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How-To

March 5, 2021

5 Essential Tips for Photo Organization and Workflow

By Wildist Community Lead
Joel Fuller

How-To

March 5, 2021

5 Essential Tips for Photo Organization and Workflow

By Wildist Community Lead
Joel Fuller

“This is not something infinitely entertaining, but it is something you have to do as a photographer… your livelihood and life’s work is based on it.” 

- Alex Strohl

We’re starting the year off discussing one of the most important aspects of any aspiring or professional photographer: storage workflow and backup. I’ve spent years adjusting my method and taking notes along the way. Much of my process has been influenced by my friend and Wildist co-founder, Alex Strohl. Image storage and organization is definitely not the most thrilling part of the job, but it is important to find a system that works for you.

This article is here to help you take ownership and responsibility over your photo archive and enable you to experience the power of having a proper organizational workflow. We’ve broken this subject into 5 important tips to understand and develop the process for a solid workflow and archive:

1. Storage Workflow
2. Folder Structure, Keywords, & Catalogs
3. Backup Methods, Storage, & Redundancy
4. Integrating and organizing images from the past
5. Making your workflow a habit

There are three essential organizational needs you must have setup as a photographer: 

- The ability to find images when you or someone else needs them
- The importance of redundancy in your archive and workflow
- Making your workflow a habit

When a client or a friend asks you to dig up specific images from a shoot you did a few years ago – are you able to do so with ease? Or do you find yourself entering a labyrinth of “wait where did those files go?” It pays dividends to be organized and properly backed up. Both in saved time and the avoidance of unnecessary stress/anxiety caused by a messy archive or lost data.

As photographers, we need to create a strict workflow with the ability to find images from our past shoots with ease. It’s very easy to dump files in a rudimentary way and get stuck in the “one day” mentality. Truth of the matter is that every time you add more photos without a proper workflow, you’re causing yourself a much bigger headache down the road. In the worst case scenario, losing important images permanently (cue a photographer’s largest fear).


1. Storage Workflow

Storage Workflow is the organizational and redundant process of adding new images to your archive. Before you totally revamp how you organize and store your files, or base it off of someone else’s system, take a moment to reflect and understand how you like to work and the ways you wish to access your archive. Our storage needs are not all the same and all our minds function so differently. However, the important thing here to remember is that everyone needs to have one in place.

Here’s a general idea of storage workflow:

1. Import images and make two copies locally. When you’re out on a shoot, move images from your cards to not just one hard drive, but two (if possible have an abundance of cards and DO NOT format them until you’ve integrated the images to your long-term storage). For example, you could move cards to two different external drives or temporarily move the images to one single external drive + your laptop's drive. Obviously if you’re heading home or to your office immediately after a shoot, you can go straight from card to long-term storage. When you import the images, you need to have a solid understanding of how you wish to name your files and folders, how you wish to use keywords, and how you would like to use Lightroom catalogs (more on that in the next section).

2. Place those images in long-term storage. Once you’re back to your office or home, move your images to your long-term storage. Here at Wildist we are big advocates of using RAID drives. We will dive deeper into long-term storage in the Backup Methods, Storage, and Redundancy section of this article. 

3. Backup offsite. In addition to your main drive, you should consider having everything backed up onto an additional larger drive at a friends or family members house in case extreme circumstances happen such as a robbery or fire. If you’re living in a place with a fast internet connection then using an online storage solution is a feasible option.


2. Folder Structure, Keywords, & Catalogs

Folder Structure

Ultimately, photo organization and workflow is a very personal decision. Everyone visualizes images in their head differently and the way you organize these folders and use keywords in your archive should reflect that vision. For example, Alex Strohl thinks about activities, seasons, and years. For me, I think about years, places, and adventures - for you it could be years, months, and people for example. Alex taught me to consistently build folders with selects and portfolio images as high quality exported jpegs. When you wish to quickly find some of your best work, these folders can save you a lot of time instead of opening individual catalogs and exporting images at that time. Once you’ve edited images in a catalog (used a rating system to make selects etc), export those images into a folder that can easily be found. Here's an example of what your folder structure might look like:

