PHOTO LIFE | 5 Tips to Get Organized in 2019

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The start of every new year invites reflection and usually results in a list of resolutions. While resolutions to work out and shed those holiday pounds surely top the most popular list, I’m guessing that organization-related resolutions are a close second. As in regular life, being organized in your photo life will help you to reduce stress and avoid problems. That means more time to enjoy what drew us to nature photography in the first place — being out in the field and photographing.

These ideas are inspired by things I do in my own photo life and issues that I see often with my workshop clients. Even if you are well-organized already in your photo life, I think you might find some new ideas or at least helpful reinforcements in this blog post. So, let’s get into it. Here are my Top 5 Tips for getting your photo life organized for 2019!


TIP #1 - PHOTO GEAR STORAGE

This is a two step tip. We all tend to accumulate photo gear throughout the years. So first, take the time to decide whether you need everything you have. If you can’t name a specific use for a piece of gear in the coming year, I would consider selling it. If it’s a low value item, consider giving it away or selling it at a steep discount or on a payment plan to a relative or up and coming photographer friend who is budget-limited. Besides being a cool thing to do, it will help you with the second part of this tip — storing your gear.

Second, then, let’s think about where our gear lives when we’re not out photographing. While photographers in some genres (e.g, travel, press) may have a simple go to kit with which they always travel, nature photographers tend to have lots of different lenses, flashes, brackets, etc. We’ll pick and choose which pieces of equipment to pack for each specific shoot. This is why I recommend using clear plastic boxes and labeled baskets at home to store gear according to category.

I have boxes or labeled baskets for camera bodies, wide angle and macro lenses, longer lenses, flashes, drone gear, camera trapping equipment, rain covers, brackets and clamps, setup equipment such as pruners and zip ties, batteries and chargers, softboxes/diffusers, and filters, among others. Clear plastic boxes are great for more sensitive gear because they can be closed but still let in light which is good for storage in humid environments. If you live in a humid climate like I do, you can put high-quality silica gel packets in each box to help fight humidity (I also have an office dehumidifier for the rainy season). For these camera body and lens plastic storage boxes, I place old camera backpack foam dividers to partition the interior into sections and some soft fabric on the bottom as protection. For less sensitive gear and accessories, the aforementioned labeled baskets are a handy and handsome way to organize frequently used gear.

When packing for a shoot or a trip, I make a checklist of all gear I’m going to want to take and also note into which bag/case it will be packed. Then I simply pull out my boxes and baskets and start to pick and choose what I need. Once I’m sure an item is packed where it’s supposed to be, I check it off my list.

Here are links to boxes and silica gel packs that will do the trick. Note that the silica gel packs are also great to use in your photo cases/backpacks if you’re traveling to a humid destination such as a rain forest or cloud forest.

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Reactivating Silica Gel packs


In this fun home office pano I took a couple of years ago, you can see some of my gear organized at my work table (between the first and second Gregs from the left). In the bottom section are plastic boxes with silica gel packs containing camera, lenses, and filters. On the shelves above in labeled baskets are numerous other photo accessories. Inside the closets on the left are more plastic boxes for office supplies, computer accessories, tripods, light stands, etc.

In this fun home office pano I took a couple of years ago, you can see some of my gear organized at my work table (between the first and second Gregs from the left). In the bottom section are plastic boxes with silica gel packs containing camera, lenses, and filters. On the shelves above in labeled baskets are numerous other photo accessories. Inside the closets on the left are more plastic boxes for office supplies, computer accessories, tripods, light stands, etc.

I have baskets for video, general travel, presentations, knives/tools, flashlights, etc. Again, it makes packing for a given shoot or trip a breeze.

I have baskets for video, general travel, presentations, knives/tools, flashlights, etc. Again, it makes packing for a given shoot or trip a breeze.


