How Do You (or Do You) Manage Your Photos?

So, here’s a question that’s been coming up a lot this week. How do the majority of people manage their photos? Does your system work, or do you scramble? It all started when I got an announcement that last spring’s division-winning All-Star team was finally going to celebrate their victory, and did I have photos for a slideshow? Um… yeah, somewhere, organized by one of the draft versions of Lightroom I was using. Or still stuck on a card because I’ve been, uh, less-than-diligent and more-than-hella-busy.

Where did I stash those photos of yesteryear (or even last July?)

Then, yesterday, an author who wanted to get me a particular photo for the cover of his book had a tragic morning when his diligently crafted system imploded thanks to the cataloging app he was using. (Author and application will remain nameless to protect the innocent and let the sucky temporarily off the hook.) He had a back up plan — a cool system based on Bridge actually, because he’s that kind of guy — but it wrecked his rhythm-of-the-morning. (And unlike me, he didn’t deserve it. He’s a pro who had been trying to do the responsible thing,)

I edited the seminal text in the field, Peter Krogh’s The DAM Book. (DAM stands for digital asset management, not a typo for “Where’s that damn photo?”) Which is great for professional photographers, and Peter’s system has lots of best-practice information that can be scaled for everyday people.

But what I’ve heard colloquially is that most people manage their photos via the operating system: the Finder on the Mac or the Explorer under Windows. How do you find stuff? By date? Do you use something free like iPhoto (which I don’t really care for, too mysterious with regards to the actual location of my photos, but I like it for making web galleries via MobileMe). And although Lightroom and Aperture have some useful photo management tools, frankly, sometimes it makes me happy that my system is centered around Bridge because, well, I can “touch” things in Bridge. I can see them and when I move them, they actually move. I.e., I’m not moving pointers.

OK, as I mentioned above, I don’t have a system, but if I did, I bet Bridge would be central. (It helps that Bridge 2.0, which somewhat confusingly came with CS3, is a vast improvement over its initial incarnation.)

Anyway, I’m up in the Sierras for the long weekend, wondering if I properly tagged the photos from the last time I was here. (Ah, now I’m having a bad high ISO flashback.) And wondering what the dekeNation uses to manage their stuff?

Next entry:Deke (& CW) at Photoshop World

Previous entry:Hide Your Tracks? Trash Your Preferences


  • Speaking personally I use

    Speaking personally I use Finder and folders/subfolders. I don’t do the professional level of digital assets - I have a few thousand photos and textures - but I find that the hierarchies and systems I use for managing all the rest of these things (word-processor documents say) work well enough for what I want.

    I’m still using CS2 and I find Bridge in CS2 to be… dire. I tried iPhoto when it was really new and similar, although I’ve been told it is much better in its later incarnations. I used to use iViewMedia which was nice, and more or less worked how I wanted to work, but I found that using Finder direct was, for most things, just as easy and I didn’t miss the extras when I didn’t have them.

  • LR does it for me

      I am a huge fan of Lightroom for the keywording.  At the time it came out, I was carrying dozens of little plastic boxes with 3x5 cards that had negative or slide numbers on it with basic info describing where, when and who.  I had been moving these around the world as I was constantly relocating (Army).  The organization was my main motivation for buying the program—as I learned to use it, I got excited about all the other benefits.  Although I undoubtedly don’t have the volume of photos you have, LR works for me.  I am one of those crazy folk who have to be able to find the image quickly.  Repent your wanton ways! wink


  • I use iPhoto & Aperture

    Ok, I’m no pro and I organize much more holiday photos, downloaded photos and photos, that I got from friends, but I choose iPhoto and Aperture to organize them.

    I know, iPhoto and Aperture is ‘evil’, because they’re only moving pointers and renaming titles instead of file names - yes, sure, thats not a perfect system! However they are integreated in my OS X and in the Media Browser i can choose my photo out of every application (ok, well, if the app supports it -.-)! That’s fantasic! I don’t have to start Bridge first, it’s faster than Bridge (Have you ever tried Bridge with some other apps on a 1GB 2x2.16GHz (Intel) System? It starts much slower than the Media Browser)

    And - finally - I LOVE not to have to think about directories and such stuff! Just a abstract system to organize files. In the end Bridge is just another finder: Ok, it has really great functionallity, but you have directories and not just a library.

