Get Organized #2….Your Computer

The other day I visited a friend’s office and was really shocked when I saw how his, or “her” (so as not to mention anyone by name), computer’s hard drive was organized. The simple fact was – it wasn’t organized at all! I consider my hard drive to be a huge filing cabinet, but I can only describe his (or hers) as a filing cabinet where every document and every file was placed into the cabinet’s drawers without using any order, any folders, and without a nametag on each drawer! Seeing this photographer look for a specific digital image to show me was an experience I found painful to watch.

As I drove home I realized that a lot of creative people are very bad at organizing things (our brains just don’t work that way!) but if you are a professional photographer, or just someone who shoots a lot of images, if you don’t figure out a system to organize your computer’s hard drive and its contents, eventually you’ll be buried under a ton of image files with no way of easily accessing any of them! If you’re a hobbyist photographer this can be extremely frustrating, but worse, if you’re a professional photographer this can be a kiss of death!

Luckily for me, when I got my first Mac almost 20 years ago, my Mac Guru at the time demanded that I start off by organizing my 256 MB hard drive so I could find things! I can’t tell you just how happy I am now that he required this of me – almost as happy as when my first photographic mentor demanded that I take my meter battery out of my first SLR and learn to use a hand-held meter instead! In fact, a few weeks ago, a bride whose wedding I shot in 2006, called to ask about some extra prints and, because of my Guru’s demand way back when, I found all her image files in less than 10 seconds – even though my current Big Mac has almost two Terabytes of files stuffed into its innards! Although I’m sure many of you have your own way of organizing the information on your hard drive(s), and I’m also sure that some of them are better than mine, for those of you who just dump stuff onto your hard drive without rhyme or reason – this one is for you!

Folders within Folders

My Guru suggested a system he called a “folder within folder” system and it has served me well. My system starts off with a series of general topic folders such as SS/Business, Correspondence, Images, Future Books, Finished Books, Stationery, Applications, Website, Ebay, Flying Models, RMC (Railroad Model Craftsman), and PopPhoto, along with the other standard folders such as “system” etc. To get them to appear in the order in which I want them to in my hard drive’s window, some have a number with a slash before their title such as 1/SS/Business, or 2/Correspondence, or 3/Finished Books or 4/Future Books, or 5/Images, etc. There are no individual documents shown on my hard drive’s opening window, nor even a folder that’s title is one specific assignment. But, inside each general topic folder, there are other folders and here’s where my system starts to shine.

For example, inside my “5/Images” folder is a second set of other folders that are titled “1996_Images”, “1997_Images”, “1998_Images” all the way through “2011_Images” and into these folders are other folders listing the date as a 6 digit number followed by what it was I was shooting (i.e. “100207_TopsfieldFair”). But, while this is all well and good, I must point out that while my system works well for the personal images I take it’s even better for keeping track of the assignment images I take so let’s look at that as an example.

Inside my “1/SS/Business” folder there are a set of folders that are titled “Estimates 1996”, “Estimates 1997”, “Estimates 1998” all the way through “Estimates 2011”. There are also a set of folders that are titled “Assignments 1996”, “Assignments 1997”, “Assignments 1998” all the way through “Assignments 2011” (although “Assignments 2011 has only one folder within it as I write this on January, 6th, 2011!). Repeating customers (thankfully there are a bunch) each get their own folder but within those folders there are other folders each titled with a year (i.e. “1996”, “1997”, “1998”, etc.) followed by an upper case dash (“_”) and the company’s name (i.e. “2010/Lark” or “2009/MacGroup”).

In truth, as my business has grown, and the amount of images I shoot on each assignment has increased with the move to digital imaging, I can no longer store all these images on my internal hard drives.  Therefore, since I usually shoot 60 to 100 assignments each year for wedding studios other than my own, and considering that an assignment for any one of them usually runs between 12 and 20 Gigabytes of images because I shoot a raw and a jpeg file of each image, their images are stored on two, mirror image, external hard drives. However, regardless of where the images are stored, each studio has a folder titled with the studio’s name and in each studio’s folder are a folder for each assignment using the same 6 digit ID number (the date), followed by an upper case dash (“_”), followed by the catering hall, hotel, or country club where it was photographed. This means that the same organizational system I use for my own assignments is the one I use for theirs. Using a similar system for all my assignments makes things easier to remember!

For my own studio’s assignments, whenever I get a call from a potential client for an estimate, I take down the pertinent information using pen and paper while talking to them on the phone but the second I get off the phone that new, potential client gets their own new folder in that year’s “estimates” folder. This new folder I generate is titled with a 6-digit ID number that is the assignment’s date (i.e. “010511”) followed by an upper case dash (“_”) followed by the client’s last name (i.e. “Smith”).

Every document I generate for that new client is titled with a 6-digit ID number that is the assignment’s date (i.e. “010511”) followed by an upper case dash (“_”) followed by what the document is (i.e. “Estimate”). If I am lucky enough to get the assignment, the client’s folder (i.e. “010511_Smith”) is moved from the “Estimates 2011” folder to the “Assignments 2011” folder and as the assignment progresses everything from that assignment goes into that folder. When the assignment is photographed all the images from the assignment go into a folder titled “010511_Images” and when my client makes their selections from that assignment they go into another folder titled “010511_Selects”.

While all of this may seem like a big PITA (a Pain In The A_s), once you get into the swing of things it’s pretty easy to follow, and when Debby Jones called me about some wedding pictures from her wedding in 2006, within 10 seconds after I went into the “1/SS/Business” folder, then the “Assignments 2006” folder, then the “120406_Jones” folder – there they were!

Because this post isn’t about taking pictures but storing and accessing them instead, there are not many pictures with this post but I found this one in my 100207_TopsfieldFair folder that was in my “2007_Images” folder that was in my “5/Images” folder! As I mentioned at this posts beginning, you might have another way or a better way to organize your hard drive(s), but if you don’t have a system yet maybe me showing you mine might give you some ideas to build on. Good luck and good shooting.

Posted on January 8, 2011 at 9:11 am by Steve Sint · Permalink
In: Uncategorized

3 Responses

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