Organizing Photos: Our Photographer at Large Weighs In

Brace yourself I’m about to give advice on organizing your photos. Yes, Dan Milnor the original luddite is going to make some suggestions about organizing photos. But why on Earth am I doing this? It’s all about the book. As many of you know I print a lot of…stuff. Books, magazines, trade books, Zines and even individual prints. Heck, I even print stuff for other people from time to time. One of the main reasons I can do this, and do this quickly, is because I know where things are, and I have a plan for what I do with my images.

Remember, my images date back to about 1988, so I’ve got a lot of work to catalog, file, organize and on a near daily basis, retrieve. This isn’t easy. This requires a strategy and the sooner you decide on a strategy the better of you are going to be. Every photographer seems to have their own digital “archiving” path. .

One of the biggest obstacles to bookmaking is organization. In great part, I’m able to be the self-publisher I am because I start making organizational decisions in the field. Yep, that early. First of all, I think when I shoot. There is no reason to make fifty images of a static object, or a moving object for that reason. I come from the “decisive moment,” tradition, and I know that the best images in history, typically, are single frame images. But why is this important? Editing. Get ready I’m about to all cap something. EDITING IS AN ART FORM AND IN THE DIGITAL AGE THE SKILL OF EDITING HAS NEARLY VANISHED. “Editing” your shoot from 1000 images to 500 isn’t editing. Editing is finding the single most important image of the entire take and then backing your way out, through narrative needs, until you are staring at the ten most important images. THAT is editing, and THAT is how you start a book. “I’ve got so many images I don’t know where to start,” is not something you want to ever hear emerge from your own lips.

My next step is the “tweaking” process. Again, there are hundreds of ways to get your images from Point A to Point B, and those of you who know me are probably laughing, or crying, even thinking about me giving advice here. So I’m not going to. HDR yourself into oblivion. Not my business. Just tweak and tell me when you are done……I’m waiting…….now? How about now? Now? Okay, good.

The next little hurdle is exporting your images. I’ve been doing the same thing for over a decade. I make three exports of my images. Large or “archive” file, midsize JPG and web file, each landing in their own folder under the master folder from the particular shoot. In essence I’ve got three different sizes ready to go at any time. This was my main system going back to my wedding and portrait days, and I’m still doing it after switching to Lightroom a month ago. Why do this when you can just go back to Lightroom and make the conversions? Time. Don’t need to go convert, they are already done. Now, doing this takes up more drive space, but I’ll direct you back to the first point of this entire post. How I shoot in the field. I’m not amassing tens of thousands of images. Secondly, drive space is affordable now, so this shouldn’t be an issue. When I decide to do books I want those images in final prepped mode the MOMENT I decide what book to make.

For example, my latest book is a Magcloud Digest I did for no particular reason. This publication is a promo for this website. I decided to do this in the middle of a multiple of other projects and this publications contains images I did a month ago an others I made over ten years ago. Boom. Done. Uploaded. Print. All in less than an hour because I knew where the images were, what size I needed and didn’t have to spend any time prepping the files. They were print ready. Now, if you are making a book within Lightroom you can skip some of these steps. You could even create a book folder and just keep adding prepped images until you have what you need, then make the book in Lightroom and never leave the program. Me, I tend to use Adobe InDesign and the Blurb plugin for my bookmaking needs.

The bottom line of this little story is that the sooner you make a plan the better off you are going to be. If you don’t master the technology the technology will master you. There are several fantastic books in regard to digital asset management, including Peter Krogh’s The DAM Book. Organizing images isn’t as entertaining as making them, but it’s a part of the process that requires equal focus and perhaps even more time.


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