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Fan Request- My How-To Photo Organizing Process {Organizing Your Photos}


Glad you’re here:)Photo organization isn’t the most glamorous topic at hand, but it was requested by a Facebook follower, and is a pretty easy topic for me to explain!

Everyone has their own way of doing things- there are a zillion “right” ways and probably a few “could use improvement” methods- but I’m here to show you mine. It’s worked for me for 4 years and keeps me super organized. If it suits your fancy, feel free to implement it into your business as well:)

First off, she asked which software programs I prefer. This can partially relate to organization.

1. To start, I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (4) for culling and RAW edits. I don’t keep my images stored in Lightroom, as I don’t use it for further organizing/sorting once I’m done culling and processing RAW edits. I have no need personally to go back to LR-plus if your catalog is too full, it makes LR run extremely SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW. Sorting through my session and processing RAW edits (white balance/color correction, and exposure adjustments) is pretty much all I do in Lightroom.

2. Second, I open Adobe Bridge (CS6). I use bridge to view my images that I’m going to edit. It’s MY organization tool (some people use LR for this). I also come back to Bridge when I’m totally DONE with my images 100%, and use it to batch rename them- usually ACP_001 and so on- to keep them clean and organized when presenting to the client. It also keeps them from asking you why they got image DSC_109 but then didn’t get another image until DSC_132..(“where are all of the ones in between? Can I see them?”). By renaming the files, this isn’t even brought to their mind:)They don’t know how many you took between ACP_023 and ACP_024 (the names of your final, edited files that you are presenting). Here is an example of my general Bridge screen. Note: Bridge comes with Photoshop CS- I’m not sure if you can get it separately to work with Elements or not.

3. I can double click an image thumbnail in Bridge which automatically opens it in Photoshop (CS6) to process. As I said before, I use Lightroom for my RAW edits- white balance, exposure adjustments- but everything else I do in Photoshop. If  need to use any Noise Reduction, I usually do that in LR as well, because I like the way it handles it better than the way Photoshop does.


Organization Process:

This is mine- it may or may not be ideal for you, but here it is:)

1. Following a shoot, I insert my CF card into the reader attached to my computer. It automatically pops up on my desktop. This screen shot shows the current SD card inserted, but same idea.

2. I open the card, and access the folder of images that I shot.

3. I store my images on EXTERNAL hard drives. Plural. I have a decent sized hard drive in my iMac (1TB) but I prefer to keep it clean from excess. In the event of a vacation, etc, it’s easy for me to grab my externals and throw them in the safe. I can’t hide an entire computer. I use online backup as well (will mention later)- but it’s not up-to-the-minute 24/7 as it is always “working” to upload and update new files (i.e. my edits etc). Also if my internet goes down, obviously that’s a time period that my online backup isn’t being active and uploading my files to the server. I also prefer externals because they give me peace of mind. In January 2012 my iMac’s hard drive crashed- I was able to pull my personal photos off of it before it completely threw up (after a zillion restarts because it would freeze and flip out after about 2-5 minutes every time) but can you imagine if this is where I was storing all of my business work? At the time, I have 2 weddings that were still being processed, and multiple sessions. Even if my RAWS were stored elsewhere, I could have easily LOST all of my current progress with final edits. I would have died. Lol. Luckily, I store all of my biz stuff on external hard drives and they were completely safe when my computer’s main hard drive took a big poop. I also learned at that point to store all of my PERSONAL images on my externals too. They are precious!

I have 2 externals plugged in at all times. I use Western Digital MyBook 3TB. When a hard drive is completely full (my first one was a 1TB so it didn’t take as long but these take MUCH longer), I disconnect, and store it in a fireproof safe. Keep in mind, everything on an archived hard drive is also on a SECOND hard drive, in case one fails. It’s also all stored in the cloud, via BackBlaze.

Alright- so currently I have 2 externals plugged in- one is my MAIN, and the second is my  backup of my main.

Here is a copy of my “path” that I use for organization.

My folder always starts with “Business 20XX” (the year). Open that folder, and there are more folders- by MONTH. Open a month folder, and it contains a folder for EACH individual session or event. I create a NEW session folder when I’m ready to upload, name it after the client/what it is (Brenke Newborn for example) and then proceed to drag and drop the files that  I shot FROM my memory card, TO this new folder on my external HD.

