How To Organize Photos in the New Year

How To Organize Photos

So we are off and running in the new year. Hopefully we'll all be taking a lot of great photos this year whether they are of friends, family, or as part of our business. I thought then that it might be helpful to share how I organize photos in case you are looking for a new system this year. While I've been using this method for my production work, it could equally be applied to your home photos. You also don't need to have any management software like Lightroom (although you could if you wanted to edit those photos later).

How I Organize Photos

Everything is stored in the folder structure on my hard drive. As an example, let's take a multi-day shoot happening on January 5th. Here's how the folders break down:









  Note that the folder and filename format is Year-Month-Day. This keeps everything ordered correctly in a list.

As an alternative, you can replace the D2 entry with the setup name or number. So if you have 4 setups in your one-day editorial shoot, you could reference them like:

20150105-S1-0020.CR2 or 20150105-S1GreenWall-0020.CR2

  That way when it comes time for client proofing, all of your images will be ordered by date and setup, making it easy to organize on your proofing site.

This method is great for general organizing of your images, whether client work or family shots. Another reason it rocks is that the images are organized within the filesystem (not within Lightroom or Capture One). You can still use those tools, but you can also access your images directly with Bridge or Photo Mechanic and know where to find your work.

Speaking of Photo Mechanic, if you haven't already, I highly suggest taking a look at that software for browing images. While it's not the most beautiful app out there, it does have something the other apps don't: speed. It uses the embedded JPEG preview in a RAW file to show a thumbnail image, meaning you can quickly cull your images without waiting for a RAW preview to render.

So how does this system hold up for family images? Pretty well:








There's one part missing from this system that you would get with Lightroom: tagging. It's great to have all of your images organized, but sometimes I'd like to search for "all images of my son from January-March of 2014".

I’m just starting to implement a solution for this. What I'd like is to be able to tag an image and have that tagging information stored in the RAW file/associated XMP file. I don't want the tagging details stored in a separate app. Right now this has me leaning towards tagging the images in Adobe Bridge, as it stores those details in a separate ‘sidecar' file (Lightroom does this as well with some additional options turned on). But browsing this information on various machines (especially over a network) is slow (since there’s no database, opening Bridge on a laptop and searching for keywords requires indexing the entire folder structure.) If you have any thoughts on this solution, I'd love to hear them.

Another app you might want to check out is called Hazel. It’s a menu bar item (Mac) that watches a folder, and then does things when items appear in that folder. For example, you could set it up so that whenever photos are placed in a temporary folder (say iPhone shots), Hazel will move them to your master iPhone folder, renaming them as listed above. That’s just one of the things you can do with this amazing little program.


Once all your images are in the right folders, you’ll want to make sure that you have a great backup strategy in place. A strategy you may read about on the web is called “3-2-1 Backups”. This simply means that for any important file you have at least 3 copies, in at least 2 locations, with at least 1 of those being offsite. In my case, I use Backblaze to do immediate backups to the cloud of my image drive. I also do nightly backups via Chronosync to my home drive. I also do periodic backups of everything to a storage locker offsite. Including my office drive, that covers my 3-2-1.

I hope these tips are a good start to helping you organize photos in 2015!

Santa In Carbonite


Announcing our 2014 Christmas card - Santa in Carbonite!

At the end of every year we collect all of the cool card ideas that we thought of during the season. I then create a calendar event for the next November, listing out the ideas we thought of. Last year we came up with a Star Wars Christmas card idea with the boys guarding Santa Claus, frozen in carbonite. Call them Imperial Elves.

Building A Set

To create this image I decided to build a miniature set in my studio. It was about 18 inches tall, and I used mostly balsa wood to build it. For the platform lighting I connected some USB led lights and then gelled them orange.

Star Wars Christmas Card Image 2
Star Wars Christmas Card Image 3

To get the concrete texture, I used a product by Liquitex called Ceramic Stucco. It’s great at producing a gritty, concrete-like texture to a surface. After applying it, I used a combination of Liquitex Basics paints and airbrushing to get the worn effect.

