John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

Categorizing Images

organizing photos types of photos

If you take enough shots, sooner or later you’ll have to start organizing them. The question then is: what’s the best way to do it?

Everyone organizes their photos differently

Of course, there isn’t any one or simple answer. Whether they are pro, novice, commercial, or artistic photographers, no two people will organize their collection the same way.  Most people will employ at least some of the more universally accepted ways to group images: by date, event, person, or subject. They might use some of the traditional categories in photography: people and portraits; nature, landscapes, and flowers; travel, place and architecture; documentary and photojournalism; animals; still life; macros and abstracts… But no two people will use the exact same groupings, and the more specific arrangements within these very general categories will vary widely from person to person.

People will also differ significantly in their desire and the extent to which they organize their images. Meticulous photographers might create a very complex archive with all sorts of hierarchies and subgroups. Compulsive souls might even drive themselves crazy trying to construct the most efficient, comprehensive, or "perfect" system. At the other extreme, free-wheeling people might barely organize their images at all, which may feel perfectly OK to them, although they might have a hard time finding things.

Many ways to slice a pie

As in all classification systems or “taxonomies,” the more things you have, the more categories you’ll probably need. The process can get quite complex. There are many ways to slice a pie. The categories you start off with may not work well later on.  And the way you organize images for your own personal archive may be different than the collections you create for showing your images to others, as in online photo-sharing. The former usually revolves around the necessity to keep images organized so you can find them. The latter is more about how you want to present your vision of your photography to others.

Your system says something about you

In either case, though, your taxonomy can reveal a lot about your work. What types of shots do you specialize in? Why types do you tend to ignore, or maybe even avoid? If you compare your classification system to those of others, you’ll quickly notice the differences. Your taxonomy reveals how you think, how you like to remember things, your personality style and life. What kind of a person focuses on travel, people, or texture shots? What kind of a person dislikes those types of images? What does it mean if you are broadening or narrowing down the range of images you create?

The world is a very intricate place. Although we find it reassuring and useful to organize all that complexity into categories, everything out there rarely fits into our neat little boxes. Things often fall into the cracks between the boxes. We are forced to create catch-all categories.  Despite our best efforts, we eventually realize that everything slides along a complex network of overlapping continuums. When it comes right down to it, our system for ordering the shots we take of this intricate world say more about us than about some objective truth about the world.

Some would even claim that creativity is all about stepping out of those boxes that restrict the way we think about photography and the world we try to “capture” with it.


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Here are some other articles in Photographic Psychology that are related to this topic:

Creating Titles for Images
Visual Riffs
Finding Your Online Niche

Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche