The Best Way To Organize Travel Photos

The Best Way to Organize Travel Photos

Have you ever found yourself wishing you knew how to take better travel photos? Do you enjoy travel photography but you want to “up your game” a bit? Well, then…we have the advice you need! This post is the first in a four-week series loaded with our top travel photography tips for beginners. We’re starting this series with our best travel photography equipment tips.

Top Travel Photography Tips for Beginners – The Series

The Best Way To Organize Travel PhotosOur four part series covers the essential tips you, as a beginning travel photographer, will need from the time you’re planning your trip until you’re back home and sharing your images. The series will be organized into four parts:

The Best Way to Organize Travel Photos

If you followed my previous posts…and if you like to shoot as much as I do…you probably came back with a ton of photos. It may seem like an overwhelming task to make sense out of all those photos, but through a lot of trial and error I’ve discovered what I believe is the best way to organize travel photos. Here are my five top tips for the process:

1. Copy and Back Up

If you didn’t do so on your trip, copy your photos from your memory cards to a computer or an external hard drive upon returning from your trip. I use a series of folders to arrange my photos by year, then month, then day. As you can see from the photo below, I use a brief description of the day’s shoot in order to remind me what the subject was.

Once you’ve copied and organized your photos into folders, back up those photos to a different destination. You could use a cloud-based storage solution like Google, or a thumb drive, or another external hard drive. The reason you want to do this is in case the first device fails. If you have all your eggs in the same basket, you run the risk of losing your photos. But if you copy them somewhere else, they’re a lot safer.

I recommend waiting to reformat your memory cards until you’ve made a primary and a secondary backup of your photos. That way, you’ll know everything is safe.

2. Import and Tag

After copying your photos to your computer or hard drive, you can now import them into a cataloging and tagging program like Adobe Lightroom. It’s a very affordable way to organize your photos into logical groups called “collections” – maybe a collection of flowers, one of animals, etc. You can also add tags to your photos, which allows you to recall photos by the type of camera you used, or the location of the shoot, etc. Lightroom also allows you to do editing of your photos, which we’ll cover later in the post.

If you aren’t as concerned about editing your photos, I’d still recommend using a cataloging and tagging program for your photos. There are several different free or low-cost options available:

  • Adobe Bridge is the cataloging and tagging portion of Lightroom and is very powerful in its own right. You can import your photos into either program, rename them, and apply tags as needed. Bridge runs on Mac and Windows machines.
  • Apple’s Photos app is free for Mac, iPhone and iPad users. You can tag your photos, organize them into albums, place them on a map (to see photos from a given location), and do light editing. Photos can also be shared among your MacOS/iOS devices if you’re using iCloud. Photos is for MacOS and iOS users only.
  • Skylum Software’s Luminar is a newer entrant into this field, but is really challenging Lightroom’s dominance. It’s a full-blown cataloging, tagging and editing package. Its AI editing tools and pre-made “looks” allow you to quickly and easily modify your photos to give them a consistent look and feel.

When I import my photos, I also rename the files. I use the same naming scheme I use for the folders in which the files go (that is, “MM-DD-YY subject of shoot”). A unique sequence number gets added after each file, so my photos all have the same name and are numbered in sequential order. This makes it easier to identify photo files even if you’re not in your catalog management program.

I try to not use too many tags on my photos, and after a few years of experimenting I’ve found a scheme that works for me. These are the categories of tags I use. Each of the bullets/sub-bullets are individual tags.

  • Location:
    • City in which the shoot was done (or the closest city)
    • State or province
    • Country
  • Equipment:
    • Camera manufacturer
    • Camera model
    • Lens
  • Subject: flowers, nature, landscapes, history, etc.
  • Year

I don’t do a lot of people photography so I generally don’t include the names of subjects, although you certainly could if that was important.

The Best Way To Organize Travel Photos
A screen shot from a recent photo shoot, showing my tagging scheme


3. Reject and Rate

Now you can turn your attention to culling out the bad photos and picking your best ones.

Not all of my photos turn out great. There are out of focus shots, shots that are way too light or too dark, etc., etc. In most cases I mark these as rejects and then delete them from my catalog. I do this for two reasons: first, it removes the distraction of trying (and failing!) to save a bad photo with over editing; second, it frees up storage space on my external hard drive where my photos are stored.

After getting rid of the duds, I scan through all the remaining photos. I tend to use a three-tier rating system for my photos:

  • “Ugh.” These are the photos that aren’t clunkers, but just aren’t very good. The subject might be partially out of the frame, or there might be a distracting element, etc. These are ones that I might use as part of a more creative or abstract edit, but they’re not good enough to stand on their own. This is probably 60%-70% of the photos I shoot – this average has stayed remarkably consistent over the years.
  • “Meh.” These photos are OK from a technical perspective, they just don’t grab me. They’re in focus, have good lighting and an interesting subject, but it just doesn’t provoke an emotional response in me. This is probably 20%-30% of the photos I shoot.
  • “Wow!” These are the ones I fall in love with. They’ve got good colors (or good contrast if it’s something I want to turn into black and white), an interesting subject, and they’re composed well. But there’s some other element to these photos – something magical that captures me on an emotional level. This is 10% or less of the photos I shoot, and the ones that I’ll plan on publishing.

After I do a rating session, I typically go back to the photos after a week or so. I want to make sure that the “wow!” photos still grab me. I often end up lowering the rating for maybe 20%-30% of the photos in this category, so I’m left with a smaller subset.

4. Edit and Crop

The Best Way To Organize Travel PhotosEditing and cropping can help you make strong images stronger and more impactful.

Editing can be as simple as tweaking the colors or the brightness of a photo, or can be hours and hours worth of work. It’s all about what the photo needs and your skill set and level of tolerance for editing. There are several good guides on how to edit your travel photos – and if you’re using Luminar for your cataloging and editing, there are simple and easy presets that will make your photos beautiful.

Cropping is just focusing in on a certain area of your image and removing the extraneous stuff. This can strengthen an image by allowing you to focus the viewer’s eye into a specific feature of the animal, landscape or plant you’ve photographed.

Editing and cropping are complex subjects in their own right and are outside the scope of this post…but the takeaway here is that it should be the last thing you do to a photo before you get ready to show it to the rest of the world.

5. Publish and Promote

The Best Way To Organize Travel PhotosNow that you’ve picked your best photos and edited them to suit your tastes, it’s time to let the world see. There are several options for publishing your photos online:

  • Photo communities like Flickr, 500px or Instagram are great for sharing your photos and getting views, likes and comments from other users.
  • Consider creating a Facebook page to publish your images and to share with friends and with others who may find you on the platform.
  • If you have technical skill, you could also set up your own website with a photo gallery (like I did over at

Publishing fewer images rather than more is always a good idea. Your audience might love seeing a photo of a lion you saw in Africa, but if you have 10 or 12 images of the same lion…well, it can get a little boring.

If you’re on a photo community like Flickr, 500px or Instagram remember that engagement is the name of the game. Don’t expect that you’ll publish a ton of photos and have an instant audience. Everyone is looking for comments and likes on their photo. The more you engage with others’ photos, the more they’ll engage with yours.

Final Thoughts

There’s lots more to say about all the topics in this post – and, indeed, more to say about all the topics in this four-part series on travel photography tips. I hope you’ve learned something from the posts and that it’s helped you improve your photography!

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