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How to organise thousands of digital photos

How to organise thousands of digital photos

The advent of digital photography has brought with it the problem of managing all those digital photos.

In the “old” days, it was quite simple.  People took less photos since there was a financial cost associated with every shot.  We would buy photo albums, slot in the 6×4’s, keep the negatives in the back.   And sometimes we’d make different albums for different occasions or themes – birthdays, holidays, etc.

But now we have a collection of tens of thousands of files, all floating around in virtual space.

How to keep track of them?

Let’s look at two ends of the spectrum.

Manual Photo Management

First is total manual management of your photos.  With manual management, you’ll be organising the actual JPG and RAW files on disk.  You may organise the files in folders by year, date, name of shoot, client, etc. 

The benefits of manually managing the image files yourself is that it could make it easier for you to backup files, burn files to a DVD, import into other and multiple software packages and email to others since you’ll know exactly where they are stored.  

The downsides is that it may be very hard to find a particular photo unless your folder naming scheme and organisation is very good. 

You need to be careful here.  For example, if your naming scheme is just to use a description of the event like “Wife’s Birthday”, what happens next year and the year after?  Do you put them all into the same folder?   This could be unmanageable.   Or some people might start moving JPG files based on the content like putting them in a folder of “My Dog”.  But what happens if the photo was part of photos you took at a picnic?   Would you make a copy of the photo of your dog and have it in two places?  What if you wanted to start editing that photo?  How do you keep track of where the duplicates are?

I use a folder scheme of “year/year-month-day description” to organise my photos on disk.  So my raw untouched photos of a birthday party taken today would be stored in a folder “2011/2011-02-01 My Birthday”.   I don’t make duplicates.  I don’t organise the photos on disk by content.   I leave that up to photo management software.   This way, my disk structure is extremely neat and easy to backup or burn to disc.

Automatic Photo Management

Second is what I’ll refer to as using photo management software.   Here, you will probably import your photos into software like iPhoto, Lightroom or Picasa and let the software manage everything for you.  Photo management software will likely organise your files on disk for you too, but you could get by without knowing where they are at all!

Photo management software will typically allow you to create virtual albums of photos, tag them with keywords, mark your favourite ones with a star or rating scheme, locate them on a map if they are tagged with GPS information and even scan them for faces.

The benefits are huge – you don’t need to worry about where the files are and you may be able to locate a particular photo much quicker.  Since the photo management software maintains an index, it lets you find photos very quickly and using terms that may be more meaningful to you like text tags, location, rating, etc that files on a disk using the manual scheme above won’t give you. 

The downsides is that you’re locked into that photo management software to do all extra things like emailing, backing up, etc unless you know where your actual photo files are stored on disk.

How do I do it?

I actually use a combination.  At the moment, I import all photos to disk specifying a folder scheme of “year/year-month-day”.  This way I know exactly where all my raw photos are on disk and this makes it easy to backup, archive or burn to disk.   It also makes it easy to figure out what date I’ve uploaded my photos to.

If I edit photos, I create Collections and Sets in Lightroom to organise photos by shoot and do my editing in there.  When I’m done, I export them into a totally different folder where all my edited photos for printing, emailing, exporting go.   Yep, my edited photos are in a separate location to my “raw” photos from the camera.  It’s like keeping your film negatives in one spot, but your prints in a diffferent box.  You wouldn’t want to mix them up – or worse still, accidentally overwriting the initial photos themselves.  At the moment, I also create separate Lightroom Catalogs for each year just to keep the performance up.

But this doesn’t help Wifey and the kids.  So I also import ALL the photos into iPhoto.  This lets the family take advantage of easier browsing, emailing and face tagging so that they can flip through the family photos quickly.

I don’t think there’s a right and wrong scheme – you just need to decide on something up front and stick to it.

Or else you’ll end up with thousands of photos with all sorts of wierd names disorganised in one big My Photos folder and ten years later the problem will be too big to sort out.


Real photo prints – still a great gift

Sick of being stuck with photos stored on some hard drive gathering digital dust?

Over all the years that our kids have been at school, all the Birthday parties, all the school functions, all the school excursions and concerts – we have taken a large number of digital photos.   

But what’s the point of keeping them all to ourselves?

Over the Christmas break, we decided to take a trip to Harvey Norman and get them all printed out.    The quality of their 6×4’s was not bad – not as good as the professional prints from Fitzgerald Photos, but better quality than prints from Office Works.

