The process of organizing your photos into a photography folder structure is just as important as any other post-editing work you do with them. After all, how can you view a photo if you have no clue where it’s stored?

There is a selection of software available to photographers to help them catalog, keyword and search their photo collection. However, the first step is building a folder system where the photos will physically be stored.

Do not rely completely on a program to do this for you. Programs change, they become discontinued or you might switch brands later down the road. The photography folder structure I use today is technically the same as it was over 20 years ago. Although the programs I use to access it have changed, the basic design of the physical folder structure has not.

Defining the Root Folder

The root folder is the starting point. All of your images will be organized into sub folders within this root folder. This root folder should be exclusive to your professional photography. In other words do not use a folder that will contain folders or files that do not relate to your photography.

Some people will use the “Pictures” folder that is automatically created by your operating system. This is not an ideal location. Photo files are large and can quickly fill up your internal hard drive, causing your entire computer to slow down. The risk of losing photos to a hard drive failure is also increased when storing them internally. You might want to invest in a larger external drive, using it as your root folder.

If you are not using a computer that is dedicated to your photography, you might want to separate personal family photos from your professional work. There is absolutely no reason to include photos from your kids birthday party in the same folder structure as photos from paid portrait sessions, commercial shoots or stock photo collections.

Creating the Main Categories

Your main category structure is located directly beneath the root folder. This is the most basic form of subject matter. For example, you have a photo of a living room. Start thinking backwards. “Living room” could be a sub directory of “home” which could be a sub directory of “residential” which could be a sub directory of “architecture”. So, your main category is architecture.

Start out by looking at the photos you already have. Determine what the primary subject matter is for each group of photos and make a list. Now start thinking of subjects that you would like to shoot and add them to the list. This list contains your main categories. Once you have finished you can start working on your sub-categories.

Create Your Sub Categories

Go through your list of main categories and create possible sub categories. Even if you do not already have photos for these sub groups, make the categories anyway. This way you will not become lazy later and just throw stuff into the main categories, where it does not belong.

For stock photography, this will also help you focus on subjects you are not currently marketing yourself towards. If you have a sub category with no photos in it that means it’s probably a good idea that you schedule some shoots to fill it up.

How do you determine what sub-categories you need to create? Let say you have a main category called “People” here are some sub categories that you might possibly want to create. Children, Couples, Families, Groups, Men, Seniors, Teens and Women. With these sub categories you now have the ability to organize by gender, age and number of subjects. You could add to this structure by creating another level of sub categories to separate photos of women into Business, Fashion, Portraits and Maternity.

Put a lot of thought into this. You are not just preparing to organize the photos you have today. You are building an organizational structure for the amount of photos you will have 30 years from now. Don’t wait until then to do it because most likely it won’t get done at all. Do as much as you can now and then build on it over time.

Folder Locations & Dates

In some cases, you might want to create a sub category for the year and or location. A Travel category would definitely require a location sub category. For example, Travel > USA > Colorado > Denver.

An Event category might have a sub category called parades. This would be a subject that you might want to break up into locations and dates. For example, New York > Parades > Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade > 2020

If you are setting up a Nature category, you might want to break the years into seasons or months.

Maintaining a Photography Folder Structure

The most important thing you can do is maintain your photography folder structure as time goes by. It is very easy to come home from a photo shoot and just copy your photos to an existing folder. This will become a problem over time. If you do not have an appropriate folder for the images, create one. It only takes a second and it will save you a lot of headaches later on. Trust me, the future you will thank you for it.