Rethinking Photo Organization

Hi everyone,

There have been many conversations around photo organization and I thought I would throw this thought/question out there as a new thread. It’s something I’ve gone back and forth on and never fully committed to - Apple Photos.

I’m a librarian, with an MLIS degree so you can imagine my need to organize and index photos. Something I’ve been doing using folders and file names for 20+ years. I’ve managed to automate naming and sorting using PhotoSync and Hazel.

I have folders by year and subfolders by date description. All photos are named after the folder name with a -000 numbering. Rarely does a folder need to have a 4-digit number. (Happy to share this workflow in more detail if anyone is interested.)

After David’s Photos Field Guide I’ve also started to put the photos into the Photos app. I’ve done a little bit of organizing, and the folder structure I have helps.

BUT, I haven’t made the full leap into the Photos app. I want to! But there is something safe about seeing and having an organized folder structure. I also don’t like the default number it gives the photos if I directly import them. Last, I don’t like the low-resolution copy you get by simply dragging it out of the window (I know I can do an export). I’m not just ready for a Photos only workflow. (My wife still finds the folder structure easier to navigate.)

I’m really just curious what you all may think. I’m probably way overthinking this.

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Organizing Photos is always a do-it-later job for me. I rely on rough memories of when photos were taken, and the very professional search for location or subject of photo to keep me right.

it gets confusing when the photos have no meta data, and so the date on them is the date they were added to the app, not the date of taking. I scanned a 1000 a few months ago and they all were dated 1.1.2019 - Not sure why.

Your comment about using Hazel to rename them sounds like an excellent idea. I could do this but would value tour input the process you currently use, just in case you decide not to rely on photos later.

I like to have all my files free from reliance on any proprietary format, and having well named photos would remove dependence on the Photos app for handling them. Thinking about it, for . . . . later.

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I think the Photos app is fine for my iPhone photos and day to day stuff, but it’s not great for more serious stuff. Not enough control/tools and a hidden file system makes it not worth the effort IMO.

Currently I have my camera send a 2mb copy of my pictures to Photos, so I have informal quick look of everything, but the actual files go into a file system. It’s easy to maintain and back up that way.

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For anyone interested - a quick summary of my workflow:

  1. I run PhotoSync on the newest photos. It’s defaulted to place the photos in an inbox.
    The photos are automatically broken down by date folders - each one named using YYYY-MM-DD.
  2. I manually review the photos, sometimes removing unnecessary photos, but often keeping most. I then add -Description to the end of the folder name.
  3. I move that folder into a folder Hazel is watching. Hazel will rename all the photos and videos in that folder with the folder name and a unique number. YYYY-MM-DD-Description-001.
  4. I then move that folder into another folder Hazel is watching. Hazel will do the following: 1) add the photos and videos into the Photos app. 2) move the photos to a photo library 3) move the videos into a video library. (Hazel will create folders in both places with the original folder name).
  5. I end up with photos in the Photo app and 2 folder structures - Photos and Videos. Those mirror each other using the same YYYY top folder and subs with YYYY-MM-DD-Description.

(3 and 4 is typically done with a bunch of folders at the same time.)

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Mines easier. :stuck_out_tongue: Camera automatically adds everything to Photos. Then Nikon Transfer to download everything and batch rename. Takes a bit of input, but doesn’t take long. Of course the Lightroom side of thing takes a lot more work.

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This looks interesting. You use that to get your pictures out of Photos? I don’t have a great way of getting the pictures I want in my file structure out of Photos. Currently I just do it manually. Still, not sure if this app would work for me because it would export my big camera pictures as well.

Could I tell it to export only pictures taken with the iPhone?

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I think your manual organization is better than relying on the Photos app. You’ve already put in the hard work, don’t abandon it now. The one thing I’d say you’re missing from Photos is further organization by tags (called keywords in Photos for some reason). But for this, you can use the built-in tagging system of the Finder.

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I use it to get photos off my iPhone and other devices. For my kids, I have it add -TheirName to the folder - just to keep them separate and easy to id.

A question to ask is what is your motivation/goal for using Photos? It sounds like you have a system which works for you.

What benefits do you expect to get by using Photos?
What capabilities are you missing with your current set up?