Star Wars Christmas Card Image 4

With all of the texturing and painting done, I tried out a few angles to see what worked best (you can see one angle with the camera below). Ultimately I decided on a front view, as it provided a nice symmetry to everything.

Star Wars Christmas Card Image 5
Star Wars Christmas Card Image 6


For lighting, I looked at stills from the original movie. There were overhead vents that had light spilling through them, raking across the walls, hitting the floor. To accomplish this I created a simple roof with the vents cut out. I placed a 580ex flash overhead with no diffusion, and adjusted the ceiling and light location until I got just the right amount of ‘rake’ across the walls and floor. I placed a flag over the sit to keep the light from the 580 from hitting the rest of the area. I just wanted it to come through the overhead vents. I also had a soft front light to serve as a general fill.

The exposure was long - 3.2 seconds, f/10, ISO 100. This gave me a good balance between the flash light coming in and the glow of the USB lights. Here’s a diagram of the lighting setup.

Star Wars Christmas Card Image 7

Creating Santa

To create our frozen Santa, I found a 3D model online of Han Solo frozen in a block of carbonite. I took that model into Cinema 4D and used its sculpting tools to turn Solo into jolly old St. Nick. I left some of the face details so that it still looked like Han a little bit :)

In Cinema 4D you set up a camera and lights like you do with a real shoot. So, I simply matched everything to how I had lit the set (shot at 35mm). I also added in two glow lights (one at his feet and one to the right side to mimic the light coming from the control panel).

Star Wars Christmas Card Image 8
Star Wars Christmas Card Image 9

'Principal Photography'

Photographing the boys was pretty straightforward. I had a soft light for fill. I also ran an overhead strip to simulate the vent light, as well as an orange-gelled floor light to simulate the glow from the platform behind them.

Star Wars Christmas Card Image 10

Once all the elements were photographed and rendered, I took everything into Photoshop for compositing. I did some touch-ups to the walls and platform grates, and I added some smoke from the top. Here's a shot of how the retouch was coming along before I cropped it:

Star Wars Christmas Card Image 11

And here's the back:

Star Wars Christmas Card Image 12

Would J.J. approve? I hope so!

This was just one of the cards I created this year over at Be sure to head over there this week as voting officially begins this Saturday for the coveted 2014 Refrigerator Award trophy!

Star Wars Christmas Card Image 13
Star Wars Christmas Card Image 14

The Quality of the Story

Too many times we (myself included) love to rush into the technical/production aspect of whatever we are trying to create, when we should really be focusing more on the quality of our story first. It’s a unique problem in ‘still-image’ visual arts (for example, writers don’t have this problem. They are completely focused on story). We love to create ‘the image’. Our mind is filled with color, or lighting, or mood, and often we use the creation of an image as the excuse for a particular technique. Have you ever thought “I just learned how to do x, so I should figure out an image I can use that technique for”. It may be cool and stimulating, but it’s not story-focused. How can we use story to enhance an image?

I’m going to rattle off some ideas for you to think about:

- Changing the angle of your presentation (i.e. camera angle, or the viewpoint of your artwork). - Alternate variations of color/tone in the image. Or one color. Or no color. How does one look impact story over the other? - What/who is the subject? What are they focused on? How would changing their gaze, pose, mood, etc. tell your story better? - Time of day. - Lighting. - Contrast or lack thereof. - Focus/depth-of-field or lack thereof.

storyThese are technical solutions to a narrative problem: how to enhance our story.

Not everyone who likes your story will love your technique. And vice versa. There is a subset of people that will love both.

If you’ve tried variations of the list above and nothing works, your story isn’t strong enough. If multiple options work, pick the one that best-connects the viewer to your story.

People react to the stories of our images more than the techniques. Photographers might tell you your lighting is cool. But more people will connect with the idea that the boy in the photo looks scared and alone.

Don’t show technique. Show story.

A New Site!


