A New Article For Digital Photo Pro Magazine: Heresy In Library Organization…

by George on May 8, 2013

Photographs © George A. Jardine

I read over and over again, that somehow the holy grail for digital photographers is to have a “fast and efficient workflow”…. or something like that. I even read recently that with a certain e-book, you’d soon be “importing digital images into Lightroom with your eyes closed.” Funny they should put it that way, because in my workshops, it seems most students are already doing just exactly that when they first walk through the door.

I guess for a culture hooked on fast food, marketing your wares that way makes sense. After all, who doesn’t want fast and efficient?

My goal is to break photographers of the habit, and try to help them open their eyes to the larger picture of what actually happens during import. If you’re the type of person who would rather think through the issues for yourself, and then build a workflow that fits your individual design goals for your long-term library organization, then I have a new article for you. It’s called Heresy In Library Organization, and you can find it on DigitalPhotoPro.com, by clicking here.

Writing articles for Digital Photo Pro Magazine is one of my favorite things to do. You can find a list of all the articles I’ve written for them at the bottom of my “free stuff” page, by clicking here.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Tricia May 16, 2013 at 8:36 AM

Dear Mr. Jardine,

I really appreciate your video tutorials, and I’m on my fourth viewing of the Library, Develop, and Image Correction Master Class videos.

Here’s my quandary: I’m stuck in analysis paralysis on which way to organize my photo library files. At the start, I used a “when, where, what” structure, but I found it tricky to remember precisely when I was at a given place. Then after reading Thom Hogan’s workflow (@bythom.com), his location-based hierarchy resonated with me, since much of my photography is destination-based travel and photojournalism style. So that’s just a switch to “Where, who, what, when” file hierarchy. When I started, I fumbled around a lot, and I don’t have the complete level of detail of those files that you do (though I don’t feel shortchanged in not having all the original file names). As I reconsider whether to revert to a chronology-based structure, I can’t figure how to minimize file folder redundancy, and find files easily. Example: in my where-based file structure, I’ll have this hierarchy: photo library->International->China->Tibet->Lhasa->Ganden Monastery->2011->NEF files->Individual files

That means I have a 2011 folder for Lhasa, Shigatse, and so on – each city has a year folder. If I revert to “When-based” first, then I still have repeated folders for those places that I visited multiple times.

Perhaps I’ve still missed it in your library series, but when you do your “Shoot files” within a given year, are there any sub-folders, or are the distinctions made only within the file names (such that every 2011 shoot is in a large chronological stack under just one 2011 folder)?

I would really appreciate your perspective, so I can make a decision that will serve me well in the most efficient way for the long run. The decision has weight, because after a bucket load of photos on safari (35K+), I have around 55K photos to whip into shape. I’m anxious to get started.

Again, thank you so much for your videos, and suggestions!


George May 16, 2013 at 10:20 AM

Hi Tricia,

Unfortunately, you’ve fallen into the exact trap that I hoped you wouldn’t. Organizing your photos into folders by shoot date, doesn’t mean that’s how you find them!

Please see this blog posting on the subject: http://mulita.com/blog/?p=4339

The basic reality is that once you have a certain number of digital exposures, trying to find a specific photo you’re looking for by looking in a certain place… (meaning, in some specific folder…) just breaks down, and doesn’t work any longer. Unless you have a really good memory. And organizing into folders by shoot date and building a purely chronological organizational and sorting structure is only partially about how you find your photos.

It IS about how you find your photos, in that shoot chronology gives you meaningful context, in your search results. But after you are pushing up daisies, it then becomes how others will find what they are looking for in your digital library, when you’re not around to “remember”….. Oh! That photo of my husband is in the “Husband” folder… NOT in the “Thailand” folder!

Chronology and keywords become your most important roadside flags for others, later, should your library have growing value in the long run.


Tricia May 16, 2013 at 9:28 PM

Hi George,

Thank you for your reply. I certainly did fall into the trap of trying to use my file structure to remember where images were. At the time I was using Nikon’s Capture NX2 software (because I’d won a free copy), and it is not a workflow (or very good) program. I didn’t have a workflow, or much of a clue, so my cumbersome file system attempted to establish one.

With the current transition to Adobe Cloud, I am not sure I’ll stay with Lightroom (if they pull it into the CC, and make us rent it).

I’m hoping that if I need to transition from a database-driven software tool, I would be able to use a system like yours to find an image from a large shoot, like a morning game drive in Kenya, with 1500 images. I know there are some Apple scripts that allow you to use Finder to search metadata (perhaps using Photo Mechanic, or similar).

I do thank you for the link to the blog article from Nov 2012. I was very useful.

Back to the drawing board for me!