Knowing this would help in knowing what to suggest you do.


As background, I do not use Photos and my organization is very different from yours. I create a folder monthly with a sequential number, one each for the original images and another for the ones I process. Each photoshoot for that month gets a subfolder (with a descriptive name). I ingest my images with Photo Mechanic, which names them using a template as my name, the date, and the image number form the file: “FirstLast_YYYYMMDD_####”.

And after culling the bad images I keyword the keepers. I have over a 100K images (I’m old), and can (usually) find any image via keyword search. But it takes a lot of discipline to keyword images (and I am several major trips behind!).

I almost never navigate the folder structure. And it is a relic from back when I backed everything up to DVD. I don’t know that I would do a monthly folder if I were staring today.

Good luck and have fun whatever you decide.

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“keyword” is the standard term among photographers and in photography software.

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Great questions.

The primary “want” for Photos is the ability to browse the photos - it’s much easier than viewing photos through the finder. (as you know). I also like the added Faces, Locations, etc that Photos offers.

Years ago I was able to use a Media Asset Management software that created an index of Thumbnails (and the ability to add keywords) by simply creating a thumbnail catalog of the photos in the finder photos. I could browse the folders and visually look at the photos. I could do one folder at a time, or a top-level folder.

Is anyone familiar with something similar that is available today?

Does Photo Mechanic ingest the photos into its app/own structure or is it simply showing the photos from the folders you created? I’m going to check this out. This is the solution I really need. Something to just view photos in my folders.

Photo Mechanic can be used to just view. Pretty much any of the professional software packages let you control the file structure. They just aren’t as cheap as Photos.

If it matters to you, Photo Mechanic does not support Apple Silicon (but it runs fine) and won’t until the next major update. Which I assume will be a paid update, but I don’t know.

I have only tried the demo, but it didn’t do anything other software packages do. I will give it another look when it gets a new version.

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I don’t rely on folders and filenames for almost 10 years. I use metadata (EXIF/IPTC). Each photo has:

  • time/date embedded
  • location (coordinates and description/name added)
  • keywords

While I still have a workflow that renames the files and sorts into folders, it’s just a keepsake from times past. Since metadata is embedded or attached to XMP files, any software that supports EXIF/IPTC works. I use Lightroom (Classic) and PhotoMechanic for organization.

Thanks - I’ll check out Photo Mechanic.

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Photo Mechanic uses your existing folder structure. When ingesting you specify the source and destination folders (they can be the same).

Photo Mechanic Plus adds cataloging functionality.

It is not cheap. But if photography is one’s profession or serious hobby it, in my humble opinion, is worth it. But it is much more than just a viewer. And there are cheaper options if that is all you need, although as I don’t use any I cannot recommend any.

Before Photo Mechanic added cataloging functionality with Plus, and after iVeiw/Media Pro was discontinued I found an app called NeoFinder. I creates a catalog based on your existing folder structure, and you can use it to browse thumbnails. Double clicking on the thumbnail opens the image.

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I’m not sure what you mean here, could you clarify?

Yeah, that was vague. Maybe I should say it keeps the default name/numbering of the image file name. I like to rename the photos so that when pulled out of photos, I know the info visually on the file name.

My method renames the file before it goes into photos. It’s a bit of work though.

Oh, you mean like IMG_1234.jpg or whatever. I thought you might be referring to how Photos renames the file with a long string of gibberish (a GUID?) when it’s imported. Cuz I don’t like that.

Like you, I also don’t like the low image quality when a photo is dragged out to the desktop. I’d like to see a user setting for that.

As to your original question, I use Photos because it’s the lowest-friction option, and I’m not a “serious” photographer. It has its pluses and minuses but all things considered it works best for us.

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I’ve used the Windows version of ACDSee for doing as you want - point it at a folder and you’re able to view the folder structure.

Not sure how the Mac version performs, or if it’s the same as I haven’t used it.

My workflow use Photos as my “sync station” for collecting my photos off my phone, iPad and devices and then I run an export on Photos regularly, after having added keywords and the like to the photos.

However, as I’m paranoid, the iPhone runs Photosync and uploads an unedited copy of the photos to a separate folder on my NAS.

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