I've cycled through lots of photo apps and found little more than bloated software with features I didn't need. They filled up my hard drive, used excessive CPU cycles and didn't deliver the promise of organising my photos with ease. Rather than continue on a pointless path, I took a step back, organised my photos with Dropbox, and solved all my problems. All I wanted was quick access to my photo collection and an easy way to get it on the internet to share with others. The simplest option turned out best: I came up with an organisation scheme, stuck it in Dropbox, and used third-party tools to automatically handle more complex operations, such as photo resizing. It requires hardly any work to set up. You can free yourself of photo management software in just three steps.
Step 1: Create a Folder Organisation Scheme
When you create a folder organisation structure, you can end up with a giant mess if you don't name everything appropriately. People turn to photo management because it helps organise the mess, but a few simple additions to folder names can do the same thing. You only have to decide how you want to organise everything and then put it into effect.
Let's take a look at my structure:
Event-based albums get a folder name that starts with the date. If I took a bunch of Australia Day photos, I'd name it 2013-01-26 Australia Day. By using the YEAR-MONTH-DAY structure, I can sort the folders by name and the albums will appear in chronological order. If I want to go to a specific date, I just have to open my main photos folder and start typing it.
Other types of albums start with tags. For example, I used to do a lot of film set photography and so all those albums start with FILM. For albums of just people, I start those folder names with the PEOPLE "tag". When I want to access any of those folders quickly, I can just start typing the tag name and I'll end up in the section of albums I want.
When an album requires a sub-album, I just create a folder inside of it — a much easier way to solve the problem than what you get with existing photo software.
I rarely have albums that overlap, but creating an alias (or symbolic link) to an album folder and sticking it inside another solves the problem.
My album folder structure only follows a couple of primary rules, and the whole thing sorts itself without any confusion. As for the names of the files, I take a very simple approach. I keep the original file name (DSC000045.jpg) and append a title for the photo (DSC000045 Erica Eats a Cantaloupe.jpg). By leaving this filename, the photos stay in the order they were taken and I can give two or more images the same name. This helps sometimes when you have a couple of photos of different groups, for example, and you don't want to get too detailed with the names. That said, a descriptive name helps when performing a search, so make sure you give your images titles that will help you find them in the future.
Step 2: Sync with Dropbox
Dropbox makes for a great place to sync your newly organised photo collection for a few reasons. First, it provides automatic backups by putting your images in the cloud and on any other computer linked to your Dropbox account. Second, you can access your photos from pretty much any mobile device through the Dropbox app. (It actually serves as a good photo viewer, and you can star any photo you want to save on your phone or tablet.) Third, you can easily share a photo album with a right click. Just follow these simple steps to make it happen:
If you don't have a Dropbox account already, sign up for one. My photo collection amounts to about 40GB, so I need to pay for an account (starts at $US100 per year), but you might just manage with all the free space you can get (up to 16GB).
Stick all your albums in the Photos section of your Dropbox and let it sync.
Right-click any album folder you want to share and choose "Share Dropbox Link".
Paste that link into your web browser to check out your new shared photo album and email it to anyone you want.
You can even get a link before everything finishes syncing if you want. If you ever need to add new photos, just drop them in the album folder and the share link you acquired will update automatically. If you want to upload to other sites, you can use their official uploaders or automate the process with services like IFTTT and Wappwolf.
Step 3: Only Edit Your Photos When Necessary
Photo management apps allow you to edit your pictures, but you definitely don't get the same benefits from folders. If you need to make adjustments, however, you only need to turn to your favourite image editor.
While I use Photoshop, you may want something on the cheaper side. In that case, check out Pixelmator for Mac or the GIMP for everything else. As we've previously noted, you can perform many common Photoshop edits without Photoshop. If you feel the need to heavily edit your images, you might not enjoy a folder structure like this one. For those who only edit on occasion, a casual graphics editor, like the aforementioned options, will do the trick when needed.
If you just want to resize your images, previously mentioned Wappwolf can handle that operation automatically. You just need to tell it to watch any folders in your Dropbox Photos folder and resize those images to a resolution of your choosing whenever it finds them. While this requires a bit of data throughput to make the magic happen, you don't have to waste any time doing it yourself. Furthermore, Wappwolf can add a number of photo effects and automatically kill any EXIF data should you want to destroy it. Basically, you can set up your Dropbox to handle a variety of tasks for you, so you don't even have to bother editing your photos at all. You can even opt to save edited copies alongside the originals if you would like. If you need help setting it up, check out our guide.
Less Is More
I love snapping photos but I hate dealing with them after they come out of the camera. Edits take a really long time and almost nobody enjoys organising a bunch of files. My method works great for me, because I don't like a complicated setup. That said, this folder-based Dropbox-syncing method won't work for everyone. Beginner apps like iPhoto work great for people who need a simplified interface and professional apps like Lightroom make for a good, focused Photoshop alternative. For those of us who prefer a simple system and just want fast access to our images, however, syncing and organising in folders does the trick.