    And the last point: Bridge does not have Quicklook! If I hit the space bar, I want to have a quick preview. It drives me crazy not to have this features (which is actually a Finder Feature, but does work in iPhoto and Aperture, too - just hit space and get the picture in full size.)

    Edit: I just tried it: In Bridge, there seems to be no way to remap the *#@&$-ing short key F2 to Enter! Why should i use Windows-short keys on a Mac!? :(

    The only moments I wish to be able to use Bridge is when I work on Projects and using many different Adobe Apps. Well, sadly there is no integration between the Media Browser and Bridge - you can’t just use them both :( that would be a really great Feature - using them both parallel!

    PS: Why iPhoto and Aperture? I use iPhoto for downloaded pics, pics I’ve got by friends and such stuff, while I’m using Aperture for pics taken with my D-SLR.

  • I use Bridge

    I actually love Bridge, and use it to catalog all my folders. I have a system of folders set up for animals, artists, projects, etc, and it’s all systematically organized. The only thing I want to add to this system is to put keywords on everything so I can cross-reference.

    I have two Collections set up specifically for blogging purposes. I use one color label for photos “to be blogged” and another color label for photos that “have been blogged.” I do this for my two separate categories of artwork, and it works great.

    I never liked the way iPhoto was setup with those stupid rolls of film, that’s just not the way I think. I’ve never tried LR or Aperture so can’t comment on those, but for me Bridge works beautifully.

  • File System…shame there is no Mac version of Picasa

    Developer and a designer so have windows running in VMWare and used Picasa for a long time. Am interested in Bridge but I typically like to wait a couple years to be sure a product is going to be around before I commit to it.


  • Yes, the CS3 Bridge was the first version that was viable

    I agree Eloise. I would not have thought Bridge a viable option in its CS2 incarnation. I didn’t start using it on a regular basis until the CS3 version when the speed improved dramatically.

  • We like to say repent your DAM ways

    You can imagine how much silly fun we have with the DAM acronym. I like Lightroom for some things (mostly centered around the Develop module.) But I sometimes feel like I don’t have the ground level control over things that I want. I’m sure I could disabuse myself of that if I could just stay with one version of one program.

  • I have somewhere in the order of 5 thousand photos

    And I keep them all in one folder called “Stuff”.

    Hahaaaaa of course I’m kidding - I’ll give you a moment to stop screaming.

    I’m not a pro so I have been keeping mine in the original camera labeled folders - one folder for each time I download off the camera. The date of the folder creation is it’s name plus I add a little description like _garden. I keep all my originals separate from any edits using two other folders - one for raws and one for edits. It’s messy and annoying but I’m only learning so it’s cool. I don’t do stuff for clients so it’s okay to be messy.

    What I really want is a CD/DVD cataloging system that isn’t music based. That way I can offload the many many gig off my HDD and still know where they all are! I’d like something that reads a disc - picks up the files and associated metatags (like description and some thumbnails) and stores those. Then I can cruise through those if I find what I’m looking for it can tell me which disc it’s on.

    Something where I can search for stuff too.

    I am just learning Bridge but I don’t think it does that does it?

  • Sounds like you want catagloging software

    You’re right that Bridge is a browser, so it’s not going to be useful for perusing offline storage. Sounds like you’re looking for cataloging software, which will create previews and make metadata available for you to view even when the images are offline. Peter Krogh, the DAM guy, also pointed out that using such an application, (I think he still uses iView which is now subsumed in Expression Media having been purchased by Microsoft) meant he could keyword his library when he was sitting around in airports, even though his actual files were safely at home in his climate controlled storage closet. I haven’t tried Expression, so I can’t speak for it good or bad. (I’ve got a copy of it somewhere I’ve been meaning to install, but, alas, I need an organizational system for software I’m supposed to review too.)

  • Trying to get Organized

    Any of these types of software programs work fine if you’re an organized person. Problem: Organization software only makes organized people more organized. If you’re like me, they get you fired up for a while, but then you tend to go back to being disorganized.

    For my family snapshots I use iPhoto. The software keeps improving and has those cool looking event windows which allows you to pick your favorite photo for each event. I also make albums for slide shows on my iPod Touch and making photo books. I do minor adjustments with the iPhoto software but you can also open the photos in Photoshop or Elements and them save them back.

    iPhoto does allow you to tag your photos with keywords. It’s a simple yet an effective system.

