Is Getting Your Photography Organized Worth the Effort? You’re DAM Right It Is!

The other night, I was looking through some old files to find a low-light photo to illustrate a book I’m working on. While doing this, I happened upon two folders of pictures I had shot of jazz great Sonny Rollins.

I had completely forgotten about them. Now, the memories came rushing back.

I shot the pictures years ago on the New Haven Green one beautiful summer night. Seeing Sonny live was amazing enough; photographing him while he was blowing his horn was a shift in consciousness that I can’t begin to describe.

I was so close to him that I could hear his breath when he inhaled, and I could hear his foot tapping time.

How could I have allowed these pictures, important to me if no one else, end up lost in a folder somewhere?

Time to Dig Out

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m not the most organized person in the world when it comes to filing my photo collection — digital or film. That’s why I misplaced those photos, and have lost thousands of others over the years.

I’ve shot some of the greatest musicians alive — Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Count Basie, Eric Burdon — to name a few.

Where are those pictures now? Heaven only knows; somewhere either in boxes or in my vast array of hard drives.

I’d love to take a year off and dedicate it to organizing my hundreds of thousands of photos, but unless I happen to marry a wealthy heiress or win the lottery, that ain’t gonna happen.

I haven’t thrown up my hands and given up, mind you. I’m gradually digging out and beginning to organize things, but it’s going to take a long time.

Don’t Be Like Me

So, all of this is to say, don’t be like me — particularly if you’re early in your career and don’t have so many photos to manage and document. It’s easier to get organized as a photographer if you start out that way.

I suggest two investments if you’re serious about getting organized:

I’m thrilled I stumbled upon those photos of Sonny. I just wish I knew where my Jimi Hendrix negatives were, or those cool slides of Johnny Cash I shot at Toad’s Place. Oh well — one thing at a time, right?

7 Responses to “Is Getting Your Photography Organized Worth the Effort? You’re DAM Right It Is!”

  1. I think forgetting past pictures for a while can boost your creativity somehow. When you see at them after one year, your eyes (and your heart) are different: it is like you are more distant and you can judge better, even thought it is amazing how your memory is still strong on them.

    Unfortunately that does not mean you can avoid to keep well organized your archive: looking at your pictures after a while is good, find them is even better.

    Good advice Jeff.

  2. Jeff:

    You have come to the same realization as many others. Moving from analog to digital, it's easy to lose sight of this at first until the flood of digital images leaves you gasping for air.

    Adding "captions and keywords" to your digital images is one of the best ways to find them later. A list of caption & keywording "guidelines" can be found at and should help remind you of a few things you are likely to forget.

    For those that are not aware, you can import free or commercially available hierarchically arranged "keyword catalogs" into Lightroom. There are some out there as well for Adobe Bridge and other applications (like Photo Mechanic, Expression Media, BreezeBrowser, IDimager, Aperture, etc.) at

    Rating/Ranking your images is incredibly useful if you have more than a few photos of the same subject. Having a personal policy for how many stars to add, or what your color labels mean will help ensure consistency.

    You will find some suggestions on getting started in building an image collection at as well as links to programs that will be of use to those on both the Mac and Windows platforms.

    Another site worth visiting if you want to learn more about how to add this type of information to your images is the PhotoMetadata site ( The Tutorial section ( has detailed info on how to add metadata using Photoshop, Bridge, Expression Media, and Photo Mechanic, including videos.

    Hope that helps.


  3. You so easily remind me of my age, Jeff.

    In the mid 1970s to early 1980s,m I shot bands at the Fillmore East, NYC Academy of Music, Felt Forum, possibly The Electric Circus and CBGBs.

    Do you have any idea how difficult it is to research a band to identify the members when you're not sure of the venue or the date?

    Some of these bands had a five year (or less), life span before dissolving completely, and most changed partners as frequently as I did while I was dating at the time.

    NOW I understand the value of keywords (or, at least - extensive comments somewhere on who, what, where, when and why.

    I simply feel fortunate that I had the foresight -- strike that -- compulsive obsessional behaviour that didn't allow me to throw anything out; and I tended to store things safely. But without notes. And promptly forgot I ever had them…

    Soon, I hope, all of these will make an appearance on my site. And it was pure luck that when I published a shot I had taken of Blue Oyster Cult in January of 1975 on deviantART, that someone commented on the show and mentioned the preceding bands of the evening -- whom I couldn't place at all, but have great shots of: Camel and Carmen.

  4. Lightroom has tons of archiving capabilities. for me the real question lies what do i keep? DNG RAW JPG ?
    as a wedding photographer an event can be 30gigs raw

  5. You should be using lightroom anyways, it's 2011!

  6. Nico, David, Mark, et al: I just found these great comments! I'll reread them in daylight when I'm more awake (I've been up organizing all night, what else!), but thanks so much for the comments and David, thanks for all of the great links; I will look at them all. And Mark, I think you and I were probably at some of the same shows, though I very unfortunately never got to shoot at the Filmore East! We need to organize a juried show for forgotten R&R photos of the 60s and 70s!!! jeff

  7. Jeff,

    For me, it doesn't have to be a competition. Finding a place where we can show the old bands - and we could all enjoy the pictures, and remember when; would be enough.


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