Photography in Isolation, Part 2: Organization 

You were probably expecting a photography assignment, right? Such as "get out your macro lens and photograph small things around the house and yard." 

There will probably be time for that, and if so I'll get around to it. Moreover, I've seen plenty of photo sites pop up with that kind of article. It's an easy article to write, after all. 

Thing is, there are things you haven't been doing that you should have been doing. Only a few of those actually involve taking photos. You've now got time on your hands that you didn't think you had, so one of my own goals in this series is to try to point you at those things you haven't been doing, or been meaning to do but haven't gotten around to. 

Today, I'm going to concentrate on the photos you've already taken. 

So first, a question: how many photos have you taken? Do you even know? If you don't, you have your first goal: figure out how many photos you've taken. 

This is probably going to lead you to a discovery or two (or three or more!). Your photos are scattered. This is even a bit true for me, and I'm a pretty organized person. As I write this, I've got a few photos still on my iPhone that need to be brought over into my regular photo storage, I've got a couple of cards in cameras that are in the middle of testing that I haven't transferred into my storage, and on close examination, I found that I had some leakage of image files I hadn't noted before: there's a media folder in my Web folders that has some images that aren't in my usual repository. 

Entropy is persistent and can cause serious issues down the line. 

You may have come across one important issue if you answered my first question: where are you photos? I find this one comes up all the time with people who only use Lightroom. They think that their photos are "in Lightroom." Well, no. Lightroom is just a database that describes what information photos contain (including ratings and metadata you might have added), and how it is to be processed for final use. Your actual images are stored outside of Lightroom. (If you've been negligent here and let Lightroom use it's defaults, your photos are probably in your Pictures folder on macOS.)

Indeed, if you shoot raw, your raw files are stored untouched outside of Lightroom. 

But wait, you ingested your camera's card via Lightroom, thus Lightroom must have the photo, right? Nope. And Lightroom's Ingest function is one of the poorest UX's I've seen. The distinction between Copy and Add is important but downplayed, and many people don't understand the difference. (In case you hadn't noticed, you may be finding that you're going to need to start sub-goals to my overall goals. If you don't know how Lightroom's Ingest function works and what the difference is between Copy and Add, you need to learn that, stat.)

In case you haven't figured it out, today's full topic is simple: organize your photos. 

Oh were it so simple ;~).

First, let me point you to an article that I did quite some time ago and have updated from time to time: File Hierarchy

In a perfect world, you would have known how many photos you had and where they were because you would have just done a Get Info on the topmost folder of your photo library and it would have told you how many files were there were (though that number might also contain XMP or additional work files). And you could have answered where they were, because they all lived in a logical, hierarchical structure within that one folder. 

So, next question: are your files named consistently? That was one of the things I wrote about in that article I just referenced. Funny thing is, I can't claim that mine are. When I started working with clients again I realized I needed to separate my image names from those of others that they might be working with, so I added a bythom_ to the start of my filenames. But not all my files have that, as I didn't go back and change names of images I had already shot. Moreover, as I looked at the image files in my database, I noticed I had made a couple of other small file naming and folder organizational changes over the years that didn't apply to everything. When I noticed that, I started a project to fix that.

So here we go, here's you plan:

  1. How many photos have you taken? (This will come up again later, by the way)
  2. Where are they?
  3. How are they organized (folders)? Is that the right organization?
  4. If you're using Lightroom (or another cataloging program), are all your images known to Lightroom?
  5. How are your images named? Is that consistent? Is that the right file naming convention for you?

Of course, once you have the answers to those questions, you're probably going to start a project (or two) to "fix" things, just like I did ;~). 

For instance, as I worked on this problem recently to get ready to switch to new computers (and drives), I remembered that I always shoot raw+JPEG when I get a new camera (if it supports that). The reason for that is that I'm trying to assess what the camera itself can do versus what I can do with underlying data. Long term, though, I really don't need to keep all those extra JPEG files around. Maybe I save a few examples of something I found for the Web site, but I don't need thousands of JPEG files named identically to my raw files cluttering up my system. 

I also sometimes shoot raw+JPEG when I'm shooting sports for a college. That's because they want a JPEG as soon as I can get it to them, preferably during the event itself.  I'll often use a smaller JPEG file for that (e.g. JPEG Medium or JPEG Small) because they don't need lots of pixels, they just want an "instant" image. I don't need to save those JPEGs, because anything I'd send to them later would have come from my usual raw workflow.

So I started a JPEG eradication program. JPEGs now only stay around when they are unique photos or useful. That produced a significant reduction in my storage needs, by the way. 

Today's bonus step is this: when you did those five simple steps I listed above, did you notice something else you should/could have been doing? I'm pretty sure you did ;~). Write that down and put it on your future plan list.

Finally, if you haven't already guessed it, the reason why I'm tackling things to do while in isolation a bit differently from what you might see on other sites is that I see these days at home you weren't expecting as an opportunity. Indeed, my whole career has built me into an opportunity seeker. Disruption of any kind is always an opportunity. 

The opportunity here is to take charge of and fix things that might have been headed towards potential longer term disaster. For example, if you don't know where all your photos are, how do you know that you've properly backed them up? Oh my. (Yes, backing things up is an upcoming topic.)

While those five questions seem simplistic, I'll bet that every one of you will find that you can't just answer them instantly and be ready to move on to my next step.

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