    Only downside to iPhoto is the wacky way it stores the photos. It has it’s own set of rules and makes a weird structure of folders to store the pictures.

    It does have a preference check box so you can decide if you want to Copy items to the iPhoto Library or you can also use your own folders or duplicate the photos in another location.

    For my work photos I just keep a folder called “PHOTOS” with sub-folders categorized by the year.

    I would recommend tagging the photos with Bridge, Aperture or Lightroom. I shoot mostly JPGS so Bridge would work for me. I do most of my first editing and tagging with the software Photo Mechanic from Camera Bits. I do all the renaming, IPTC meta-tag data and captions in this program for my work photos.


  • DAM = Extensis Portfolio

    Extensis Portfolio

    I have used this 10 years for digital asset management. It manages both my online and offline storage which means it is great for searching through archives (CD’s, DVD’s, whatever). None of the newer products as of yet seem to offer compelling reasons to switch.

    I also like and use Bridge when dealing with files on my hard drives.

    Thomas Benner

  • I’m not much of a photographer…

    But I use iPhoto. What can I say? It’s convenient. My kids all have their own accounts on the family computer so they can manage their own iPhoto stuff, and we share a .Mac account, so we can all upload galleries of photos and share them. Also, it’s easy to move images, run slideshows, etc. In the family we have something like 5 digital cameras between us, and it’s just too convenient to plug it in anywhere and we’re done. No manual work, no uploading, and it’s all backed up to our time machine. And we can access the photos easily across our home network.

    Mordy Golding

  • I have been using the Bridge

    I have been using the Bridge for my organizing.  I don’t shoot a zillion photos a month so it’s pretty easy.  I created folders for the year and sub-folders for the quarters…2008/ Jan to Mar.  I don’t use any keywords but it’s easy for me to find things.  Maybe I just have a good memory.  Lightroom is great but I can do most things in the Bridge.

    mike meyer

  • MSFT Expression Media

    I’ve been using Microsoft Expression Media to organize my photos for about 9 months now.  The base of the software is iView’s MediaPro Digital Asset Software - Microsoft bought them back in 2006.  Since then it seems Microsoft improved the database engine, added a few cool features and as usual introduced some interesting bugs.  But, I have to admit the Microsoft support team for this product has been great.

    I’m very happy with it so far.  Similar to Bridge it allows me to apply and organize by meta data which is logically structured into categories such as people, scene, subject code, event, product type and such.  The hierarchical keywords and scripts are helpful too (I use the scripts a lot).  Expression Media lets you move, copy, and delete from disk or simply within the catalog.  Its saves thumbnails and previews so I can keep my stock photos offline.

    The current version maxes out a single catalog at about 128,000 images or 1.8 Gigs - but, its not that bad because the software allows you to open multiple catalogs at once and search across all open catalogs.

    I thought I had a lot of digital assets before - but, now with two kids the amount is staggering.  I needed something to help me get what I want when I need it - so far this is doing the trick.  You can try it for free:


  • Finder/Automator first

    I use a Mac so my first incarnation was using the Finder and this automator action:

    I set up folder year, then sub folders with descriptive name for subject, use the automator action to batch rename images, by month, day,  year. Like so; Silo02_0808, Then the images numbered sequentially. Shove the pics into said folder. Then any manipulated /modified RAW files saved as PSD or JPG are given a specific name and placed in a sub folder of its parent.  THe old parent, child, grandchild hierarchy.

    Since I upgraded to CS3 Design Premium, I have started using Bridge to perform the same function. I am still getting comfortable with this process.

    Next up is to look in to creating custom metadata templates to batch process image keywords(maybe a pipe dream?)

    Then there’s the drive space/backup migration, change-tracking, tracking system.


  • changing organizational direction

    actually i don’t hear any ideas that are really viable for the 28+thousand photos i have in iPhoto. i would love to change to something that integrates better with photoshop but to move all these files that are already organized into albums and folders (they do not copy over organized they just copy as a pile of photos) would take about 6 months. another instance where i find the proprietary nature of software very aggravating.

  • Two Bridges at the Same Time

    I just stumbled across something kind of neat.

    I was using the bridge and I was thinking, ‘This is a little inconvenient. I want to be here, and I want to be there, and ‘favorites’ navigation isn’t good enough. I wish I had two bridges.

    So I look under ‘file’ and there is an option called ‘new window.’ I try it - hey, look at that! Two bridges!

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