I'm grandfathered into that rate. If you upgrade now, it ends up being more.
I do my client fulfillment through them a lot, though. So, it just comes out of my account balance and I don't really feel it when it happens.