Rethinking Photo Organization

For years I kept photos organized by year and event in folders. Then I got Aperture and after a couple of years I trusted it enough to put all my photos in it (although archived in folders). Then Apple dropped Aperture.

So I’m dedicated to using folders forever. Frankly, using Photos and trying to sync between my iPhone and iMac, plus adding many photos from my DSLR and other sources, I just don’t trust it. I’m using Lightroom Classic for fast editing, which simply references my folder organization.


I’ve tried using Apple Photos but like you, I don’t like the way it re-catalogs the photos in its “Photos Library” folder structure. I want the photos organized in a folder structure that I have used for years (year > event_name > yr-mo-day-time-device.jpg) and I have Hazel re-name all the photos in that format to have a consistent naming convention across all my pix.

I think Apple Photos has an ability to work with/support whatever your folder structure is within Finder, but I believe it does not then let the photos sync with iCloud, which is kind of a show stopper and in my mind, defeats the purpose of using Apple Photos.

Photos are too important, even if Apple and iCloud are rock solid, to 100% put on someone else’s cloud service without having an archive of the actual photo files. I want to have the original photo images available and I want them organized the way I’m comfortable with. I am a firm believer that you need to own and control your own content.

I use Hazel and Dropbox heavily in my workflow to get photo image files from iPhones to my computer. I install Dropbox on my iPhone and turn on its “Camera Uploads” feature. I also install Dropbox on my iMac so my Dropbox folders are there too. In many ways, Dropbox is a ‘pass through’ while Hazel is a life-saver!

From there, the workflow is:

  • Take Photos on iPhone
  • On a regular basis, turn on Dropbox app on iPhone and Camera Upload feature uploads photos to that folder on Dropbox
  • Then, on my iMac, I have Hazel programmed to look for images in that “Dropbox > Camera Uploads” folder on the computer.
  • Hazel finds the photos uploaded to “Dropbox > Camera Uploads” and moves them to my ‘master_photos_files’ directory in Finder.
  • Hazel drops those “new” photos in a folder named for the corresponding year (i.e. 2022 > to_be_filed) and then roughly once a month, I manually go to that ‘to_be_filed’ folder and move the photos into the folder of the event (i.e. “Trip to Washington DC”)
  • I also have Hazel push copies of any new photos/folders in my master photos directory to my external Hard Drive, so that is an ongoing automatic back up of my 20+ years of photos.

Yeah, there is a little manual intervention at the end, but I’ve organized photos by ‘year > event name’ for so long, I could not fathom switching to organizing by month. And whenever I need to find a photo for myself or my wife, we usually remember it by an event vs a specific month. It is also an opportunity to edit/manage/remove useless photos or duplicates.

I loved the way the old Google/Picasa desktop app was flexible enough to work ‘on top’ of your folder structure and would not mess with whatever folder organization approach you use.

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I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no perfect photo organization tool. Perfect being the enemy of good. Pre Mac days I used a file folder system that becam unwieldy then moved them to iPhoto. When I reached limitations on it I switched to Aperture. Kept using it as long as I could then switched to Photos. My sole issue with Photos is the lack of family sharing. We will see how well Ventura implements that.

I’d like something like 1Password’s family sharing of vaults where my wife has her photo library and I have mine but we can see each other’s.


Lightroom cn handle most any folder structure you choose. Pix are still in finder.Lightroom is only the catalog.

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Putting carefully (file)named photos into carefully named folders is great if you want carefully named folders of photos. Apple Photos will ignore all of that. What it won’t ignore is if the meta data you crave is inside the photo files.

Rather than have Hazel rename files and folders (or perhaps in addition), you could install ExifTool (easiest via HomeBrew) and get Hazel to embed keywords to the same specifications. Then when you load into Photos, you will be able to search on that information.

For my DSLR photos I add the keywords in Lightroom CC and, lately if I remember, add GPS coordinates to them. I then manually drag them into albums in Photos (as well as uploading to Flickr). Once they’re in Photos I can easily search for them by keywords or locate them on the map.

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That’s why I have a GPS module on my DSLR and coordinates are embedded as I shoot. That saves hours or work.

That has turned out to be harder than I expected. Lightroom doesn’t like some GPS tracks for some reason and it won’t work sometimes. Third party Mac apps are not great at it either. At this point I sometimes add GPS data but I decided it’s not worth worrying about.

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I’ve only done it a few times, using tracks from GPX Tracker that I run on my phone.

I use the GeoTag Photos 2 app, and that seems to play well with Lightroom. The Nikon app will attach geo locations as well, but the problem is unless I am using an app that actually is actively tracking me, the phone’s location data can be way off. I also use a Garmin watch to track me when I am out and about, but Lightroom doesn’t like something about Garmin’s GPX file. In the end I don’t need the geotag app’s GPX file, but using the app keeps my phone’s GPS active so the other apps get good data.

The problem isn’t really getting the GPX file, that’s the easy part. Getting accurate info that Lightroom will work with is the problem. And then there is Apple Photos which doesn’t have great tools for fixing it.

In the end it’s just a hassle and I am using apps I don’t need just to keep my phone’s GPS active.

Understand. I was just trying it out a few times… would have tried it more if I remembered more often… and just running GPX Tracker got me a fairly accurate looking track and when I gave it to LrC it was perfectly happy with what was in the file and instantly located my photos for me.

