Today’s Question: Why not just put all the images into one folder? If I’m very diligent about populating all pertinent metadata fields and adding keywords, won’t that be the means to locate most desired subsets of images using search?
Tim’s Quick Answer: While the metadata included with your photos can be invaluable for locating your photos, personally I still prefer to use folders to organize photos. My general aim in this regard is to provide an additional layer of organization, and to provide a workflow that is somewhat independent of whatever software I might be using (such as Adobe Lightroom) to view and sort photos based on metadata.
More Detail: In many respects this is something of a philosophical question. After all, the folders we create on our hard drives aren’t really physical objects. In fact, you could think of the folders you create on your hard drive as being just another type of metadata applied to your photos. Just as you can add photos to collections in Lightroom, so too can you add them to folders on your hard drive, and then filter the images based on which folder (or collection) you added them to.
However, the folder structure on your hard drive can be thought of as being more “durable” than some of the other metadata you might apply, since those folders are created and managed at the operating system level, rather than potentially being managed at the application level. That is a particular concern with metadata that is specific to an application rather than to an established metadata standard.
For example, in Lightroom the pick and reject flags, membership in collections, and virtual copies are all Lightroom-specific features that would no longer be available if you suddenly stopped using Lightroom to manage your photos.
So, my preference is to add the layer of organization that a folder structure can provide, and to ensure that at least some of my overall organizational workflow will still be available even if the software I am otherwise using to manage my photos were to suddenly become unavailable for any reason.
Having said all that, I don’t personally recommend going to a lot of trouble to create a folder structure and then sort photos into individual photos. For example, I generally recommend against the practice of creating folders for individual subjects (or categories of subjects) and then moving every single image into the appropriate subject-based folders.
In general I keep my photos from a single photographic trip, outing, or photography session within a single folder, and try to use a name for that folder that will be helpful when it comes to locating those folders later.
With software such as Lightroom, of course, you can always bypass your folder structure to search for photos from your entire catalog based on other metadata values. But personally I prefer to maintain a meaningful folder structure for my photos.
Of course, my preferred approach isn’t the right solution for all photographers, so I encourage you to step back and think about what might make the most sense for you both in terms of the amount of effort required to implement your workflow along with what approach will help ensure you’re always able to find the specific photos you need when you need them.