Getting Organized

For more than a decade I organized photographic negatives by month, in negative sleeves stored in empty Ektamatic 8x10 photographic paper boxes, mostly because I had so many of them.
For more than a decade I organized photographic negatives by month, in negative sleeves stored in empty Ektamatic 8×10 photographic paper boxes, mostly because I had so many of them.

In many of my classes, people want to know how to organize their photos. They are mostly lost about how to arrange files and folders on their computers. I’ve known many professional journalists – people who should know better – who have essentially no clue how to organize computer stuff. I don’t fault them, though, because the truth is that life in the information age is bafflingly complex, and photography is now an information technology.

An unhappy social media experience...
“Sorry facebook friends trying to get my photo’s [sic] back. Got new cell ph [sic] & when they were transfering  to my new Ph [sic] they lost my STUFF. Not happy…”
My use of photographic film dropped off dramatically from the arrival of my first digital camera, the Nikon D1H, in September 2001, through mid-2005, when we traded our remaining Nikon F100 film camera for a D70S digital camera. This image shows the last film I ever shot.
My use of photographic film dropped off dramatically from the arrival of my first digital camera, the Nikon D1H, in September 2001, through mid-2005, when we traded our remaining Nikon F100 film camera for a D70S digital camera. This image shows the last film I ever shot.

When I got my first professional photography jobs, in college, we organized our image files, which at the time were photographic negatives, in traditional containers like spiral notebooks or cardboard boxes. Even the busiest of us on the busiest days were unlikely to shoot more than six or eight rolls of film – maybe 300 images. I kept the same basic organization until the digital era, ending with my last photographic negatives in May 2005, the year my newspaper traded away our last film camera, a Nikon F100.

On a big news or event day now, I can shoot a thousand or more digital frames in my efforts to provide something for print, something for the web, and something apart from that for social media.

It can be baffling to look at that many images on a screen, and the temptation is to either make no effort to edit them, or to grab the best five or six from a shoot and orphan the remaining files. The worst possible option is to tell your computer to upload them all to your Flickr or SmugMug or 500px or Pinterest account, since, as I have pointed out before, no one has time or desire to look at a thousand photos of anything. And consider that if you don’t have time to look at all your photos, why would anyone else?

On our phones the situation gets even more baffling. I’ve stood in front of someone who searched her phone for two minutes or longer to show me a photo, only to finally just give up. The reason is clear: most people shoot many dozens of photos every day, then make no effort to organize them.

Overheard As I Wrote This...

“I’ve got these photos on my computer at home, but I don’t know how to get them off.”

This is one of my biggest peeves in the digital world: people who print digital photos and bring them to us to scan to make them digital. It represents, in my estimation, a kind of willful ignorance.

CDs and DVDs with analog labeling might seem anachronistic to some, but there have been a number of occasions when finding something organized in this fashion was much more obvious that searching a computer hard drive or a cloud service.
CDs and DVDs with analog labeling might seem anachronistic to some, but there have been a number of occasions when finding something organized in this fashion was much more obvious that searching a computer hard drive or a cloud service.

I discuss all this as I sit at my computer at home and work to finish folder after folder of images. It’s a pretty straightforward process of deleting the genuinely worthless images, grabbing and editing the really captivating pieces, then going back to look at the rest of what’s left behind to see if there might be a pearl among the swine. It’s not a bad workflow, but it comes with a couple of caveats. 1. As you get tired, you tend to get less clear about how you want to edit your images, and 2. If you get in a hurry, you tend to throw out more images so you don’t have to deal with them. This sort of “get finished itis” is one reason I make myself edit in random order sometimes.

I am still amazed sometimes when people come to my newspaper and ask for photographs or their family or friends, but have virtually no additional information, as if every reporter and editor remembers every word we ever published. Or maybe it’s that their world view is so myopic that they really don’t understand how much information is out there.

On our office wall at home is a rack of CDs and DVDs, all with the spines labeled clearly, with names like “Ashford Wedding 2012,” or “Perfect Ten, Anniversary 2014.” It’s an analog approach to organizing digital files, and might be worth consideration if you have difficulty keeping your computer world in order.

Getting organized might be one of the most difficult aspects of photography, as it seems to be in much of life.  Don’t rely on your phone, the cloud, or someone you know. Do it yourself. Take the time to learn how. It is hard work, but in the end, it’s worth it.

Everyone has a different editing style. Some need to see prints in their hands, other prefer slide shows. I have made my editing home the on-screen browser page, analogous to the contact sheet of the film days.
Everyone has a different editing style. Some need to see prints in their hands, other prefer slide shows. I have made my editing home the on-screen browser page, analogous to the contact sheet of the film days.
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