I have previously used HoudahGeo which ultimately worked, but I found the workflow odd every time I used it. The only minor oddity with LrC is where you go to load the track. I expected it to be more obvious in the Map module main interface rather than buried in a menu. (Heck, maybe it’s there and I didn’t see it.)

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The “lighting bolt” under the preview screen is…a track.
Bildschirmfoto 2022-06-15 um 11.44.52

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HoudahGeo might be really good at what it does, but I found it extremely confusing, so gave up. LrC wasn’t obvious either the first few times, and I had to look up the button that @Lars circled because I couldn’t remember how to do it.

Then there is Photos, I should be able to just move the pin, but half the time it won’t let me.

I know I’m super-late to this discussion, but I’m digging seeing what people are doing. For me, I think the problem is twofold:

  1. I’ve been taking photos my whole life, which inconveniently spans a length of time where there were no digital photos, and a time where digital photos were still very much in their infancy and finding footing. As a result, many of my photos predate meta data and EXIF information (some historical photos still have people’s names, addresses or events written on the back), and more predate any kind of system like Apple Photos. This leaves a huge pool of photos that are/can be organized in disparate ways based on the technology available when they were created.
  2. In the time I’ve been taking photos, I’ve fallen victim to the same sort of paradox of choice that is often discussed in this forum with regard to task managers or note taking applications. I started with folders and file names, went to Aperture and some renaming/meta data (all of these processes had their own learning curves, some of which I never understood fully), brief forays into Google Photos/Picasa and now finding a home in Apple Photos–somewhere in there everything went online as well. So in all of this shuffle, things acquired all manner of organization philosophy that isn’t always compatible with what comes after.

Also, there’s the need for backups because photos are precious, so where does that go? I need a duplicate Apple photos install so I can fall back on it like they did in Contact with that contraption they built for Jodie Foster. :slight_smile: (for the record, I just let the photos app on my NAS scrape my iPhone’s photo library from time to time to make a copy)

Anyway, all this is to say that I think if I started today, with the technology of today, Apple Photos would be more than enough to keep me sorted. I find though what I’d need is a way to retroactively get all the metadata and EXIF to a place where everything is juggled into place correctly regardless of when it was taken. But that’s a monumental task that I don’t think anyone’s cracked yet. I feel like I keep looking for some kind of holy grail of automated photo discovery. We’re getting there with facial recognition and all the data captured to a given photo with each click, but it’s impossible so far to get it all.

I continue to watch this space for the solution. SOMEone must have it. :slight_smile:

Sorry for the long, mostly unhelpful response… this stuff is interesting to me though.

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I been an avid amateur photographer for about 40 years now, so I have about 100,000 images, not including the thousands of slides I have yet to scan. For me, Photos is just temporary storage for images I’ve taken in the last 12 months or so, particularly now that my primary camera is my iPhone.

Eventually all my pictures get migrated into Adobe Lightroom, which I like for the way it allows you to do file renaming on import, to sort images into file system folders by year and month, and actually write metadata to the image files themselves. A lot of people like Lightroom for its photo-editing abilities, but for me, generally, by the time my images get into Lightroom I’m pretty much done doing anything with them…

…other than eventually reminiscing.

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I have to admit that I think I’ve used Lightroom editing capabilities maybe 2-3 times if ever. I honestly can’t remember a time I used it but I probably tried it at least a bit early on . LightRoom to me is a superb cataloger.

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LR is an outstanding product. I use many other products, but LR is still at the center of my photography workflow. While PhotMechanic is faster, PhotoLab has better noise reduction,… everything ends in LR.
Using it since the first beta, looked at every competitor out there, still with LR.


I actually love Lightroom and when my primary camera wasn’t my iPhone it was the center of my workflow too. I still use it first on occasion when using my drone of my M43 camera, particularly with videos, as Photos sometimes seems to do wonky things with timestamps on videos (from non-iPhones)…haven’t figure that out yet.

By the same token that a lot of people aim for plain text (a strong reason Markdown is gaining popularity) I have gravitated to writing (reasonably) standard metadata into the files. Within some limitations, a keyword/tag or title inserted into an image file can be read by hundreds of different software products, including Photos, (largely) regardless of how it got there. In fact, GPS coordinates are more reliable in the metadata than even keywords because there is a standard that no-one seems to be trying to fiddle with.

I have it. It’s called desire, sometimes known as inclination. Events of recent past have resulted in my having a huge desire to learn about and, where possible, view my history. Much of that involves old photos. Many of those can be researched, or gleaned from memories.

Having already been a BackBlaze customer, I set up some B2 storage which I mostly use for photo archives. I had an incident many years ago, where I managed to lose 3 months worth of photos while transferring between systems. I didn’t discover this until years later! Thankfully I found them on an ad hoc backup I’d forgotten I had, but it lit a fire under me. I now have multi-level backups and also the B2 archive. Because I tend to tinker with old photos (reprocessing them with modern software) I keep finding poor keywords and improving them. This means I do replace photos in my archive, but I never, ever, delete anything from the archive.

Lightroom’s organisational abilities are excellent. It has been soundly beaten as a photo processor, but none of its competitors can hold a candle to its Library module and, if that’s all you need, you can use it with a free Adobe account.

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This is precisely why I use Adobe Bridge. It’s excellent for browsing, tagging, and rating photos without the need to import photos, rename them, or reorganize them in any way. Based on everything you’ve written above, I highly recommend that you have a look at it. It’s free unless you want to store your photos in Adobe’s cloud.