Photo Organization Made Simple

By Jim Hamel

Got free time? Here’s a little lesson that may help you pass the hours, or days, or weeks.

My guess is that you want your photos to be organized but don’t want to spend any time worrying about it. And you want to be able to find your photos quickly. There is nothing
worse than looking through a bunch of folders for a photo you know you have somewhere, but being unable to find it. At the same time, you don’t want to create a cumbersome system. It will not be sustainable. You are likely to give up on your system and then your photos will have no organization at all. A cumbersome system is likely to take up more of your time than actually looking for a photo every now and then.

Or maybe you are just getting started with photography and haven’t thought about how to organize your photos at all. You may not have enough photos yet that you see the need. But starting out with a good process right away is the best way to go. It will save you a lot of time and effort so you don’t have to go back and reorganize your photos later.

The Tension: By Date or By Subject?

The two main ways people organize their photos are either by date or by subject. Both
methods have strengths and weaknesses. You might create a folder structure by date,
and that will allow you to see everything chronologically. Unfortunately, we all tend
to forget what we did on certain dates, and it might become problematic to find something from two to three years ago.

steel wool on fire night photograph

Photo by Jim Hamel

The other way to organize is by subject. That becomes a problem, too. It is hard to sustain, and there might be different subject matter in the same group of pictures. For example, take a look at the photo on the right. This is a night shot I took where I was playing with steel wool lit on fire in a park in northwest Texas. Into which folder should I put the photo? A Texas folder? Or perhaps a state parks folder? Or perhaps a night photography folder? Or maybe one for spinning fire shots and other such trickery? As you can see, it would be confusing. The temptation is to start duplicating the photos and putting them in multiple folders, which is just a waste. I use a system that gives you the best of both worlds and it’s really easy.

The Simple System

First, download your photos to your computer as your normally do. When you do so, a folder with the date will be created. Now, rename the folder you just created, keeping the date, but also adding a short description at the end. For example, if the folder that was created says “2017-12-09” and it contains images you took on a trip to New York, just add the words “New York” to the end. Now the folder reads: 2017-12-09 New York. Or if you took pictures at your child’s birthday party, add the words “Birthday Party” to the folder after the date. And so on. Do this to all the folders you create. Here is a snip of my hard drive so you can see how this folder structure will look:


That’s it! You’re done.

Taking this step will do two things for you. It will keep your photos in chronological order, which is important because your brain often works in terms of chronology. We usually have at least a rough idea when we did something. You can go to the folder for any particular year and scan it quickly to find what you need. In addition, having added the description will now let you know the subject of each folder. The subject is in the name so you never have to spend any time going through the folders.

Using this System in Lightroom

If you just organize your photos on your hard drive, you are done. But many  photographers use Lightroom, which offers other organizational features that you can add on to this system. How does that work?

It is really pretty easy. First of all, when you import your photos, Lightroom will use the
exact same folder structure you created on your hard drive, so the system you created
above will also work in Lightroom. For example, looking at the structure we created before, here is how it will look in Lightroom:


When I am looking for a picture, this is more than enough to let me find it quickly. If you want to use any of the other Lightroom tools to organize your photos, you can add them on. The best such tool is Collections. This is just a separate grouping of photos on whatever basis you want. Lighroom doesn’t actually move the photos, but it will look that way on your screen. To create a Collection, you simply press the plus sign, name it
whatever you want, and the drag some photos into it. This is great if you are creating a group of photos from multiple dates.

What about keywords? Put simply, forget about them. Unless you are selling stock photography, I wouldn’t even bother with them. You will spend more time keywording
photos than you will spend looking for photos. All you are doing here is adding a little one- to three-word description to the chronological folder structure that your computer is making.

It is really simple to do, and it takes virtually no time, so you will do it every time. It is all
you ever need to do to stay organized. I have shown many people this system, and it seems to work for just about everybody.

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel is not just a great photographer, writer, and teacher, he’s also one of our very own TAPC members. Check out his free photography guides and tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. You can also see this original unedited article.


A Photography Valentine

Why do we love photography?