Folder Structure Example


Keywords

Keywords are one of the best ways to create an efficient searchable image workflow while using Adobe Lightroom. Good keywords make it easy to quickly search through a large volume of images by adding additional metadata to each tagged image. You can either enter them manually during the import phase of LR or you can opt for an automatic solution such as Wordroom, a software plugin that automatically tags your photos using machine learning (for a fee). Alex likes to add keywords to an entire batch during import and I have done the same, from a time perspective it makes the most if you’re going the manual route. Software plugin’s like Wordroom have revolutionized the process though, freeing up your time if you wish to tag images individually. Keywords can be thought of as an investment in the usability of your image library and exported images using a finder window and the search bar. 

Let’s say you’re importing a batch of ski images from a day backcountry skiing around Whistler. Keywords you might want to add are: 2021, Whistler, Skiing, Snow, Winter, Friends (if you have some images of friends), Backcountry, Adventure

Catalogs

Here is another pivotal piece of debate for your workflow. Some people include multiple shoots, a full season, or potentially a whole year of images in a single catalog as there are powerful organizational tools within Adobe Lightroom. Some people also import directly from camera card to Lightroom and choose the location of their storage via a prompt during import. Alex Strohl creates a new catalog for each new shoot he does and imports not from card, but from the location of an external drive where he’s dumped his photos. Once I saw that method, I immediately adopted it because it’s a way to feel more personally in control of where your images are located instead of relying on the organizational features of Lightroom. I’ve also found LR catalogs get progressively slower as the volume of images they contained increased.

3. Backup Methods, Storage, & Redundancy


It’s absolutely imperative to operate in a world of storage redundancy where if one of your storage solutions fails, you have a second or even third copy safe somewhere else. When you’re working for a paying client, your reputation, work, and income are all on the line.

Most of us probably started out storing our images on a multitude of external harddrives. Likely those older orange LaCie or plastic WD drives with a spinning disk, maybe labeling them with masking tape, carrying them around with us as if they were bullet proof, and collecting them in a bin somewhere at home. Truth of the matter is that these drives are very vulnerable. The first (and only-time) I lost a significant amount of data was in the summer of 2016 when my WD external drive fell off my desk. I immediately plugged it in and heard a terrible clicking sound and within moments the drive failed. A deep wave of anxiety clouded over me as I pondered the difficult conversations to follow with my boss at the time - I learned a big lesson that day about redundancy.


“Spending money on storage isn’t always the most exciting thing as a photographer, but extremely necessary.” 

- Alex Strohl


On-the-go Storage Solutions 

Solid state drives (SSDs) have come a long way in the past few years with larger capacities and reduced cost. They’re incredibly fast, small, and much more reliable than external drives with a sinning disk because there are no moving parts. I have been using the Lexar Professional SL100 Pro Portable SSD’s for the past few years based upon Alex’s recommendation and have been very happy with them for all my on-the-go storage and work needs. With a 950mb/sec read speed and a 900mb/write speed they’re more than fast enough to work off of for both photo + video editing. Samsung, Lacie, G-Tech, WD, all make decent SSDs today. It’s best to have two SSDs while on-the-go, mirroring each everytime you offload cards, and keeping one of them close to you at all times.

Once you’re home you can then mirror all the files and newly created catalog(s) to your main backup.

Recommended Drives: Lexar Professional SL 100, Samsung Portable SSD T5Lexar SL200 Portable SSD 

At Home or Office Storage Solutions

Large Capacity External Drives

A good solution if you’ve just started developing a large archive of images and are looking for a more inexpensive solution to your storage needs or an additional redundant drive to store at a friends or family’s house offsite are large capacity external drives for your home office or desk.

The larger external hard drives are a good solutions as your archive grows and are looking for a more inexpensive option. They also are a good fit for an additional redundant drive to store at a friends or family’s house offsite.

