Photo by Ray Potes

A few realizations are happening all at once for me. First, there is a education crisis on this planet. There is a shortage of teachers, they are under paid, they are stressed, they are leaving, etc. Second, to teach something is to know something. Meaning, to really learn something is to be able to explain it in depth. Third, if you are a couple steps ahead of someone, you can offer advice and consultation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be “teaching”.

That paragraph is mostly me sorting out my own trepidations on blogging about photography and publishing. I’m no expert, but people do come to me with questions and I want to be helpful. Thus, we begin a hopefully regular blog series answering questions that I get in DMs and emails.

Today’s topic is about creating systems to support your photography. I wanted to write about submissions, I will next, but it is important to have your files proper before you do anything. This is tactical. This is about what to do with your photos after you are done shooting.

I would say most photographers I know are somewhere on a organizational spectrum where one side is a spaghetti of unlabeled negatives in a shoebox to the other side where each negative is marked and filed into a dewey decimal system detailed database and backed up in multiple clouds.

Let’s start from the end. Let’s say someone wants to buy a photo off you. Let’s say its a 16×20 print. They will have questions, besides the who what where why when how of the shooting, there will be same questions for the processing and the printing. Sounds basic because it is.

Here is the system : shoot a photo, file it, process it when it is called upon for print or publication. Easy.

Here’s how the system breaks (very easy) : shoot a lot of photos, file only some of them, process only some of them, make prints zines and books and can’t remember which photos went where. Months go by, maybe years, and now a pile of unorganized work work is waiting for you and forever growing in multiple directions as you continue to shoot. Most photographers I know have some sort of back log that needs to be untangled.

Even with all the softwares and different organization methods these days, pros will still hire assistants just to help manage this. (As I write this I’m realizing this might be more about self discipline and this just might be a letter to myself lol. )

All this being said, we are artists, not robots. So what if we want to work off vibes instead of hard drives. I get it. But as a publisher, an editor, and a curator, I need resolution and I need participation on your part. (It is shocking when someone will send me lame files and when I ask for better ones, they cant find the negs.)(Origin story of this blog post.)

Here’s my suggested system (I am writing this for film, but it is basically the same for both. You can skip the obvious parts if you shoot digital.)(Also, note that I use the word “process” in 2 ways. Firstly, “process” a roll a film. Secondly, “process” a file in photoshop for print or publication.) :


1. Shoot a roll.
2. Process and proof it.
3. Put both negs and proof sheets into a folder.
4. Label that folder with notes of what’s in it, month, and year.
5. Put that folder into a box or filing cabinet.
6. Label that box or filing cabinet with the year.
7. Repeat for incoming rolls. Keep everything grouped by month and year.


1. Pull a neg from the filing cabinets.
2. Scan at highest resolution possible.
3. Maybe some light editing. Little to none.
4. Save to a folder that is labeled with same month and year as was shot.
5. Return neg to filing cabinet.
6. Repeat for incoming scans. Keep everything saved by month and year.


1. Pull a neg from from filing cabinet.
2. Go in a darkroom and print it.
3. Return neg to filing cabinet.
4. Make printing notes and shooting notes.
5. Place print with notes in a box labeled by month and year of date printed.
6. We can get into this later but I think it’s cool to have shot dates and print dates.


1. Pull up a scan from the scan files.
2. Prepare size and resolution in photoshop.
3. “SAVE AS” a new file. (Do not overwrite original scan.)
4. Place new file into a folder labeled with project name and month and year.
5. Stay organized by month and year.
6. Upload file to lab of your choice.
7. Receive print, make some notes.
8. Place print with notes in a box labeled by month and year of date printed.


1. Pull up a scan from the scan files.
2. Prepare size and resolution in photoshop.
3. “SAVE AS” a new file. (Do not overwrite original scan.)
4. Place new file into a folder labeled with project name and month and year.
5. Upload that new file to where ever or use in your own layouts.
6. Stay organized by month and year.

This is a lot, I know, but there is still probably stuff I missed. Here is a sample of how I am setup (I shoot mostly digital now) – I have an external hard drive with folders labeled by year. Inside each year there are 13 folders. One is labeled “PROJECTS” and the rest are labeled by month. In the monthly folders, you might see nothing, or just a few photos, or a bunch of more folders labeled things like “PHONE” or “SF” or “Oceanside”. I usually label things by location. I dump my cameras weekly, I dump my phone monthly. These files are the original unedited straight out of the camera files or large neg scan files.

In the “PROJECTS” folder, you will see folders labeled with all the projects from that year, could be nothing, could be zines or books I’m working on, commissions, or print files for an exhibition. These files have been edited and cooked up in photoshop, indesign, and whatever else. Obviously, once a photo is prepped at a specific size or resolution for one project, you can use it for another project with the same requirements. I like to save it in both places. Yes, it is eating up space but I don’t mind. You might have a project where you are using super old photos mixed with super new photos. I don’t want to hunt for anything and I want to see what photos I used for what projects regardless if I used them before for something else.

All of this can be tweaked for your style of working. It is when you are decades deep where these systems matter the most. People interested in your work will appreciate the easy access and availability of your library. Also, it’s nice to look back on a particular year and see if it was a productive one or not.

Hope this helps you on your photo journey.

4 responses to “Systems”

  1. b. getty Avatar

    this is the stuff that few love doing/thinking about, but is prob the biggest gift you can give your current and future self as a photo person. wish i’d picked a better process like 15 years ago, but i’ve gotta rescan my entire neg library at some point anyway so will definitely be referencing this post. thx for sharing the wisdom, ray!

  2. RZZ Avatar

    Thank you Brandon! When I write these things I am thinking, “Will anyone care to read this?” Your feedback is encouraging! If I can help at least one person, then it is worth it.

  3. t.souzer Avatar

    Dude I needed this as a reminder to get my photos in order. I have everything cataloged by date on a HD. I keep telling myself I need to group them by subject matter. It’s time! Thanks for the words man.

  4. RZZ Avatar

    Yep! Thanks Tom!