TIP #2 - GEAR INSURANCE

Since you’ve been re-evaluating and organizing your photo gear, this is a good time to update your gear register for your equipment insurance. (Pro tip, if you don’t have your photo gear insured, do it now!) The last time you paid your premium you may have forgotten to add new items or to delete anything you don’t have anymore. It’s also a good time to update the value of your gear. Note that you may be able to include computer equipment related to photo editing as well.

Remember, your premium will depend on the total value of your gear. You don’t want to be paying for overvalued or non-existent gear. And of course, you don’t want to leave new gear uncovered. Even though your new premium payment may not come due until later in the year, you’ll be ready when it does, and your company may allow you to submit a modification to cover new gear until your next renewal date.

So, make a Word doc, work up an Excel spreadsheet, crank out a page in OneNote, or use a fancy phone app like My Gear Vault. Whatever your choice, take the time to get this done and then sleep easy knowing that your gear insurance is up to date. And don’t forget to keep a copy of your insurance policy and your current gear list with you at all times, whether in paper form or on your phone. I have mine synced in Dropbox and OneNote so they are always available to me wherever I am, on any of my devices, and even if I don’t have a data connection.


TIP #3 - FIRMWARE/SOFTWARE UPDATES

Most camera bodies and now even many lenses and flashes have USB ports for firmware updates. Check out your gear and see if you are up to date. You may just find that you were behind on bug fixes and even performance or feature improvements.

This is also a great time to update your photo editing software to make sure you are current and have the latest features. If you use plugin software, ensure that you are using the latest version and that your plugins work with your newly updated core software. It’s better to do this now than to have issues when you are deep into an editing project.

If you are an Adobe user and have not moved over to the Creative Cloud subscription model, you really should do so. The Photographer Plan (Photoshop and Lightroom) is a bargain compared to owning one-off software versions, and Adobe is constantly coming out with new updates. Though there was a lot of complaining when Adobe went to the subscription model a few years ago, it works great. And despite misconceptions, you don’t need to be connected to the Internet to use the software, and your photos are not in the cloud. Everything works on your computer just like before. If you are a Lightroom user, you are really missing out on some crucial new organization and post-processing features if you’re not on the Creative Cloud plan.


TIP #4 - PRIORITIZE YOUR PHOTO FILES

One thing I see often with my workshop clients is too many images scattered across multiple drives. Many people seem to save every image they take and store them on offline/external drives mixed with their best images. I suggest a different tack and a three-pronged approach to simplifying your photo life (and it will give you a head start on Tip #5 below too).

First, learn to edit more ruthlessly. You don’t need ten versions of the exact same shot. Maybe you had a great encounter with a cool subject and photographed vertical, horizontal, close, wide, etc. That’s a great idea but you only need the best one (or maybe two) of each composition. Or perhaps you were shooting action and have a great series of a bird in flight. There’s really only one winner in the bunch, that shot with the perfect wing position and head angle. Suck it up and delete those unnecessary duplicates!

Second, even after ruthless editing, you’re going to have some files that are obvious favorites and others that are questionable. The first group will be the photos you’re going to feature on your website, have on hand for articles, show off on Facebook, have available for stock use, include in a book, etc. That is, they are a part of your main portfolio and stock image collection. Leave those aside for now and turn your attention to the questionable group.

I have a separate Lightroom catalog that I call Purgatory, and that’s where those questionable files will live for all eternity. Should I delete them? Probably, but what if I needed a certain picture someday, even if it’s not a great shot? I send these files over to my Purgatory catalog. Both the image files and the Purgatory catalog reside on an external hard drive (plus backup drives). Out of sight, out of mind. They’re there if I ever need them but they’re not taking up space on my main internal hard drives or cluttering my main image catalog. Every time I cull images from a shoot, a number of shots will be cast out to Purgatory. Yes, so obviously a case of #oldtestamentjustice :-)

Third, now turn back to your best/stock/working photos. Those are the files that you want to have available quickly and without having to plug in an external drive (or even worse, a dongle!) to access them. Move those files to the main hard drive on your computer. That’s where they and your newest greatest shots will now live (of course you will have external backups for security, see bonus tip below).