Recommended External Drives: LaCie d2 Professional, G-Technology G-Drive USB 3.0, WD Elements Desktop


RAID Drives

“If you’re on the verge of becoming more serious as a photographer, you need to get a RAID.” says our founder, Alex Strohl. RAID stands for redundant array of inexpensive disks and they essentially make everything a lot easier, offering a ton of storage in one location. There is no need to always be searching through multiple hard drives to find your images since you can configure them in many different ways to be as large a capacity as you need. You might’ve heard of RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5 etc - check here for these configurations explained. Essentially, you can configure a RAID to always be redundant mirroring itself internally. We recommend a RAID with at least 4 bays (4 drives) configured as RAID 5. RAID 5 combines both mirroring redundancy + faster performance. When one drive fails, you can swap it out and replace it with a new one. The drive will then automatically copy data over to the new drive creating an internal backup. When you use this in conjuction with an “offsite” large capacity external drive that you back-up regularly, RAID is a very powerful and professional option for peace of mind. This route can become expensive and you will need to buy the individual hard drives separately to be placed inside each bay (use a trusted brand like Seagate or WD for the drives).

Recommended RAIDS: Pegasus R4 

Online Storage

The second step of getting a pro-level storage workflow is using online storage. If hard drives fail, get stolen, or face extreme circumstances – you could easily lose important work. One solution to this problem is using a service that is able to take your entire RAID or desktop drive to the cloud. Every provider is a bit different so it is worth reading the finer details of each service. They differ in cost and speed/method at which you can get your files back. Using online storage only makes sense if you have a good internet connection. Otherwise it could take eons for you to upload your RAID or external drives to the cloud. If online storage is not an option for you because of slow internet speeds, we recommend getting an additional external drive and mirroring your main backup on a regular basis, storing it at a different location. Here are some of the most well known online solutions:

- Backblaze -  A good set-and-forget option that will cost you about $60/year for their personal plan 

- Carbonite - One of the most well-known solutions that runs in the background of your computer. They used to choke upload speeds, but have since done away with that. 

- CrashPlan - Also a good option with the ability to start with a seeded backup where they send you a blank drive, you fill it up, send it back to them, and quickly start the initial backup process which can save you a lot of time. 

NAS Drives

Taking a RAID drive one step further you could consider setting up a NAS drive. NAS stands for Network Attached Storage. These external hard drives can be connected to your internet router so they can be accessed from anywhere you can get an internet connection. It's like having your own personal cloud storage at home, but with more storage space and no monthly fees. You simply log in to the drive from a computer or mobile device using your private username and password. Then you can view, upload or download your files whether you're at home or on the go.


4. Integrating and organizing images from the past

Okay let’s say you have a collection of external harddrives somewhere. They contain images that are important to you, a mixture of your passion projects and work from the past few years. Maybe they’ve been backed up somewhere or maybe they haven’t. It is not too late to get what can feel like an overwhelming collection of images organized into a central archive. If they haven’t been backed up the sooner you do so the safer you’ll be as every hard drive has a shelf life and will at some point in time fail. This process will take time, but if you break down the task into say one hard drive a day, before you know it you’ll be organized and comfortably in control of your archive.

You can apply the same workflow you’ve developed or the one you plan on starting to these external drives:

1. Go through each drive one at a time and transfer the files to your main backup drive (a RAID or large capacity external drive)

2. Add them into the folder structure that makes the most sense to you. For me that would be year > adventures, work, personal,  export selects. Within each adventure, work, or personal drop of images I would have an individual folder containing the catalog associated with those images. In the past however I used to have a lot more images in a single catalog. If you wish to take it one step further you could create new catalogs, but this all depends on how much time you wish to spend looking at and re-editing your images. If you do set up new catalogs, this is the perfect time to add keywords if you’ve never done that in the past.

3. Repeat until finished


5. Making your workflow a habit 

It’s crucial as a working photographer to make your workflow a habit. The more difficult you make this process, the less chance you will have maintaining it. Here are a few important things to help your workflow become a habit:

- Have your workflow written down and maybe keep it somewhere on your desk as a reminder
- Make it simple
- Set reminders for weekly or bi-weekly backup if your system requires it
- Think of the time + stress you’re saving

As we move through 2021, a new year full of so much potential. Lose the “one day” mentality as one day you might lose some of your best work. Forever. Storage, backup, and workflow isn’t the most glamorous aspect of being a photographer, but it’s arguably one of the most important.