Photo of roses by Katya Zyu from

Photo by Katya Zyu from

These quotes from famous photographers and artists are not necessarily answers to that question, but they could be.

When I photograph, what I’m really doing is seeking answers to things. – Wynn Bullock

The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do. – Andy Warhol

What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time. – John Berger

Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography. – George Eastman

What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce. – Karl Lagerfeld

The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words. – Elliott Erwitt

Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies. – Diane Arbus

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. – Dorothea Lange

The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much. – Annie Leibovitz

When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read the line of a poem twice. – Robert Frank

Essentially what photography is is life lit up. – Sam Abell

Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second. – Marc Riboud

Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything. – Aaron Siskind

My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport. – Steve McCurry

Giving Back with Photography

During the past few years, I have tried to use my passion for photography to help promote causes I feel strongly about.  Whether for your church or other charitable and civic organizations, photography can tell a story that hopefully makes people sit back, take notice, and want to participate themselves.

On the last Saturday in January, I had the opportunity to tell a story with photos showing those fighting blood cancers, some literally in their own lives and some through donation of their time and money to help those fighting these cancers.

The event was the Big D Climb that benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  I am a member of the North Texas Chapter board of trustees for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, so this is a cause close to my heart.  Participants in this event climb 52 floors in the Fountain Place building in downtown Dallas raising money to fund patient services and research.  Some participate for the athletic aspect of the event, others trying to promote teamwork in their organization and some because of a dear friend or family member that is dealing with leukemia or lymphoma in their lives.  But all, regardless of their reason, help to raise money for a great cause.

It is hard to photograph an event that spans 52 floors of a large building, especially on the bottom floor where everything begins and on the 52nd floor where thankfully (for most people) it ends.  Had I thought about it ahead of time, I would have recruited one or two other members of the photo club to help provide better coverage.  Groups and individuals are milling around on the bottom floor waiting for their time to start, from first responders climbing the stairs in all of their heavy gear to those wearing the lightest of running outfits.

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Lainey’s family and friends

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First responders from the Greenville TX FD

One of the key objectives, in photographing an event like this is, capturing images that show the stories of those that are in the fight against blood cancer.  Included in that group was our honored hero for the event, Lainey Thomas, a beautiful 2-year-old girl who is currently in the middle of her treatments for leukemia, Dallas Police Department Senior Cpl. Curtis Steger, the father of Zach Steger, who is fighting lymphoma and “Julia’s Team”, the second grade classmates of Julia Brown, who is currently fighting her battle with leukemia.  Last, but not least was Loan Huynh, a fellow member of the board of trustees and two-time survivor of leukemia, who had over 150 of her colleagues from Ivie, Inc. participating to support her.  These are just  a few of the people living with blood cancer that are being supported, but they and others like them are the reason over 1,300 people push themselves to complete the difficult climb.

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Lainey and her big sister Avery

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Zach’s dad

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Julia’s classmates and teacher

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The Ivie Inc. Stair Force One

I took over 700 photos, in 6 hours, to capture some of the moments and individuals that made the day special.  The better ones are shared on the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Big D Climb Facebook page at so participants can show their friends and family what the event is about and how they were able to support a great cause by taking on and beating the challenge of climbing 52 floors, all the while helping those fighting blood cancers to have a better chance of beating the disease.

So, my challenge for you is, look for opportunities wherever you are to use your photographic skills to promote an event or organization.  You will find it a very fulfilling challenge.

_DSC8478 LLS Big D Climb Jan 2014_

Firefighter from Mabank TX FD

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Clowns from Mabank FD with Lainey and her mom.

