How I Spring Cleaned my Digital Mess


I’m a relatively neat person, but my digital life was a mess.  I’m the guy who filled up his desktop with random files and then swept them into a folder named “desktop.”

Unfortunately, the chickens came home to roost last week when an old client needed some prints from a shoot in 2011.  Eventually I found the files, but it wasn’t easy.  If only I had started my search in “desktop 8.”

Digital Spring Clean

It was time for action.  I started my spring clean with the multitude of desktop folders and finished up with my enormous photo archive. Cleaning the desktop folders was a snap because I simply put the files where they should have gone in the first place.  Figuring out how to organize my billions of photos was another story.

Just like any other photographer, I started out with a handful of folders and a decade later I was drowning in a sea of digital media.

For help, I turned to Skin.  This excellent book written by Photoshop guru Lee Varis focuses on retouching but also has a great section on digital workflow.

How I did it

After a few hours of power procrastinating, I hooked up my 1 Terabyte external hard drive and tackled the folder named “photo archive.”  This had everything from 1999-2011.

Step 1

I went through every folder and renamed it to a DATE-NAME format.  I also expanded the name when necessary.  In other words, if a folder was “Birthday” it became “051025_Jennifer_Birthday” (YEAR-MONTH-DAY-NAME-EVENT)



I had started doing this in 2013 with the idea of doing 5-10 files a day, but it was difficult to do this kind of work with all the awesome cat videos on YouTube.

Step 2

I put the photos in folders by year.  By changing everything to a DATE-NAME format, everything lined up inside the year folders in chronological order.Organization2


Step 3

I fired up Lightroom and created a new catalog for each year.  I also changed the identity plate to reflect the year of the catalog.  Some people will argue that you should put every single photo in one giant catalog, but I’ve done it and it slows down the program..  This is what my new folder layout looked like inside Lightroom:


By importing directly from the disk instead of the camera, the folder structure inside Lightroom matched the folder structure inside my computer.

Step 4

On the external disk I created one folder for the images and another for the Lightroom Catalogs.  Each of these mirror each other and have the same folder structure.  I then copied these files to a second hard drive as a backup.  I left the 2014 images and catalog on my main computer.




It’s a relief to finally have this mess in order. As my body of work now expands, I will simply add catalogs and images into the existing structure. With this setup, I can actually enjoy my photos from years past and quickly access my library for clients.


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