Making it Easier to Find Your Photos

A System That Works for Me


History - What Didn't Work for Me

Before explaining what works, I'd like to tell you what didn't work over the 43 years I have been involved in photography.  Like most people, when I started out  I had no system at all.  As my slide collection grew, it became increasingly more difficult to find specific slides.  I needed a system and after reading an article in a popular photography magazine in 1980, I decided on the following system.

1.       Categories

      Choose specific categories of photographs I was shooting.  I chose to sort my slides into the following categories:

         Abstracts - houses, sheds, barns, buildings, fishing stages, shapes, textures, colours,
    stained  glass, in-camera photo art, etc.

         Flora - flowers, trees, house plants, vegetables

         Outports - towns, communities, cities

         People - people

         Scenics - sunrises, sunsets, landscapes, seascapes, icebergs, clouds

         Wildlife - animals

2.       Labelling

      These categories fit the types of photos I was taking at the time.  The next thing was to choose a code for writing on my slides.  I chose a format that identified each slide by category, year and the chronological number in sequence.

         Example 1 -  a photo of a house taken in 1980 could be labelled A-80-120 where A is
    Abstracts, 80 is the year, and 120 would be the 120th Abstract slide for that year

         Example 2 - a photo of a moose taken in 1985 could be labelled as W-85-201 where
    Wildlife is the category, 85 the year and 201 would be the 201st Wildlife slide for that

3.       Storage

      Finally, I chose to file my slides in slide pages that hold 20 slides each and put them in 3-ring binders.  Depending  on the number of slides for each category in a single year, a binder would hold slides from more than one category.  I then labelled the spine of the binder with the letters of the categories and the year.  For example, a binder may be labelled A O W 86, which means it has all the Abstracts, Outports and Wildlife photos for 1986.

4.       Data Base Software

      This was a fantastic system for 10 years or so, however, as the number of albums grew,  it became more and more cumbersome.  For example, if I were looking for caribou photos, I had to go through all the albums with a W (Wildlife) because I photographed caribou quite a few times.  For specific communities I had to go through them all unless I could remember in which year they were photographed.  I obviously needed a data base that could be searched quite easily.  I purchased one for my first computer (which had no hard drive) and was working with 5 1/2 floppy disks, which weren't all that reliable.  It was new technology in those days but it just didn't work out for me.  In early 2000, I purchased a photography data base program which worked great until it crashed and I lost everything.  I tried to rebuild the data base, but it didn't work and I didn't want to spend all that time inputting the data again just in case the same thing happened.

5.       Digital Photographs

      When I got involved in digital photography,  I attempted to make it easier to find images by organizing photos into folders.  This was easier but still had some problems.  First of all, when I downloaded photos I had to go through each image and move it to a specific folder.  As you can imagine, after a while some folders had quite a few files in them.  This was similar to the system I used for slides except that in each category I had several sub-folders which made it easier to find specific subjects.  For example in my Abstracts folder,  I created subfolders such as Art, Fences, Houses, Rocks, etc.  - a different folder for each photographic subject.  This was good and worked fairly well, but the number of folders kept growing and I had to file some images in multiple folders.  For example, if there was a boat and fishing stage in one photo, I had to store one copy in Boats and another in Fishing Stages.  I didn't have to worry about the year because that information is stored in the image data.

6.       Picasa

      A friend recommended a free program released by Google called Picasa.  He said it could handle the large number of images I have in my system and they could be organized by keyword (albums).  I started going through all my slides and putting them in Albums, which are essentially keywords, that could be searched easily.  I spent quite a lot of time at it and was more than disappointed when, after changing computers because of a defective hard drive, I lost all the Albums I had created.  Again, not wanting to go through all that work  with the possibility of losing it yet again, I sought for a different way to use Picasa.


What is Working For Me

1.       Picasa

      Not wanting to go through the Album route in Picasa again, I decided to go back through all the folders on my hard drive and rename them.  Since 2003, my photos have been stored in folders by the date they were taken.  For example: the folder 2004-06-12 would contain all photos taken on that day.  Now, I just rename the folder to include the photographic subjects in it.  I leave the date because it is helpful to have photos stored in the order they were taken.  For example, I have a folder 2004-07-24 L'Anse aux Meadows and Picasa tells me that there are 634 photos in the folder.  I know that most of the images were taken in the replica of the Viking Village and others were taken in the area.  So, if I am looking for photos from that area I search for L'Anse aux Meadows and all the images in that folder are displayed. 

2.       Renaming Folders

      If there are more than one subject in a folder,  I just add more labels to the new name.  Another example on my system is:  2004-09-02 Caribou Yard Art Car.   If I search for either word in the renamed folder, Picasa will display the 35 images in that folder along with the images in any other folders with either of those words in its name.  It took me a long time to rename all the folders in my system, but once it was done, all I have to do is  rename each folder as photos are downloaded from my camera.  The advantage with this is that Picasa actually renames the original folders on the computer which won't be lost by a crash of the program or switching hard drives.  As long as everything is backed up, it will all work afterwards.

3.       Backups

      Everyone should be backing up their photos and data!  If you don't, you are in danger of losing all your photos and other information.  I tried several back-up programs including one that I purchased, but neither of them worked to my satisfaction.  A person on my Photo of the Day list recommended a free program called EZBack-It-Up which I have been using for over a year.  I have it programmed to do a daily backup of my entire hard drive (1 TB) and an external drive (1.5 TB).  Once the drives have been backed up in the beginning, it only has to back up anything that has been added or changed each day.  I have had to restore a few files  on a couple of occasions and it worked without problems.

4.       Scanned Images

      I have been scanning some of my old slides and am using Picasa to find those images as well.  However, once again, renaming the file once the scan is complete is essential.  As described above, each of my slides has a label.  If I scan the caribou slide referred to in section 3 - Example 2 above, I  immediately name the file
W86201 caribou
and  move it to the Caribou folder, which has all images of caribou taken before 2003.  Because it has the word Caribou in the name, it will show up in Picasa whenever I search for caribou.  Of course, because I also renamed the scanned image to include the original label on the slide, I can go back to my slide files and easily find the original slide, if I ever needed it.    I have not started to scan negatives, but the same naming system will work with those as well.

5.       Conclusion

      After all the trial and errors and TIME , I finally have a system in which I can find images fairly easily.  Occasionally, I remember a specific image and can't find it because I put it in the wrong folder or didn't use enough keywords when renaming folders.  When this happens I search different keywords until I find it, then rename the location or image to make sure it will be easy to find if I need it again. 

      Fortunately, the software I use is free and with a little time, effort and thought  you should also be able to use the information above to set up your own system.  If you have questions or suggestions feel free to contact me at:

K. Bruce Lane