George May 16, 2013 at 9:43 PM

Glad that helped! Here’s a few more on the topic:




Tricia May 18, 2013 at 8:59 PM


These articles with guidance about how the library can be efficiently organized for the long haul are well-written and very helpful.

Have you written any for strategies for those of us that need to start over from a big mess? That is what I really need right now.

Of course everyone’s mess is unique, but a common problem all Lightroom and Photoshop users would share is that we now have thousands of files to rename, with companion files of the same name, but different extensions.

Re-organizing folders is tedious, but fairly straightforward.

Can you share any methods, perhaps within Lightroom or Photo Mechanic, that will save time in renaming the multiple file types of the same image in sequence, along with the raw files (.nef, .xmp, .psd, .jpg)?

The prospect of doing that one image at a time is a bit too much to bear.

George May 18, 2013 at 9:26 PM

Tricia, I can sympathize. Once I decided to tackle my photo library for a complete overhaul it did take me a chunk of time. Of course at some point, you have to weigh the value of that cost against the reward. For digital photographers who never shot much film, I think the project would most certainly be considered worthwhile. But for those of us with giant legacy libraries that include all sorts of graphics files, retouched files, maybe web files, video files, etc., etc., then perhaps those parts of the library are left in their original organization.

For me, having an organized library pays off every day. But it doesn’t come without some time expenditure up front, and I admit that I have not found the motivation to go back and try to do the same thing for my legacy video and audio files.


Tricia Lombardi May 28, 2013 at 1:15 PM

Hi George,

You were right about the photo library paying dividends! I think I can see the light at the end of a tunnel.

My effort took a bit of time, because I first researched and bought a pair of SSD Thunderbolt drives for the Main library (and a Thunderbolt HDD for the Backup drive). Then I completed the consolidation from 3 external 1TB drives I used for temp space on travel. Before I started, I re-watched the Library series without trying to multitask this time, and the dots were connected.

Once I accepted that my original names are lost for most of my old files, the renaming of all the files into shoot folders was far less daunting than I thought. I just used the Date+Time, and did some triage on the first 5 days of safari, before I remembered to set the times on my two cameras.

The consolidated library is so much easier (Thunderbolt SSD is screaming fast, by the way. I copied 579GB in 19 minutes). I have been able to perform a long-overdue initial edit of the 83,000, down to 52,000. I hope to be down to only keepers and documentary shots before my trip to Oaxaca in October.

Again, thank you for the Library, Develop, Workflow, and Master class video tutorials. I’ve enjoyed them all, and my workflow is greatly improved as a result.

Happy editing,

Chris Bishop June 14, 2013 at 5:54 AM

Thanks for some GREAT (and I mean it) tutorials. I’ve set up 2013 as your suggestion. 2012 and earlier isn’t working. Whenever I finish my initial work on a shoot it gets “Archived” (we’ve discussed this before). Then whenever I create a photo from the original, it becomes a derivative, these are then filed separately, but LR creates a new photo with a new “date”. So the same photo and derivative appears 6, 8 or 10 times!!!!
How do you file altered pictures, if as we’ve discussed, we both appear to access the same photo more than once. Where or how do you keep your derivatives? I hope this makes sense!
In your structure, the original is filed by date – so are mine now. Where are your “multiple” derivatives?
Chris Bishop

George June 14, 2013 at 6:04 AM

Chris, Lightroom always automatically stores derivative edits right in the same folder as the original. And sure, if you make 6 or 8 edit files, then 6 or 8 photos will appear side-by-side. If this is not your wish, then I would simply delete the unwanted derivative files from your catalog.

But I hope I’m not mis-understanding your problem. There is no need to create a new derivative file from a raw file every time you need to make an edit. The first time you take a raw file to PS, an RGB file is created, and if you want to make subsequent edits to that photo, I would open the derivative for editing by using “Open Original”… rather than creating a new RGB file each time. Therefore, when I make external edits to raw files, I will generally only have one raw, and one RGB edit file. Rarely more than one edit file.


Chris Bishop June 14, 2013 at 10:45 AM

Thanks. You understood correctly. My “problem” was the original was “archived” never to be touched. The derivative, (stored separately) was “archived” whenever the derivative folder hit 4GB and this was then “archived” . This could, and did happen frequently. To be really honest, the alterations (re-edits) nearly always happened in LR!!
On another note ( now I have your attention) Are smart previews going to affect your workflow?
Thanks for a prompt reply. You really ARE too good. Is there a donation box/ wish list site?

George June 14, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Glad that helped! And yes, Smart Previews will definitely affect my workflow, especially once Adobe gets their mobile LR solution rolling. Which is what Smart Previews was engineered for.

A donation box? Sure! That’s the paypal button on each and every product page. :-)

Chris Bishop June 14, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Bought most of it. Not the iPad book though, unless you want to give an iPad away with the book!

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