Make Organising Photos Easy on Your PC or Mac

In this tutorial I want to help you with the task of organising your photos. This can seem like an uphill challenge as we are all taking many more photos than ever before. It’s also a problem that creeps up on you. Initially you don’t think there’s a problem but then one day you realise you can find the image you need. Then as your library of images grows you find you lose photos with increasing frequency.

If you recognise this problem, or if you want to avoid it in the future, I have some practical suggestions to help.

The Simple System for Organising Photos

Before I explain my system for organising photos, I want to stress that this is a basic system. Despite this it’s intended as something you can build on as your photo library grows. How much you add will depend on your needs and to some degree budget.

By way of an example, I probably have 500,000 photos organised in this way. BUT my basic system alone isn’t enough to help manage all these photos. Because of the numbers involved I must use digital asset management software as well. This is something we cover later in the article and I’ll share a suggestion of  some free software to use.

Organising Photos in a Folder Structure

It doesn’t matter if you’re using a PC or Mac Computer, folders should form the basic method for organising your photos. You’ll find a good folder structure helps you to separate and organise images without initially needing to use software. It’s only when the numbers of photos grow that you might want to use software to help with organising and finding photos.

There are a few approaches you could use to organise your photos into folders. The approach I now use and recommend is date based.

Example folder structure on a Mac for organising photos

The screenshot shows the structure of my folders in my Mac Finder. If you’re using a Windows PC, the Finder is just like the Explorer window.

At the top of the structure I have a single root folder to hold all other folders. Then each year I start a new folder to hold that year’s images. The name of this folder starts with the year for example “2019 Images”. Having the year at the start of the name means the folders display in my finder in date order.

When I return from a shoot, I download my images to a new folder inside that year’s folder. An example of a shoot folders is “19-08-12 Peak District”. Notice that I have the date (yy-mm-dd) as the start of the name. This again ensures the folders display in date order in my finder window. The second part of the name is then for the location of the shoot.

This simple folder structure allows me to quickly locate a group of photos, which I can then browse through to find the one I want. Even now I can quickly find images without needing more complex searches in software, but it does take a little longer.

With a little thought, I’m sure you could come up with a similar folder structure to suit your own needs.

Folder Naming Tip

Now you may have wondered why I included the year in the folder name for each shoot. After all, I include the year in the name of the “year folder” so why do it again?

It’s because it’s very easy to accidentally drag one of the folders with my photos into another folder. If you accidentally do this, or should I say when, the folder immediately stands out in the browser window.

Naming Photos to Help with Organising

Another practice I recommend for organising photos is renaming them. I do this automatically when I download them from my camera using Lightroom.

file renaming can help with organising your photos

If you look at the screenshot, you’ll see that my images all have the same name structure:

  1. My name, followed by
  2. Camera used, followed by
  3. Date of the shoot (yyyy-mm), followed by
  4. Original file name created when I shot the image.

This system originally grew out of the need to ensure a unique name for every image (early digital cameras weren’t good at this). But I continue to use this naming structure because it helps with organising my photos. It also helps me when searching for images files. For example, people have contacted me in the past to say they have a low-resolution photo and want a larger one. I can then use the name to quickly find the folder and image.

As I mentioned, I do my image renaming automatically using Lightroom. You can see a screenshot below of the file naming template I use.

renaming files in Lightroom

Whilst you may not use Lightroom to help organise and manage your photos (I have an alternative suggestion later), most management software has something similar.

Culling or Deleting Photos

The next essential step in any system of organising photos is culling or deleting those you don’t want. This is important as it keeps the number of photos down. You can then invest time organising the best images with more advanced tools like keywording. Keywording is a great technique for organising and finding photos but it takes time. It’s also quite a boring process. You don’t want to waste valuable time keywording photos you’re going to delete.

If you don’t shoot many photos you can probably just brows through these on your computer. Open the folder using the Mac Finder or Windows Explorer to find and delete the ones you don’t want. But when you have hundreds of images in folders, you need an approach that’s a little more flexible. That’s where star ratings come in, but you’ll need software for this.

Organising Photos with a Star Rating

Here you can see a screenshot of some of my photos in Lightroom.

using star ratings in Lightroom to oragnise photos

Notice that I’ve circles a few of the star ratings shown below the photos. There’s a one star, two star and unrated example. The star ratings help to quickly search an entire catalogue or library of photos to find your best ones.