“This is not something infinitely entertaining, but it is something you have to do as a photographer… your livelihood and life’s work is based on it.” 

- Alex Strohl

We’re starting the year off discussing one of the most important aspects of any aspiring or professional photographer: storage workflow and backup. I’ve spent years adjusting my method and taking notes along the way. Much of my process has been influenced by my friend and Wildist co-founder, Alex Strohl. Image storage and organization is definitely not the most thrilling part of the job, but it is important to find a system that works for you.

This article is here to help you take ownership and responsibility over your photo archive and enable you to experience the power of having a proper organizational workflow. We’ve broken this subject into 5 important tips to understand and develop the process for a solid workflow and archive:

1. Storage Workflow
2. Folder Structure, Keywords, & Catalogs
3. Backup Methods, Storage, & Redundancy
4. Integrating and organizing images from the past
5. Making your workflow a habit

There are three essential organizational needs you must have setup as a photographer: 

- The ability to find images when you or someone else needs them
- The importance of redundancy in your archive and workflow
- Making your workflow a habit

When a client or a friend asks you to dig up specific images from a shoot you did a few years ago – are you able to do so with ease? Or do you find yourself entering a labyrinth of “wait where did those files go?” It pays dividends to be organized and properly backed up. Both in saved time and the avoidance of unnecessary stress/anxiety caused by a messy archive or lost data.

As photographers, we need to create a strict workflow with the ability to find images from our past shoots with ease. It’s very easy to dump files in a rudimentary way and get stuck in the “one day” mentality. Truth of the matter is that every time you add more photos without a proper workflow, you’re causing yourself a much bigger headache down the road. In the worst case scenario, losing important images permanently (cue a photographer’s largest fear).


1. Storage Workflow

Storage Workflow is the organizational and redundant process of adding new images to your archive. Before you totally revamp how you organize and store your files, or base it off of someone else’s system, take a moment to reflect and understand how you like to work and the ways you wish to access your archive. Our storage needs are not all the same and all our minds function so differently. However, the important thing here to remember is that everyone needs to have one in place.

Here’s a general idea of storage workflow:

1. Import images and make two copies locally. When you’re out on a shoot, move images from your cards to not just one hard drive, but two (if possible have an abundance of cards and DO NOT format them until you’ve integrated the images to your long-term storage). For example, you could move cards to two different external drives or temporarily move the images to one single external drive + your laptop's drive. Obviously if you’re heading home or to your office immediately after a shoot, you can go straight from card to long-term storage. When you import the images, you need to have a solid understanding of how you wish to name your files and folders, how you wish to use keywords, and how you would like to use Lightroom catalogs (more on that in the next section).

2. Place those images in long-term storage. Once you’re back to your office or home, move your images to your long-term storage. Here at Wildist we are big advocates of using RAID drives. We will dive deeper into long-term storage in the Backup Methods, Storage, and Redundancy section of this article. 

3. Backup offsite. In addition to your main drive, you should consider having everything backed up onto an additional larger drive at a friends or family members house in case extreme circumstances happen such as a robbery or fire. If you’re living in a place with a fast internet connection then using an online storage solution is a feasible option.


2. Folder Structure, Keywords, & Catalogs

Folder Structure

Ultimately, photo organization and workflow is a very personal decision. Everyone visualizes images in their head differently and the way you organize these folders and use keywords in your archive should reflect that vision. For example, Alex Strohl thinks about activities, seasons, and years. For me, I think about years, places, and adventures - for you it could be years, months, and people for example. Alex taught me to consistently build folders with selects and portfolio images as high quality exported jpegs. When you wish to quickly find some of your best work, these folders can save you a lot of time instead of opening individual catalogs and exporting images at that time. Once you’ve edited images in a catalog (used a rating system to make selects etc), export those images into a folder that can easily be found. Here's an example of what your folder structure might look like:

Folder Structure Example


Keywords

Keywords are one of the best ways to create an efficient searchable image workflow while using Adobe Lightroom. Good keywords make it easy to quickly search through a large volume of images by adding additional metadata to each tagged image. You can either enter them manually during the import phase of LR or you can opt for an automatic solution such as Wordroom, a software plugin that automatically tags your photos using machine learning (for a fee). Alex likes to add keywords to an entire batch during import and I have done the same, from a time perspective it makes the most if you’re going the manual route. Software plugin’s like Wordroom have revolutionized the process though, freeing up your time if you wish to tag images individually. Keywords can be thought of as an investment in the usability of your image library and exported images using a finder window and the search bar. 

