How Many Lightroom Photo Folders?
In the previous post I addressed the storage device options for Lightroom users. This post will touch upon another related but substantially different topic: folder structure for photographs. I will not address the file naming on the fly as the photographs are copied to their destination but focus mainly on the folder structure that will contain the copied files.
When the import window is opened, if the action is selected in the middle panel is Copy or Move, the right panel will display “Destination” options. Here the user is asked to pick a destination folder and also decide whether the imported files will be placed:
- Into one folder
- Into one folder and a new subfolder for this import
- Organized by date
- Organized by date and a new subfolder for this import
Using this schema, users develop their own folder structure in a way that makes sense to them. In this area there are no “right” or “wrong” choices, whatever makes sense to you will be fine as long as you are consistent in its use.
There is one external variable that may influence the decision, that is the file naming system your camera uses. Most digital cameras seem to use a file name template that looks something like:
where XXXX are alphanumeric characters like DSCN, IMG_, or W12E, and so on. The #### pattern refers to the sequential numbering applied to each new photograph. They start at 0001 and go up to 9999, at least on Canon systems. Additionally, an option in your camera may allow you to choose:
- Continuous numbering until 9999 is reached
- Starting from 0001 every time the card is formatted
- Manually starting with 0001 as needed
Some of the newer models also allow modifying the first four characters if one chooses, like we need more confusion in our lives! However, using camera specific, unique four characters Canon recently introduced is a welcome addition.
Folder Structure is Not As Simple As It May Sound
Now, you can see the complexity of the decision with different parameters. Let me take a stab at pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
|Copy files into single folder|
|Organize by date|
|Copy files into subfolders|
As you see, there is no free lunch! Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. In the beginning of my digital life, I have tried practically all of them, including renaming the files to indicate what the photographs were about, putting them in special folders, even tried a date-based structure. After a while, it became difficult for me to remember how I named a bunch of files and had devil of a time trying to locate them. So, off went the file naming. The same happened for the folder names, although I stuck with the date-based structure for a little longer. As time passed, I had enough folder travel trying to locate files, and that was the end of date-based structure for me. After all the trials and errors, I have settled on a camera-based folder structure where I put all the photographs I take with a camera into a single folder, say Canon 5D. When my file number reaches 9999, I create a new folder, Canon 5D-2 and continue copying the files into the new one. The only time I need to be “inconvenienced” is when the file name sequence is approaching its end before the roll over to 0001 again. Then, I change my import preset to copy the files into the new folder and I am all set for quite some time.
You may think that I am forgoing the advantage of a date-based structure, but Lightroom allows me to search by date, any date, month, year at will. Besides that I have stuck with keywording reasonably consistently and can locate a bunch of files related to “Aerial photography” and trim it down to 2009 by using filters. I also use Lightroom collections to cluster related files into project collections. I am very satisfied with my system using MY mind. I suggest that you give some thought to what you are doing and see if it can benefit from minor, or major, alterations in folder structures.
Of course, for any photographer who has been shooting for a few years there is likely a de facto system that has emerged and changing that will require significant time investment and this kind of change should not be made lightly.