Weekly Poll: How Do You Organize Your Photos?

Lately the world of Mac software has seen quite the surge in photo editing apps, many of which are banking on the retro photo craze that helped fuel Instagram to a huge user base and billion dollar sale. This increase in the average user’s interest in photography will surely lead to a lot of questions about how to keep all of those images nicely organized into separate libraries and/or albums.

It seems like a perfect time to take a refreshed look at what Mac owners are using to keep their photographs organized. Are you a fan of the simplicity of iPhoto or do you require the professional kick of apps like Lightroom and Aperture?

Vote in the poll and let us know about your organization process in the comments. If your favorite app isn’t listed, also be sure to let us know what it is.


  • http://48interactive.com SCJack

    I have been using Aperture since it was released seven years ago and I have tried all sorts of organization methods from research online. It is so hard to find a method to categorize and store pictures that works across circumstances and applications.

    However , I switched to the below format about 3.5 years ago ( based on an online article along with some personal tweaks) and never looked back. It has been a perfect way for me to easily keep track of all photos, events, etc.

    1. (optional). My photo library is large, with literally thousands of pictures per year. So I started by creating whole new aperture library files for each year. (Aperture Library 2009, Aperture Library 2010, etc.). This makes the libraries smaller and really speeds up Aperture.

    2. Within each of the library files I create top-level folders for each month (January, February, etc) and at the top of the list I create a folder called “@review”. Every imported set of photos immediately goes into its own project inside @review.

    3. The next step is for me to divide my imports into separate projects for each event, theme, trip, etc.

    4. Once I have a good set of project files that are aptly named for their events. I create a subfolder within the month for the first date of images within the project. I then put the project file inside the date folder. So it looks like this: April/18/My Birthday Party Or for a weeklong vacation that started March 1 and went through the 8th it woul look like: March/1/Our Trip to Timbuktu. You don’t need subfolders for every day/date in the month, just the ones you have pictures for.

    5. From that point I can begin reviewing tagging and editing my photos. Batch tagging is great for finding people, themes, etc. I can manage all sideshows, books, albums within the project folder itself.

    While its not infallible, I have found it to be the only way I can keep things organized across all images I take. But I’m crazy OCD so if it’s not organized logically it will make me nuts.

    Please feel free to let me know your thoughts or if I can answer any questions.

    • moo

      Do you mean you import your photos straight from card to Aperture? If so, that’s just crazy. To me. Especially if you shoot a lot. However, if your shoots are just a couple dozen at a time, that’s not so bad.

      On any given shoot or shoot day, I might have 1-12+ GB of photos, so I’ve stopped importing cards straight into Aperture, because it takes too long to process and cache that many images at once.

      I’m only OCD about the file naming convention and archiving (aka back ups) right when ingesting cards. If the files are badly named at the start, especially, everything down the road just goes to pot. The rest is extremely flexible for me because I can never settle with or remember any complicated system.

      • http://48interactive.com SCJack

        Yes, I currently to import to Aperture but on an external drive. It is slow, but it has been the most foolproof way for me to keep track of anything thus far.

        Like you, I often have many GBs of pics at a time but I just setup the import and let it run. I would like to hear more about your method for sure.

      • moo

        I learned from pros to use PhotoMechanic to do a pre-sort first. This has made a huge difference in performance for Aperture and my workflow.

        I use PM to: ingest cards to an external archive hd; quickly (and I do mean roadrunner-quickly) flip through that dump to delete the truly awful images; rename the files with date, project name, and index number starting from 1; pass through the images again, this time to mark (usu. colour code with star combination, depending on how many uses I need to sort images for; e.g. portfolio vs. client); copy coded/starred images into a development hd.

        It’s only the images selected for development that get imported into Aperture. This has a number of advantages, not the least of which is that any duplicate files that get made during image editing in Aperture/Photoshop don’t get mixed in with my archived files. Archived files remain pristine copies of the card download (minus the garbage). Development files are working files stored and backed up separately.

        Another advantage of this system is that the development files aren’t tied to one installation of Aperture. I have Aperture on my home laptop, and another copy at work. I can use the development files in both locations—if I update a file at home, when I plug in the hd at work, Aperture there will just reconnect the files. (I do this because my personal printer is at work; it’s too big for my apartment.)

        Also, PM is just incredibly speedy at ingesting and viewing ginormous folders of images so that you can cycle through really quickly for cutting and flagging photos. You can’t do any image editing so it also prevents you from getting sidetracked with making adjustments.

        Overall, the process saves oodles of time and allows more flexibility by not having Aperture manage the organisation of files. It’s not just the initial importing that saves time, it’s all the other times that Aperture has to “remember” all the images it’s imported. By not importing every reject image into Aperture, you’re saving yourself incrementally more time with every subsequent import and launch.

  • moo

    Although I use Aperture for editing and outputting, I don’t use it to organise photos. That way lies grief and despair.

    I use Photo Mechanic to ingest, rename, sort (edit in), move, and tag images. Photos are organised onto various hard drives — separate locations for archive, edits, and output images.

    This way I can purge Aperture or upgrade to a pristine version on any computer and start fresh by reimporting edit folders by project (a substantially smaller set than the full shoot archive) as required. This helps keep Aperture from being bogged down by having to track gigs and gigs of RAW photos.

  • http://am0.co.uk Alex

    Files go straight onto my external hard drives- latest projects and special ones are usually duplicated across 2 different drives just in case. Organised by year, then date and then simply categorised with OSX folder colours. (Doesn’t take long, even though I categorise them again in Aperture.)
    Then imported into Aperture. Aperture Library file stays on my internal HDD, but the raw files stay where they are. Slightly slower to access individual files but the app opens faster. Tagging etc done in that. Usually start a new Aperture library every couple of years to keep it small (ish).

  • Jeremy

    Family events and stuff like that go in iPhoto, photography stuff goes in Aperture.

  • http://bockenhauer.com Peter Bockenhauer

    I organize my photos in the Finder with folders and view them primarily with Picasa, but I also have ACDSee.

    My folder structure:

    /Pictures/Category/Subcategory/year-Subcategory/filename.jpg

    Example: /Pictures/Holidays/Christmas/2011-Christmas/filename.jpg
    Example: /Pictures/Birthdays/Andrea/2010-27th Birthday/filename.jpg

    I use to organize everything by year/month/ or similar and it was impossible to find anything. I suppose if I tagged everything I would be able to just search, but I never take the time to tag all my photos.

    iCloud Photo Stream: Since I don’t use iPhoto or Aperture to access Photo Stream, I have a script to automatically copy Photo Stream photos into a “New” folder as well as a “Photo Stream” folder to keep a rolling 30 days of photos like iPhoto and Aperture do: http://bockenhauer.com/photostream.php

  • Sigilist

    All images not needed on the fly are burned to and appropriate size optical disk. Those left live in the local network are on and isolated drive that is replaced once a year. Old drives are kept and rotated on a two year bases. Live files are organized by date / event.

    K.I.S.S.

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