Let’s say you’re importing a batch of ski images from a day backcountry skiing around Whistler. Keywords you might want to add are: 2021, Whistler, Skiing, Snow, Winter, Friends (if you have some images of friends), Backcountry, Adventure

Catalogs

Here is another pivotal piece of debate for your workflow. Some people include multiple shoots, a full season, or potentially a whole year of images in a single catalog as there are powerful organizational tools within Adobe Lightroom. Some people also import directly from camera card to Lightroom and choose the location of their storage via a prompt during import. Alex Strohl creates a new catalog for each new shoot he does and imports not from card, but from the location of an external drive where he’s dumped his photos. Once I saw that method, I immediately adopted it because it’s a way to feel more personally in control of where your images are located instead of relying on the organizational features of Lightroom. I’ve also found LR catalogs get progressively slower as the volume of images they contained increased.

3. Backup Methods, Storage, & Redundancy


It’s absolutely imperative to operate in a world of storage redundancy where if one of your storage solutions fails, you have a second or even third copy safe somewhere else. When you’re working for a paying client, your reputation, work, and income are all on the line.

Most of us probably started out storing our images on a multitude of external harddrives. Likely those older orange LaCie or plastic WD drives with a spinning disk, maybe labeling them with masking tape, carrying them around with us as if they were bullet proof, and collecting them in a bin somewhere at home. Truth of the matter is that these drives are very vulnerable. The first (and only-time) I lost a significant amount of data was in the summer of 2016 when my WD external drive fell off my desk. I immediately plugged it in and heard a terrible clicking sound and within moments the drive failed. A deep wave of anxiety clouded over me as I pondered the difficult conversations to follow with my boss at the time - I learned a big lesson that day about redundancy.


“Spending money on storage isn’t always the most exciting thing as a photographer, but extremely necessary.” 

- Alex Strohl


On-the-go Storage Solutions 

Solid state drives (SSDs) have come a long way in the past few years with larger capacities and reduced cost. They’re incredibly fast, small, and much more reliable than external drives with a sinning disk because there are no moving parts. I have been using the Lexar Professional SL100 Pro Portable SSD’s for the past few years based upon Alex’s recommendation and have been very happy with them for all my on-the-go storage and work needs. With a 950mb/sec read speed and a 900mb/write speed they’re more than fast enough to work off of for both photo + video editing. Samsung, Lacie, G-Tech, WD, all make decent SSDs today. It’s best to have two SSDs while on-the-go, mirroring each everytime you offload cards, and keeping one of them close to you at all times.

Once you’re home you can then mirror all the files and newly created catalog(s) to your main backup.

Recommended Drives: Lexar Professional SL 100, Samsung Portable SSD T5Lexar SL200 Portable SSD 

At Home or Office Storage Solutions

Large Capacity External Drives

A good solution if you’ve just started developing a large archive of images and are looking for a more inexpensive solution to your storage needs or an additional redundant drive to store at a friends or family’s house offsite are large capacity external drives for your home office or desk.

The larger external hard drives are a good solutions as your archive grows and are looking for a more inexpensive option. They also are a good fit for an additional redundant drive to store at a friends or family’s house offsite.

