Folder Strategy Challenge

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Today’s Question: I saw your video on your workflow for importing photos. That works great for a single place or date or subject/trip. But what is your recommended workflow for importing a batch of photos taken over time at various locations/months and varied unique subjects/events. This happens when I periodically import my iPhone/iPad photos or take a while to import photos from my camera.

Tim’s Quick Answer: As a general rule, I recommend using a folder structure that reflects the way you think about your photos with an individual folder for each photo trip or outing. In cases where that approach doesn’t work, I recommend a hybrid approach that may include a handful of general folders. In some cases a date-based folder structure might even be appropriate.

More Detail: In my opinion it is critically important to define a folder structure that can serve as a foundation of your overall image-management workflow. In general I find that most photographers (including myself) use the folder structure as a first step in locating a specific folder. While metadata values such as keywords, star ratings, and other details might also prove very helpful in locating a particular photo, navigating to a specific folder is often the first significant step toward locating an image.

That said, there are certainly situations where this approach doesn’t quite fit the needs when it comes to organizing your photos. For some photographers this folder strategy doesn’t work at all, and for other photographers (such as reflected in today’s question) the approach doesn’t work in certain situations.

In this type of situation I recommend first considering whether a hybrid approach provide a good solution. For example, you could organize most of your photos using a folder structure where the folders are named based on the way you think about a given photo shoot or trip. For those photos that don’t really fit well into this approach, you could create a separate folder structure.

For example, if you’re also managing more “casual” captures made with a smartphone alongside your master collection of photos, you might want to create a folder called “Phone Captures”, for example. Any captures from your phone that were part of an overall photo trip or outing could be placed in the folder along with the other photos from that trip. Images that don’t fit into your existing folder structure can be placed into the “Phone Captures” folder.

You might also consider a date-based folder structure as part of this strategy for photos that don’t fit into your normal folder structure. In general I prefer to avoid the use of date-based folders, since they often lead to confusion in the context of an image-management workflow. However, in some cases it may be the only option that really makes sense.

For example, consider a street photographer who lives in a big city and goes out just about every day to explore on foot and capture images. Those images are always captured in the same city, and there may not be a theme that ties together the photos from a given day or week. The only real way to divide those images into manageable segments may be to create a date-based folder structure.

To me the most important thing is to have a strategy that makes sense for your folder structure. To the extent possible, try to be very consistent about the approach you use. When there are exceptions to your normal structure, try to have define a specific strategy for those exceptions, such as by having folders for the categories of photos that don’t fit into your normal folder structure strategy.

As for the actual process of importing those “exception” photos into Lightroom, if the photos you’re importing will end up being placed into a variety of different folders, I recommend first downloading the images into a “download” folder so that you are getting the images into your workflow as quickly as possible. You can then sort through those images and move them into different folders as needed.

When creating that “download” folder, I recommend using a folder name that will ensure the folder appears at the very top of the alphabetical list of folders. For example, you could precede the folder name with an underscore (_) character to ensure this “temporary” folder will always appear at the top of your list of folders.