Obsessive Photographic Labelling – And How I’m Letting Go

It continually fascinates me how things come full circle.

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Back in 2011 and 2012 where I was shooting almost exclusively with a Nikon Coolpix – my first “proper” camera – I simply had one folder on my MacBook for all the photos I made each year.

As I got into film and tried more and more different cameras, lenses and films, I found it necessary to catalogue more specifically.

One folder per camera, then within that, a new folder for each roll of film shot, labelled with the date, camera, lens and film.

Uploading to Flickr, I followed a similar pattern, having albums for each camera, lens and film.

Again superseding the “one album per year” approach I’d used previously.

As I was trying out so many different combinations, this was incredibly useful.

Otherwise I could never have kept track with which photography permutation created which photographs. It also helped me determine which kit to keep, and which to sell or donate.

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A quick browse in my Flickr now shows around 250 albums created through this approach.

Organised, yes, but it also seems kind of insane to have been flitting about like some crazed lost moth over a sea of candles, never settling on a single flame before being hypnotically drawn to the next, and the next, and the next…

Now, over a hundred cameras and perhaps two hundred lenses later, my judgement criteria are far more straightforward.

For cameras and lenses –

Do I like the camera and lens enough to want to use it again?

If yes, I keep it.

If no, it gets donated or sold.

This has helped me get from, having, at one point, a collection of 50+ cameras, down to a small handful of superheroic companions.

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For the final images themselves, the decision is equally fundamental –

Do I feel this is a photograph worth keeping (and sharing) or not?

This dictates my editing process, and whether I save or delete.

And so my need for obsessive organising and labelling has radically reduced.

In fact, since exploring Google Photos, I’m really enjoying getting back to one simple criteria to sort the photographs by – when they were taken.

I’m not about to undo all the layers of cataloguing on my MacBook, or delete all my Flickr albums. It would never be time well spent, and feels far too daunting a task.

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But going forward, saving photographs simply by when they were taken (perhaps a folder for each month, or even just one folder per year, as I did seven years ago) is my planned approach.

Another layer of unnecessary complexity removed so I can focus on using the few cameras I have and love using to make the best photographs I can.

And another benefit of moving closer towards cameranogamy, along with not needing to ensure every camera has a fresh/charged battery in case I decide I want to use it, has a strap (I use these lovely Footprint straps on my Ricoh GR and Pentax Q) and not entangled with seven other straps, has the right lens on, and so on and so on.

Wow I’m glad those days are gone.

How do you save and organise your photos? What dictates how you file them? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.

13 thoughts on “Obsessive Photographic Labelling – And How I’m Letting Go”

  1. I still organize mine into folders by year, and subfolders by roll of film or digital outing. Finding a particular photo in all of that is hard, though.

    1. Jim this is another reasons I like Flickr. By tagging on subject etc it makes it much easier to find, say, photographs of doors or flowers a year or three later! Even if I stop being so obsessive with the filing on my HD, I’ll continue to subject tag on Flickr like this.

  2. My digital photos are organized in Apple Photos by year. It’s never more than a few hundred photos per year so it works OK.

    When I develop a roll of negatives I put them in a PrintFile page labeled with the date they were developed, e.g. 180330 for today. I keep a little notebook in my camera bag in which I record the camera, film and developer for the roll and anything else I think worth recording about the images. Finally, I make a contact print of the entire roll. This is also labeled with the date and stored in roughly chronological order in a box in our living room. Scans of individual images have a file name consisting of the roll date and a sequence number, e.g. 180330-01. They are in one big folder on the iMac.

  3. I used to be a lot more bothered about this sort of thing. I used to take a notebook when I was shooting and make a note of aperture and shutter speed but now they just get bunged in folders as and when.

    1. I’ve never generally kept notes on aperture and shutter speed, the most detailed was usually camera, lens, film. There were a couple of occasions where I wanted to test lenses head to head at a range of apertures, so need the notes then, even just which lens I used first.

      In certain circumstances it is helpful, but again only when in testing mode. And I realised quite some time ago I was fed up with being a camera tester and wanted to be “just” a photographer!

  4. Hi Dan… interesting post… as usual,
    I maybe do things a little different to most….Here’s my run through ….
    I have 12 SD cards that equate to each month of the year, I use each card for the month then load that months photos onto a standalone hard drive, and also onto my laptop hard drive…. that card is then stored….
    It was because I lost photos due to hard drive failures on laptops that I set about coming up with some form of system that meant I could retrieve photos as and when required…. yes it may be seen as a waste, but due to the low cost of SD cards it works out to be acceptable…. as for “finding” a particular photo, I think I’ve covered that by having a diary relating to the month and year, it’s then up to me to fill in with “little hints” in the diary that will in theory help determine the month needed then it’s just a matter of loading that months photos….
    So at the end of a year taking photos, I’m left with 12 cards and a diary, plus backups on the 2 hard drives….. I have a “delete” no photos policy unlike some who have a view that they are looking for that ” killer” photo and ditch loads to find it ( in their view ), for me its different in so much as i cannot bring myself to delete photos that maybe sometime later after reviewing again may please me in a way I didn’t see at first…

    BR Lynd

    1. Lynd, thanks for your input and approach. So do you then wipe the SD cards for the next year and start again, or buy a new card every month? I know a number of people who do a similar thing. When I met my wife and moved in, I remember discovering a drawer full of about a dozen SD cards. When one filled up she just bought another and kept the old ones as a back up, similar to you. Quaint now to see SD cards of 128 and 512MB!

      I’m not anything like as patient as you deleting photos, I can’t wait to purge each batch down just to the very best and move on. I’m not sure if this is good or bad…

  5. Hi Dan,
    I actually just save the cards, I use those small “change bags” that banks use, with them being clear plastic and having that failsafe feature of just turning the top over seals the bag they are just perfect…a simple label with the year written on and it’s done finished, over the last 6 yrs it’s worked well, I keep the bags and diaries in a shoe box, which reminds me, one positive point is that being able to look back over the dairies, it’s surprising just what the writings through up, nice things like being able to see if the swallows are early or late compared with the previous years, it’s also surprising when you see cycles developing…. first frosts, first snow etc etc….
    Delete… Dan it’s like white goods…. we ( well, you not me….) are all so keen to throw away what could be used in the future…..
    BR Lynd

    1. Ha ha, your last part made me smile because my next post due to be published is precisely about this. I think you’ll see I’m not so keen to throw stuff away… 🙂

  6. Dan, with my digital images I file each batch of about 30-60 images in a folder labelled on my laptop. I don’t keep photos in iPhoto. Nowadays I have decided I will really enjoy the images I use and then delete them except for the ones I take at galleries and the odd really special image. xoxox susanJOY

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