Here’s how a simple star rating system could work:

  1. Initially all your photos will be unrated. Make a first pass through deleting any photos with obvious problems. Blurred photos are a good example of ones you might delete immediately.
  2. Work through your photos a second time to pick the ones that stand out as being better than the others. When you find one of these photos, you’ll give it a 1-star rating.
  3. Now work through only the 1-star photos to find the best photos. Apply a 2-star rating to these.
  4. Do a final pass of the 2-star photos to look for any that are real stand out photos. These photos are much rarer, and you might only find a few each year. When you do find one of these give it a 3-star rating.

With just a few minutes effort you now know the best images because they all have a star rating applied to them. It also allows you to find them easily using software.

filtering photos using the star rating system

Here I’ve filtered my library of images in Lightroom to only show those with rating of 3 or more stars.

Keywording to Help Find and Organise Photos

Now that you understand which are your best photos you can take the next step in organising them. This is entirely optional as not everyone needs the power of Keywords. But if you have the time and patience it can be very valuable.

Keywords are words you apply to an image to describe it. It could be the location, or the time of day, or weather, or even the dominant colour. For example, I might add the keywords “Peak District”, “dawn”, “winter”. “frost” and “Higger Tor” to the ringed image above. Then when I need a dawn shot of Higger Tor in the winter, I can search all my images to find those keywords.

As I mentioned earlier, keywording is quite boring and takes time. How much effort you invest depends on your needs as well as how good the image is. For example, I might not add any keywords to the unrated images because I’m going to delete them in the future. I could then add basic keywords to the 1-star images but and a comprehensive set of keywords to images with 2-star or more stars.

Free Photo Organising Software

I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this tutorial that I use Adobe Lightroom to manage and organise my photos. Lightroom is incredibly powerful but it’s also only available to rent. A lot of people don’t want the expense of a monthly payment and neither do they need the power/features of Lightroom. They need a simpler and preferably free alternative.

If that’s you I have good news. Adobe also has free software that does everything we’ve discussed in this tutorial. It’s called Adobe Bridge and you can find out more, as well as download it from the Bridge page of Adobe website.

Adobe Bridge Features

Adobe Bridge has many features but let’s look at a few core ones to support our need for organising photos.

organising photos in Adobe Bridge

Here you can see a screenshot of the Adobe Bridge “Essentials” interface. “Essentials” is just one of several views in Adobe Bridge to help in organising your photos.

One the left you have a folder tree. You can use this to select and browse the folder structure of your computer. When you select a folder by clicking it, you’ll see a thumbnail grid of the files displayed in the main preview area. Click a thumbnail and you’ll see a preview of the image displayed over on the right.

If you want to rename your photos, Adobe Bridge includes a Batch rename feature. As you can see from the following screenshot, this is very flexible.

batch renaming of photos in adbe bridge

Searching for Photos

You can easily browse through photos, but the real power of Bridge is in searching for photos. Using Adobe Bridge, you can easily add star ratings to your photos. If you look back to the interface screenshot, you’ll see the selected image has a star rating of 2. You’ll also notice in the same screenshot that the image has keywords applied. Now when I want to find all images with the keywords “Higger Tor” and “Winter” I can use the Find feature.

finding images in Adobe Bridge

This will find all the images in the folders that match my search criteria including subfolders. If I want to search my entire library of photos, I only need to start the search in the root folder for the library.

After this I can filter the results further. For example, I could select to show only the photos with a 2-star or better rating.

filtering 2 star ratings in adobe bridge

Adobe Bridge is extremely powerful and a great tool for organising photos.

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Summary of Make Organising Photos Easy

We’ve covered a lot of ground quite quickly in this tutorial. They key points to effectively managing and organising photos are:

  1. Create an organising folder structure to hold your photos.
  2. Ensure your folder names help in organising the structure.
  3. Rename your photos to make them unique and use names that help with their organisation.
  4. Only keep the best photos.
  5. Use a system of star ratings to help find the best photos.
  6. Apply keywords to your better photos. It will make finding them in the future much easier.
  7. Use software to help you organise, track and manage your photos.

If you decide you need more power than Adobe Bridge and have the budget, Adobe Lightroom is another option to consider. You’ll find lots of Adobe Lightroom tutorials on Lenscraft to help you, as well as suggested alternatives to Lightroom.

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