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TIP #5 - ORGANIZE YOUR FOLDER STRUCTURE

Ok, now that you’ve separated the wheat from the chaff and have your non-necessary photos (your Purgatory files) on an external drive and your best/main files on your computer’s hard drive, it’s time to think about folder structure. The Purgatory files are offline and unimportant for this section; dump those questionable files in there and forget about them as you’re not going to be accessing them frequently. Let’s focus here on those best/main image files on your computer’s hard drive.

In terms of organizing your photos, you should be able to quickly find any photo you need within your main image collection. Catalog programs such as Lightroom can help as they offer search/filter by keywords or metadata. But I think that an organized folder structure is a cornerstone of efficient image management.

Think of your closet. You can buy a closet organizer (e.g., Lightroom) but if you simply dump all of your clothes in there, the shelves and drawers aren’t going to help. You should know exactly which drawer contains your favorite pair of socks, your cool jeans, and even those fancy dress shoes you’ll only wear to some cousin’s upcoming wedding. The drawers or sections are you folders. There is no specific recipe for a folder structure; the important thing is that it to makes sense to you.

Nonetheless, there are some common guidelines that will help. Every successful folder organization structure should consist of a main or top level folder (say, Photos) followed by sub-folders (i.e., Costa Rica, Ecuador, etc.), followed by nested folders inside the sub-folders (for example, Costa Rica\Frogs, Ecuador\Frogs, etc.).

The specific names and folders are up to you. The keys are that you need to know where that top level folder is and, importantly, that this main folder (with all of its subfolders and nested folders) is on your desktop computer’s hard drive. When you need to find a photo for a magazine article, to post on Facebook, or to prepare for a print, you’ll be ready to go without trying to remember which external hard drive that file is on. Every time you go through new images from your shoot your goal is to get the best shots over into the appropriate sub-folders on your computer’s hard drive.

Remember, Lightroom (or whichever image management/editing software you use) will only be as organized as you are!

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BONUS TIP - CLOUD BACKUP

Now that you’ve pared down and organized your image files and have them always ready on your computer’s hard drive, it’s time to ensure that you have a good backup system. Backing up to multiple external hard drives is a great start. I keep two in my office and one upstairs and also keep another backup drive in my safety deposit box at my local bank.

But the cloud now offers yet another layer of security and convenience. I pay $10/month for a 1 TB Dropbox plan, and I sync all of my main/best photo files (along with work and business files) with Dropbox. This gives me a second offsite backup but also gives me the ability to make sure that I always have my current files ready for me whether I’m working on my desktop computer at home or my laptop computer when I’m on the road. Note that I don’t need to be online; Dropbox simply ensures that my locally stored files on the hard drive of my desktop and laptop computers are synced up.

Yes, it will take a while to upload those files to Dropbox at first (all of my work and image files take up about 300 GB worth of space) but if you let it chug away, it’s doable. I did it at home a few years ago in rural Costa Rica on my blazing 6 MB/s Internet connection :-) You’ll likely have much faster Internet than me so it shouldn’t be that painful. Of course, it’s the initial upload that’s the worst. After that, you’re only uploading small batches of new image files at a time.

I should note that I am a heavy Lightroom user. In fact, I use Lightroom for 95% of my image editing needs, only going to Photoshop on occasion for processing. In fact, I use Photoshop mostly for graphic design purposes. What that means is that my RAW files are my master image files. Rather than having 12 layers in Photoshop and a 1 GB master .psd or .tif file for each given image, I have a 60 MB RAW file as my master image. I don’t work this way because I use Dropbox, but ruthless editing and smaller master files do make cloud backup a more appetizing option.

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Do you have any tips for organizing? Be sure to share them via a comment below!

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