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The Zach Pack

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Lainey’s dad as he passes her sign at the 52nd floor finish

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Julia’s classmates sending photo from the top of the climb

_DSC8479 LLS Big D Climb Jan 2014_-Edit

Dallas PD Chiefs Brown and Reyes

(NOTE: I could not determine how to make photos show side by side on the page so the flow is not as smooth as I would have liked)




_DSC8990  Blackland Prairie Raptor Center Photo Day May 2013-Edit-3 _DSC9087  Blackland Prairie Raptor Center Photo Day May 2013-Edit _DSC9177  Blackland Prairie Raptor Center Photo Day May 2013-Edit _DSC9262  Blackland Prairie Raptor Center Photo Day May 2013 _DSC9257  Blackland Prairie Raptor Center Photo Day May 2013 _DSC9149  Blackland Prairie Raptor Center Photo Day May 2013 _DSC8832  Blackland Prairie Raptor Center Photo Day May 2013 _DSC8717  Blackland Prairie Raptor Center Photo Day May 2013

On the last Saturday in May, I had the opportunity to take photos at the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center Photo Day.  The Blackland Prairie Raptor Center is dedicated to environmental preservation through public education and the conservation of birds of prey and wildlife in their natural habitat.  Blackland Prairie Raptor Center’s birds of prey have many years of experience introducing children and adults to the world of raptors.  These hawks, owls and falcons are well trained, and with the assistance of BPRC education specialists, show people what makes them an important part of our environment. Unfortunately, these birds cannot go back into the wild due to previous injury, human imprinting or both.  You can see more about the center at

The Photo Day was held at Brockdale Park in Lucas Texas where the center is currently building a new facility.  The park is northeast of Dallas on Lake Lavon.  Other than a few chiggers and other biting insects that were in the park that day, it was an enjoyable experience.   The center had most of its birds available to show at the event and we (the group of photographers at the event) learned many things about each bird as they were brought out for photographs.  I want to thank the center staff and volunteers that gave up their morning and helped out during the event.

The center showed its birds in three areas of the park so that photographers could take images of different birds in different locations with different backgrounds.    The birds were beautiful and majestic, regardless of their size.  We were able to get relatively close to the birds in order to get portrait type photos and also were able to take photos of them in more natural habitat.  It was a challenge to get the eyes sharp and the details in the feathers along with a pleasant background.  Unfortunately, it was a gray sky morning, so the images of the birds when held aloft had an uninteresting background.  But I tried to make the best of it by adding some texture, including feathers of the birds themselves to make the background a little more interesting.

Lantern Lights

After trying two times and being stymied due to unforeseen circumstances, we finally attended the Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park in Dallas on the night before it closed.  Thanks to Groupon, five of us made it in for half price.  I was surprised by the mass of humanity waiting in line before the opening and also the number of people inside once the exhibit opened.

We arrived at the opening time of 5:00 so I could capture some images before, during and after sunset.  The lantern exhibit was not lit up when we arrived so we were able to see the various lanterns before and after.  Once the sun went down and the sky took on that dark blue shade, the lanterns were lit.  It was quite a sight.  There were more cameras per square foot (most smart-phone cameras) than I had seen in some time.  There were also a fair number of “more serious” photographers like me that toted around their tripods with their favorite flavor of camera on top.  It was really the only way to capture good images once the sky darkened.

From a dragon created from 10,000 dinner plates and eating utensils, to a lantern that looked like the Statue of Liberty to the various ants, pandas, longhorns and other plants and animals I looked for interesting angles and views to shoot.  There was ample opportunity to capture reflections in the lagoon, but hard to get shots without people somewhere in the image.  I found it to be very creative and interesting and hopefully the photos I included here provide a look inside for those that were not able to attend.

On a Mission

This past weekend, I met a fellow photographer from New York in San Antonio, where he was for a busness trip.  It was time to get back behind the camera after several months of  work getting in the way of my photography habit.  Since we only had a day and a half before he returned to New York, we concentrated on the local missions in San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.  There are five missions, including the Alamo in downtown San Antonio.  The others are all south of the city.  All of the missions were built in the 1700’s.  See for more information.

Initially, we were to arrive one day before the recent cold front arrived and have a nice day of weather for shooting.  However, when we woke up on Friday morning, we were greeted with thick cloudcover and cold temperatures.  It made for a change of plans, focusing on shooting tighter shots and not “landscape” shots which would include the gray sky.  The old mission churches and other buildings have many interesting details when you take a closer look.  The doors and windows are quite interesting to shoot, as are some of the archways at a couple of the locations.

