I have tons of images across my physical drives and unfortunately because I was inexperienced, I have saved them using a very poor method of file management (which is making lots and lots of unnecessary folders each inside one another), or I've stored them totally out of any order.

Luckily, I've not faced a problem with managing my camera photos because they are already organized by their date and event (I'm an amateur photographer so I don't have lots of photos, they are mostly family photos), but managing everything besides that is literally impossible. There are at least 10000 images from different sources which metadata and EXIF data do no good in finding and organizing them (their creation date or camera is not important), and they have numbers in their file names so it's impossible to find a specific image by typing its name into a program like Everything.

They include almost every interesting images I found on the internet and decided to save them; cars, famous people and celebrities, phone screenshots from web pages, industrial or tech hardware images, and many other things which I may have forgotten that they exist in my collection.

So it's impossible to find something in my archive, they are not cataloged and I even forget what does my collection contain!

I've spent almost a week trying to sort them into folders, but I failed. Other than it's being really slow and time-consuming, some pictures are hard to sort into just a single category or folder unless copying duplicates in several folders which is not wise to do so, in my opinion.

So I thought maybe I should tag them like how social media works... but I'm not quite sure.

I know there are pros and cons to every sorting and organizing method, but I just wanna know which works the best?

What's the best way in your experience to organize/categorize/catalog/... (or what else they call!) image files? Should I do it by sorting them into folders? taggings? filenames?...?

And what can I do now to organize my messy collection?

  • 1
    It isn't about photography. – Olivier Mar 21 '17 at 18:33
  • @Olivier Thanks for your feedback, but I don't know where to ask this. I asked a similar question on Superuser but that has been flagged as "on-hold as off-topic". – Adrian Machin Mar 21 '17 at 18:36
  • Your best bet would be softwarerecs.stackexchange.com, but maybe graphicdesign.stackexchange.com could help – Olivier Mar 21 '17 at 18:38
  • 5
    I disagree. This is about photo management, which is a very important part of digital photography. There's even a tag for it, which the asker used! It's fine here in my opinion. – user1118321 Mar 22 '17 at 0:04
  • You may use a "light" DAM software such as Adobe Bridge (it's free, runs on Mac and Windows), that lets you organize your pics in folders, and assign keywords to them. Use folders and file names for your main sorting criterions (maybe events or projects), and keywords to sort out pics that you put in different folders. Bridge saves keywords in IPTC metadata, that are stored in image files such as .jpg, .png, .tif. In Bridge you can create smart Collections that behave as "saved searches" for sets of keywords. So, for example, you can get all your pics with the "portrait" and "woman" keywords. – gerlos Mar 22 '17 at 14:09

There's no one right answer to this question. What do you want to do with the photos? What is your reason for wanting to sort or tag them? The answers to those questions might help guide your decision on which approach to take.

Here are some Pros and Cons of different approaches:


Pros: Easily find things by tag, even across different categories. Want to find a picture of a wiener dog in a party hat, but can't remember where you put it? Just search for the tags "wiener", "dog", and "hat". Some tags can be added automatically by various applications out there. Images can contain multiple tags.

Cons: Have to add most useful tags yourself. That means looking at each photo and thinking about all the tags that apply and writing them all down. There are apps that can help, but it's still a lot of work. Also, having all your photos in a single directory is likely to slow down your computer every time you open that directory.

Using the File System

Pros: Very easy to create new folders, can have whatever structure you want and put things anywhere you want. Automatically adds some metadata like creation (or at least download) date, and possibly website it came from.

Cons: Sorting is time consuming. Each photo can only be in 1 folder, unless you make copies, which is a mess. Doesn't contain any other metadata besides what the OS puts there.

Using a Photo Management App

Pros: Gives you several ways to slice and dice your collection, including making projects, folders, slideshows, etc. Can put all your photos into a single repository and can have a single copy of each photo, but include them in multiple collections. Can also tag them and find them based on tag.

Cons: You are probably stuck with the app's management system in some ways. It can be difficult to have multiple drives containing photos that you might want in the same project, etc. You still need to do the work to use the app's tagging system.

I'll be honest, for me as a fairly experienced Photoshop user, taking and organizing my own photos was a mess until I started using iPhoto. Even though it wasn't a very powerful app in terms of image processing and the like, having it automatically sort my photos by event and allowing me to create my own collections was incredibly useful. I thought at first that I'd hate having all my photos inside the document bundle where I couldn't easily find them, but it turns out not to matter nearly as much to me as being able to organize my photos. I later moved on to more sophisticated software but it still has very good organization tools.

  • Thank you. I want to access the photos easily by means of having them tagged in case of forgetting the existence of some photos; I could easily search the tags. A lightweight/portable and free program would be nice as I would access the photos from different computers. The problem is that most of the photo management apps are a bit sophisticated and need some time learning the app first. I'm also a Windows 7 user, so I can't run iPhotos unless using a virtual machine. However, I love the simplicity of iPhotos just by looking at its screenshots. – Adrian Machin Mar 22 '17 at 6:22
  • @AdrianMachin Try Adobe Bridge. It's free and works on Mac and Windows. If you use Linux, you can try Digikam (or gThumb). Try to use a tool that saves your keywords inside IPTC photo metadata (Adobe Bridge and Digikam do), so you can recover them later, even using another software. Sort your images in folders for projects, name them for date/time and projects, and add them keywords. Then set up collections for those keywords, so you can find any file with a keyword, regardless of the folder containing it. – gerlos Mar 22 '17 at 14:17
  • @gerlos Thank you for your recommendation. I'm also going to try Clarifai Photo Sorter. – Adrian Machin Mar 22 '17 at 20:19
  • 1
    @AdrianMachin nice to know, didn't know of Clarifai tech. Just a recommendation: try to keep as much data as possible inside image files in standard metadata tags (IPTC e XMP), it will be easier to experiment with different software and find the one you like more without sorting your images again. – gerlos Mar 23 '17 at 0:56

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