Recommended External Drives: LaCie d2 Professional, G-Technology G-Drive USB 3.0, WD Elements Desktop


RAID Drives

“If you’re on the verge of becoming more serious as a photographer, you need to get a RAID.” says our founder, Alex Strohl. RAID stands for redundant array of inexpensive disks and they essentially make everything a lot easier, offering a ton of storage in one location. There is no need to always be searching through multiple hard drives to find your images since you can configure them in many different ways to be as large a capacity as you need. You might’ve heard of RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5 etc - check here for these configurations explained. Essentially, you can configure a RAID to always be redundant mirroring itself internally. We recommend a RAID with at least 4 bays (4 drives) configured as RAID 5. RAID 5 combines both mirroring redundancy + faster performance. When one drive fails, you can swap it out and replace it with a new one. The drive will then automatically copy data over to the new drive creating an internal backup. When you use this in conjuction with an “offsite” large capacity external drive that you back-up regularly, RAID is a very powerful and professional option for peace of mind. This route can become expensive and you will need to buy the individual hard drives separately to be placed inside each bay (use a trusted brand like Seagate or WD for the drives).

Recommended RAIDS: Pegasus R4 

Online Storage

The second step of getting a pro-level storage workflow is using online storage. If hard drives fail, get stolen, or face extreme circumstances – you could easily lose important work. One solution to this problem is using a service that is able to take your entire RAID or desktop drive to the cloud. Every provider is a bit different so it is worth reading the finer details of each service. They differ in cost and speed/method at which you can get your files back. Using online storage only makes sense if you have a good internet connection. Otherwise it could take eons for you to upload your RAID or external drives to the cloud. If online storage is not an option for you because of slow internet speeds, we recommend getting an additional external drive and mirroring your main backup on a regular basis, storing it at a different location. Here are some of the most well known online solutions:

- Backblaze -  A good set-and-forget option that will cost you about $60/year for their personal plan 

- Carbonite - One of the most well-known solutions that runs in the background of your computer. They used to choke upload speeds, but have since done away with that. 

- CrashPlan - Also a good option with the ability to start with a seeded backup where they send you a blank drive, you fill it up, send it back to them, and quickly start the initial backup process which can save you a lot of time. 

NAS Drives

Taking a RAID drive one step further you could consider setting up a NAS drive. NAS stands for Network Attached Storage. These external hard drives can be connected to your internet router so they can be accessed from anywhere you can get an internet connection. It's like having your own personal cloud storage at home, but with more storage space and no monthly fees. You simply log in to the drive from a computer or mobile device using your private username and password. Then you can view, upload or download your files whether you're at home or on the go.


4. Integrating and organizing images from the past

Okay let’s say you have a collection of external harddrives somewhere. They contain images that are important to you, a mixture of your passion projects and work from the past few years. Maybe they’ve been backed up somewhere or maybe they haven’t. It is not too late to get what can feel like an overwhelming collection of images organized into a central archive. If they haven’t been backed up the sooner you do so the safer you’ll be as every hard drive has a shelf life and will at some point in time fail. This process will take time, but if you break down the task into say one hard drive a day, before you know it you’ll be organized and comfortably in control of your archive.

You can apply the same workflow you’ve developed or the one you plan on starting to these external drives:

1. Go through each drive one at a time and transfer the files to your main backup drive (a RAID or large capacity external drive)

2. Add them into the folder structure that makes the most sense to you. For me that would be year > adventures, work, personal,  export selects. Within each adventure, work, or personal drop of images I would have an individual folder containing the catalog associated with those images. In the past however I used to have a lot more images in a single catalog. If you wish to take it one step further you could create new catalogs, but this all depends on how much time you wish to spend looking at and re-editing your images. If you do set up new catalogs, this is the perfect time to add keywords if you’ve never done that in the past.

3. Repeat until finished


5. Making your workflow a habit 

It’s crucial as a working photographer to make your workflow a habit. The more difficult you make this process, the less chance you will have maintaining it. Here are a few important things to help your workflow become a habit:

- Have your workflow written down and maybe keep it somewhere on your desk as a reminder
- Make it simple
- Set reminders for weekly or bi-weekly backup if your system requires it
- Think of the time + stress you’re saving

As we move through 2021, a new year full of so much potential. Lose the “one day” mentality as one day you might lose some of your best work. Forever. Storage, backup, and workflow isn’t the most glamorous aspect of being a photographer, but it’s arguably one of the most important.


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