By the end of the day when we made it to Mission Concepcion, our last stop on the Mission Trail, the sky was a little more interesting, although still cloudy, and made for an interesting HDR shot just before sunset.  The next morning we were at the Alamo by 7:00 am when the sky was just beginning to lighten up resulting in another interesting sky shot.  I have included some examples below, including two panorama shots with several photos stitched together like we heard about in the George Lepp session.  Whether you have great weather and can shoot landscape shots or have bad weather and need to focus on the details, I would recommend going on a mission trip to San Antonio.

Battling for Photos

Over Veterans Day weekend I was able to participate in a World War II reenactment battle held in Waxahachie TX.  This was an experience that I enjoyed very much, being a big WW II history buff.  Each year, the Texas Military History Society has several events during the weekend.  The town has opened its arms to a great group of folks that participate in static displays of WW II vehicles and weapons and perform a reenactment of the Battle for Nancy, a real WW II battle that took place in France during September 1944  (

I had attended the event in prior years, but last year found out that a group of DFW photographers were working with the reenactors to take photos before and during the battle and providing their photos on a special Flickr group to the reenactors.  The photographers that dressed in military uniforms similar to the WW II era were able to actually take photos in the midst of the battle.  So I took my small uniform budget to Omaha Surplus in Fort Worth and found the closest thing I could find at a reasonable price that would pass for “official photographer” duds and headed down to Waxahachie.

It was great being there and playing the role of official photographer both before and during the battle.  It was during the battle when I had the most fun.  In prior years, I took some photos from the sidelines, but this time, I was right in the middle of it all.  Guns, smoke, noise, running soldiers and vehicles.  What a rush it was, and LOUD too!  The hardest thing to deal with as a photographer was selecting a subject to shoot with guns blazing and soldiers moving all around me.  You had to be quick to focus and use continuous shooting to get satisfactory shots.

These reenactors were shooting blanks and it was scary.  I cannot imagine what went through the heads of the battle photographers that did this during the actual war, when live rounds were zinging by their heads.  I think I got some good shots and made some new photographer friends while I was at it.  I am already planning to be back next year.

I am showing some of my photos below as well as a link to the Flickr group page ( that has photos from all of the photographers.  You will see all kinds of processing, from normal color to black and white and all kinds of vintage looks in between.

Arlington July 4th Parade

This morning, I went with my camera to the staging site for the Arlington July 4th parade.  This year marked the 46th annual parade.  Of course, every parade in Texas needs at least one horse, one politician, one marching band, one float, one old car and Miss Texas.  This parade had multiples of each (except for Miss Texas).  I learned many things while there and took a few photos as well.

I learned that it was often hard to take photos without background distractions.  It was also easier to get close ups of parts of floats or vehicles while they were standing still instead of moving in the parade.  I learned that the riding Elvis group (see photos) did not grow their Elvis hair naturally.  I learned that International Harvester tractor owners generally did not think much of John Deere, similar to the way Nikon camera owners view Canon (in a playful way for most).  I learned that everyone I talked to really enjoyed being in the parade, even when it was as hot as it was today.  I saw great respect for the military personnel as well as police and firefighters.  I also learned that there are many interesting ways to dress for a patriotic parade.

A few tips from a photo perspective.  Make sure that you bring your flash as you will need fill flash for shots where the sun is not quite in the right place to light faces or other parts of your photos that would otherwise be shrouded in shadows.  Don’t hesitate to ask people if you want to take their photo.  Most will happily pose for a shot if a candid is not available.  Bring both a wide angle and a telephoto lens.  You can use the telephoto to   isolate candid expressions of the participants or portions of vehicles, such as antique autos or parade floats.  If you see someone in an interesting costume, you can also isolate your subject with a telephto lens.  Because each entry in the parade was staged very close to the next entry, it was difficult to isolate as much as I would have liked.

I watched the beginning of the parade since I was already in the staging area and tried a few shots there as well, but that also has its challenges that will not be a subject of this entry.

I added a few other photos to my Flickr site at

Mark Lenz