The “DONE” folders you see inserted in there are due to my need to feel accomplished- I have a big main one (right inside “Business 2013) which I move entire MONTH folders to when I’m done editing everything from that month- and I have “DONE” folders inside each month that I move session folders to when I finish sessions. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and “cleaning up” I suppose, lol. Anyways, that’s what that is for. I like looking at my Business 2013 folder currently and seeing only a “DONE” folder inside- reminds me that I’m 100% caught up! Feels awesome.

Alright, onward.

So I’ve inserted the card into my computer, created a new folder on my external HD, and added the session’s images to that folder. Now, I’m going to open my SECOND external HD, and just drag the whole folder over to that- copying the entire folder of files to that second HD- just as backup. Easy.

I’m ready to start culling, so I’m going to open Lightroom.

It’s currently EMPTY! Which I love. Another sense of accomplishment- LOL.

Okay, see that “Import…” button at the bottom LEFT? That’s what I hit first. It brings up this screen-

I’m going to click on the name of my external HD (you can see them listed on the left side, toward the top) or simply click “Select a Source” and grab it that way. If I just click the arrow beside the name of my HD, it will work as a drop-down, expanding to what is inside. As an example, we will say it’s December and I’m importing a session I just added to my December folder:)You can see where I opened my external (Amy Cook Photography), then my December folder, and it’s showing everything inside of that.

I choose my folder and you can see how it brings up all the thumbnails of the files inside of that folder- then hit the Import button which will now appear at the bottom RIGHT of my LR window. This imports my new files into LR for me to cull through and do my RAW edits.

I can now start working on them in LR!  You can see at the left how it keeps me organized- so if I have several sessions in LR at the same time (which is OFTEN!!) they are all listed neatly by session name (my folder names from my HD when they were imported).

The thumbnail view allows me to quickly view my images at a glance, and next to each other. I can double click to bring one up larger, and even just use my arrow keys to sift through them in large view. I can hit “X” to reject an image that I know I don’t want” or “P” to choose it as a pick for further sorting later. You can remove rejects by clicking the top menu “Photo” and then click “Delete Rejected Photos”. This gives you the option to delete them completely from your hard drive- or just remove them from your LR catalog, helping to slim down and declutter your current workspace. I do the latter myself. I DO delete raw files LATER, but I prefer to wait and do it later.

If you decide you want to mark your “maybes” as “Picks” using the “P” key, you can, when done doing this, filter your LR library to show you just the picks. This may be easier for those with attachment issues that are not comfortable removing images totally- but are better at picking ones they know they MIGHT be willing to present to a client. You can still narrow down your library to make it easier to sort for final processing!

If I’m flagging photos as Picks, I’m going to do ONLY that- so that those are my ONLY images flagged for any reason. I would do this because then I can click the “Flagged photos” indicator at the bottom right, to show just those. (This is how to show just your Picks).

You can also just simply sift through them and edit/export the ones you want to use. I do a combination of the 3 methods- it really depends on what mood I’m in, how complex the session is, etc. Third is probably my most common.

My Lightroom is setup like this- after I apply edits, I export the image I just processed (or chose in general if it didn’t need RAW processing) to a new folder I call Final Edits. Remember the “path” I spoke of?

Hardrive-Business 2013-December-Session Name

Add a NEW folder on the end, called Final Edits. I choose to export as a JPG, so upon export of the very first image from that session, this folder is automatically created for me- further exports will automatically go into that folder too. This is the folder (“final edits) that I open in Bridge and browse, opening in PS to fully edit. My original session folder on my HD still has the raw files that I imported off my memory card in it- they’re still there. But there’s now a subfolder inside where my JPGS are that I plan on editing and giving to the client.

There it is!

Want to see how I set this up in Lightroom- my export system? Here’s a screen shot. Hit File, then Export. It will bring up this screen.

I only have to set this up once- Lightroom retains this information and applies it to ALL my exports, which is what I want.

I want my edit/chosen photo to go back to the SAME folder it came from.

