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How to Organize and Manage your Photoshop Files and Client Images

As a professional photographer, or even as a hobbyist, your collection of Photoshop files and client images can grow at an alarming rate. Even if you were only to shoot once a month, that would be 12 new sets of photos a year, with RAW files, edits, final selections, Photoshop editing tools, marketing templates, and so on. When you have so many files on your hard drive, how are you to keep them organized and safe?

It can be done very easily, so long as you have a system in place. Follow the steps below to get your entire library into great condition, and set things up to work well in the future too.


Create a Naming System:

The first thing that you need to do is to start off by naming your files properly. This can be tricky because when they come out of the camera, everything has a number assigned to it plus a code for the folder you were shooting into. You can set this up on your camera to populate differently if you wish to.

Otherwise, you can use photo editing software to rename a large batch of files at once. A good system should include the date that the images were taken, as well as some way to identify the set that they are from. For example, if you took photographs at London Fashion Week on the 22nd of February 2015, then you could name your images with that date and the LFW tag. It’s always better to date in reverse, so that the images sort themselves into date order instead of alphabetical order. This would come out to something like 201502022_LFW_001 for the first image. Alternatively you could shorten it to 150222_LFW_001, as it would still go into date order if you only have images from the same year in that folder system.

Having a naming system is also important if you contribute to magazines, archives, or other publications, as this will help them to identify your images easily. Adding your initials at the start or the end of the naming can also help in this case.

Luckily, most Photoshop files come already named, but don’t be afraid to rename them if that means they will be easier for you to find and use.


Organize Your Folders:

Even when your images and editing files are named correctly, having them all stored in the same folder would be nothing short of a nightmare. To find them properly, you also need a filing system. Having the right folder system in place can save you a lot of hassle later on. You are the best judge of what structure will work for you, but try to be detailed. For images, make sure that each individual shoot or event has its own folder. Keep everything split down by date as well. This will depend on how often you shoot. Monthly folders will work for most people. Yearly folders are great for those working at a lower volume, or on the other side of the scale, weekly folders may work too.

For Photoshop files, you may either separate them by vendor, or by file type such as Photoshop actions (ATN), brushes (ABR), templates (PSD), overlays (PNG and JPEG), etc.

Once you have your folder system set up, it will be even easier to find your files. You can simply search by year, month, or name to find what you are looking for.


Use a Star Rating:

The star rating, or label rating, feature comes with a range of different photo organizing software programs. No matter what volume of images you are organizing, it’s always a good idea to have some software to help you out. You can do your batch renaming through these tools, as well as assigning ratings and tags. You can use stars to pick out your favourite images from a set, so that you can always find the top edits quickly.

Tags are also useful, not least because they populate your metadata in some programs. You can also use them to search your entire library for a certain set of images. For example, let’s say that you take pictures of your son regularly. To find all pictures of him, you would search by his name. Any image you have tagged with his name will show up in the search, no matter what folder it is stored in.

Star ratings, labels, and tags can be put to good use while editing. You could give all of the images that are technically good from one set a rating of 1. Then give any shots that stand out a rating of 2. Narrow it down further each time that you go through, until you reach the rating of 5 for just the shots which deserve the most attention. Anything with a rating of 0 can be ignored or even deleted if you wish.


Keep Regular Backups:

It goes without saying that backing up your files can save you a lot of heartache in the future. Having a laptop crash on you can be very frustrating, especially if there were important images, Photoshop actions, templates, etc. stored on the hard drive that were not backed up elsewhere. Stick to a regular backup schedule, preferably to more than one external hard drive or cloud storage system. This will ensure that you have all of your important files stored somewhere should the worst happen.

Photo backups are especially important for client event images. Think of a wedding, for example. The process between taking the images and then actually sending the final product to the client – be it a wedding album or a digital folder – can take weeks or even months. During that time, you could lose all of the images. Having those photo backups in place after shooting, after editing, and before sending out the final product will save a lot of stress should something happen.

Make sure to copy the whole filing system across, too. That way you will easily be able to find out which of your images have been backed up and which have not next time that you go into the system. This is a great way to make sure that you hold on to those images and files no matter what happens.


Delete or Store Away the Excess:

One thing that you may be a little scared of is deleting files. For a professional photographer, losing Photoshop files and client images can be your worst nightmare. You might be so terrified of having them disappear that you back photos up in multiple places as soon as you get back home from the shoot or your files as soon as you get them from a vendor. The thing is, these files take up a lot of space, particularly the RAW files and large image/texture overlay files. How are you going to manage things when your collection continues to grow and grow?

Don’t be afraid to delete files when you know you are never going to need it. Delete everything that came out of camera with flaws. Get rid of blurriness, throw away those photos where the model blinked at the wrong time, and delete the ones where the lighting wasn’t quite right. This may also be true if you purchased a Photoshop membership and you are overwhelmed with a bunch of files that may not relate to your photography business. If you don’t photograph newborns, for example, having newborn marketing templates on your computer will only take up unnecessary space. It can feel unnatural at first, but the truth is, you aren’t going to use everything. The rest are simply going to be taking up hard drive space that you could be using for something else.

If it makes you feel more secure, refrain from deleting anything until the client is happy with the images or you have posted your final selection online. Then, if the response is positive, you know that you don’t need to keep the rest. You can also store your Photoshop files and images away on an extra external hard drive or cloud drive and set up a ‘waiting period’ and then after a few months you can go through and clear them out after you’ve officially confirmed you do not need them.


Now it’s over to you – are there any organizing tips that we’ve missed? Let us know your secret tricks for how to organize your images and Photoshop files in the comments!


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