I’m super-pumped to announce that a redesigned website is online! I’ve been doing some major renovations around here. Here are some of the details: First up, a new look and feel. That one is obvious. The blog is now part of the site (rather than in a separate directory). This means that I can link between blog posts and portfolio images much easier. You can start from the portfolio image and check out the matching blog post, for example.

Next, a lot of the portfolio images have descriptions/anecdotes of the shoot. I thought it might be nice to tell a little bit of the story of each image, rather than just show you an image and have you figure it out. Currently, all of the images in the Portraits section and some in the Editorial section have this information. Here's an example.

I’ve also got some new fine art products launching in about a month that I am very excited about. This will be a new project for me, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I want to ‘speak’ in this new art form. If you want to be the first to know about the new products, take a moment and sign up for my mailing list.


Thanks for checking out the new site, and for your continued support!

New Christmas Card Site Launches

Some of you may know that every year I create custom Christmas cards for clients over at I sort of 'fell-into' doing this after we created a fun diner card several years ago. So far I've created cards in Austin, Dallas, and a few cities in Oklahoma. After some hard redesign work, I'm excited to share the brand-new website now at! There are now 40 card samples posted. I've included a fun description/anecdote from each of the shoots. There's also a new blog section as well as an online store (where I'll be selling some custom products down the road).

Check out everything, and if you're interested there's a 20% discount to go along with the relaunch that ends on Tuesday, August 19th.

Here are some sample images of my work. Check out more on the site.


Second Star To The Right


How To Shoot The Milky Way

We took a family trip to Sedona, Arizona last month. Of course, you might be thinking "why would you go to Arizona in the middle of the summer?" I thought the same thing. Actually, it wasn't too bad. Yes it was hot in the middle of the day. But it's a dry heat. We spent so much time having fun that the heat didn't really bother us.

There was so much to see there! The big draw is of course the red rocks. They are beautiful and grand in every possible way. The hiking was a ton of fun. You really felt like you accomplished something when you finished one. We also took some day trips to see Flagstaff, Meteor Crater, and more.


Out in Sedona it can get dark. Super dark. So dark that you can see the Milky Way galaxy with your puny little human eyes. With no moon visible during our trip, it was a perfect spot to catch some star shots. Although I was a little rusty on the specifics, a quick text to my friend Ben Sassani got me set up with taking some good photos.

I set up for a 30 second exposure with the lens focused to infinity (there’s a little dial on your lens which marks infinity, so flip the manual focus switch on the lens and then rotate the focus ring until it matches up with the infinity symbol). I set my 16-35 lens to f2.8. The last variable here is ISO, which I bounced around between 1600 and 3200. I also used a tripod, a remote shutter cable and turned on ‘mirror lock up’ on the camera. All of these help keep the camera super-still. 30 seconds was generally a good place to be. If you go much farther, your stars start to turn into star trails. If you shoot for less than 30 seconds, you won’t get a great exposure. I recommend you review each shot and zoom in as far as you can to see if the shot was in focus. I found that infinity focus can be a little fidgety if it’s not set at exactly the right point on the lens.

milky way galaxy image 1

This was a ‘cousins’ trip, and one night we were all sitting in an empty parking lot admiring the stars. My brother-in-law brought a pair of night vision goggles. If you’ve never tried on a pair of these on a dark night, I highly recommend it. You can see every star and even see satellites! They move across the sky at a good speed, and once you know what to look for you will see them everywhere.

I decided to take a shot of the family hanging out, watching stars. I left the camera settings the same and added in the light from my iPhone to light-paint everyone. This meant they had to stand pretty still while I hit them with the light. Since the exposure was 30 seconds, I had enough time to run over an light paint everyone. It made for a great shot. Normally, the light-leak from the city in the background would mess up a shot of the Milky Way, but in this case I like it because it helps define the mountain range in the background.

milky way galaxy image 2

This trip was a great reminder for me plan ahead and bring what I need to get some good shots. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is pack camera equipment for a family trip because it’s hard to make time to shoot when you have family activities going on. This time, I’m glad I did!