BUT, I want it to go into a subfolder-organization! I tell LR to name this folder Final Edits. Under “Existing Files” it has selected “Ask what to do.” This means that if I try to export the same image twice, it’s going to prompt me before overwriting my first export- maybe I made changes- but maybe I didn’t and don’t want it over-ridden.

As you scroll down you see File Renaming, Video..I don’t mess with these.

Next is File Settings. I choose JPEG image format, Color Space sRGB, and I have it marked to limit my file size to 9000k. I implemented this part when I bought the d800 with it’s HUGE file sizes and quickly realized I couldn’t fit even 30 images on a client CD! I had to implement a resizing step into my workflow so I had LR automatically do it for me. I shoot a 5d mark iii now, but at 23MP it’s still producing large files. Larger than what I was used to before this and the d800..the Nikon D3s which was 12.1MP. File size was never an issue back then.

Image sizing is set to the default 240 ppi, and I don’t do anything (personally) with output sharpening, metadata, watermarking.

Under Post-Processing you can choose to “Do Nothing” which is what I do, because I want to keep working on other files in LR as I go- or you have options to automatically open the file you just exported in Photoshop, etc.

These are my initial settings- like I said, they stick, so I don’t have to worry about them again unless I want to change them for some reason.

Now, every time I hit “export with previous” after I’m done with an image it automatically does these steps for me, adding my new JPEG to the Final Edits folder. Don’t worry, you NEVER have to worry about images from different folders exporting to the same place as the “previous” image you worked on-if for some reason you are session-hopping in LR and was working on a different session and then moved to a new one- it doesn’t work that way! I promise, your images always go to the right folder:)

I’m done in Lightroom after I’ve culled, done any RAW edits, and exported all of the images that I want to use. I can then right-click the folder listed on the left side, and choose to “REMOVE” from my Lightroom catalog to declutter.



Last, is Bridge. On the left side, my “Folders” tab is always open, and I can open any folder I want from my hard drive, and show its contents in my Bridge window. I can adjust thumbnail sizes and make them as big or small as I like for my viewing preference. If you select an image, you can see your Metadata info on the right side under the image’s preview picture. If someone asks me my settings on an image I post, this is where I go to quickly find them. If it’s not too small to see, the info for this image is shown at f/1.2, 1/1000 second, center weight metering, ISO 400, focal length, whether flash fired or not, white balance model, camera model, lens used, etc. lots of awesome info!


I simply double click my image or images and they open in Photoshop. In PS I sharpen, and do all of my regular edits- skin fixing, cloning if needed, creative edits, etc. I crop both in LR and PS, just depends on the image really. They do the same thing!

When I’m 100% done, I’ll rename my files for presenting to the client. In Bridge:

I highlight all of the images.

Then, I click Tools-Batch Rename

Brings up this window:

I choose to name my images ACP_number. You can see my settings selected above. I tell it to rename in the same folder, meaning it’s going to rename all of the selected files with new names and they will stay put. They are given the names I select (in the New Filenames section) and I’m done!
I know this wasn’t exactly exciting, but if you read it on purpose, then I’m sure you had a good reason!! 😉 Hope it helped!


1. Insert card into computer

2. Create new folder for that session. Add files from card, to that folder. Backup to second hard drive.

3. Open Lightroom and import original folder (from main hard drive, not the backup hard drive).

4. Cull and process in LR. Export files being used.

5. Open Bridge, find Final Edits folder with exported files. Open images as needed in PS, and edit.

6. Rename all files in Bridge, in sequential order.


 All of my images are constantly being backed up to BackBlaze, which is online. You can find them here.


**Added note- I DO delete RAW files after a certain time period- usually 3-4 months. If a client hasn’t asked for a certain image by then, I no longer feel obligated to have access to them. For example, if an image is presented in BW but they want it in color, I’m not giving them forever to decide that while the images take up valuable space on my hard drives:)Constantly cleaning out useless RAW files keeps my hard drives lasting longer because they don’t fill up as fast! Final edits though, are kept FOREVER.

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December 28, 2013 - 11:35 am

Patty - THANK YOU a million times over for such a thorough description of your organization process. Like you, I like things neat and tidy. I have some reorganizing to do but am on the right path. I admire your energy and talent. Happy New Year from Wisconsin.

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