Little Miss 9 and Little Miss 11 then spent a fun afternoon sorting them out into different piles for each child.   Now to hand them out!

Launched my PhotoMerchant site

Today is the day!

I have launched my online photo website here:  http://jasonchong.photomerchant.net/

You can view my portfolio, read about my services, as well as purchase high quality prints of my images.  Clients can also use this website to choose and print individual photos too.   All photos are printed by Nulab Professional Imaging.

I have uploaded various galleries from previous shoots and these prints are all for sale at discounted prices.

Let me know if you have any queries or would like me to shoot your next dance, music or theatre event!

My Blurb experience

Finally, after a month, my first two Blurb books have arrived!  Not before Christmas, but at least they arrived.


I emailed Blurb support a few times to ask if they could find out anything about the package.  They did respond with a friendly personal email within 24 hours.  Unfortunately, I had chosen the non-tracking option, so there was nothing they could do.   Disappointingly, they couldn’t even tell me if they had shipped via USPS, FedEx or some other carrier 😦

Shipping Options

If your books mean a lot to you, cost you a lot or you need it by a certain date, I definitely recommend the tracked option now.  I think I’ll be using the tracked option for all future books from now on.  

Interestingly, my books were posted from Sweden to Sydney with Priority Air Mail, then was delivered to me in Perth.  I really wonder how it got to Sweden in the first place!!


It was nearly like playing Pass the Parcel.   First was the blue thick plastic bag from Sweden.   Inside was the cardboard box from Blurb.   And inside were the two books which were individually shrink wrapped.   

The cardboard box had a small dent, but there was no damage to the actual books themselves.  

Book Quality

Each individual book was shrink wrapped which was good to see.  At first sight, I was really impressed.  I chose the hard cover with jacket option, and the photos on the jacket were really vibrant and impressive.  The actual hard cover is thick and high quality.

With my larger book (with 312 pages), I only had the standard paper option.  It was only after feeling the Premium paper on my smaller book (74 pages) that I could feel the difference.  The finish of the pages is semi-matte.  

Photo Quality

But the thing I noticed most was that the photos all looked a little “washed out”.  The colours were not as vibrant as I had seen on my MacBook Pro.  OK, MacBook Pros have TN film type LCD panel (http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/apple-macbook-laptop,2130-3.html) which are definitely not good for photo editing or proofing.  And I have a 13 inch model which means I only get 6-bits = 262,144 colours.  But still the results in the Blurb book aren’t what I expected.

The printed out photos also clearly shows up the difference in quality between my Wifey’s Panasonic Lumix Point and Shoot camera and the D70/D80 that I took on the trips. 

After a bit of research, I’ve now realised that I could and should have proofed the photos using the HP5000 colour profile, which matches the type of printer that Blurb uses to print the books (http://www.blurb.com/assets/colormgt_dpreview-v3-1.pdf).  Some other people have also written up some other best practices like cropping photos to the exact sizes before importing into Blurb’s BookSmart software so you can use resizing algorithms in Photoshop and appropriate sharpening techniques.   There’s obviously a time cost to these additional steps, but it will result in getting better quality books.


The Blurb BookSmart software is pretty easy to use.  Yes, it has it’s quirks (and don’t even think about using the built in iPhoto browser).  I did do some 2 page spreads for panoramas by placing the same photo on both pages and aligning them to appear to be a single photo.  Looking at the final book, these turned out quite well, but due to binding, you can’t actually see right into the middle of the book so you do lose a bit of photo alignment.

As for photo layouts, as long as you keep within the safe region, you’re OK.   Wifey and I had made some custom layouts where we placed a photo on the left page to the far right, and a photo on the right page to the far left.  This layout didn’t look right in the final book as both photos seemed to try to blend into one another.  Something for us to fix on the next book.

Wifey and I also had some disagreements on the use of borders on the photos.  I didn’t want any.  But after looking at the photos with borders, the ones without look naked! 

Value For Money

We’ve shown the books to family and friends and they have all been impressed.  But they all thought that the 2 books would cost over $200, but were all pleasantly surprised when I told them it was about $140 including shipping.


I’ll definitely create more books with Blurb.  I’ve downloaded the HP5000 profile and can now see the difference in photos on screen.  I’ll have to remember to check this next time, but I can already see it blowing out the amount of time spent on the book!

One day, I’ll get around to creating books on my trip without the family photos so that I can sell them to the public.

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