It's amazing how fast a library of digital images can grow. What starts out as a few dozen shots here and a few dozen there suddenly becomes hundreds--and then thousands of images. It's as if they're breeding on their own while you're sleeping. Not only can all of these images clog up your hard drive(s), but just keeping track of where they are can become a logistical nightmare unless you keep a tight grip on organization.
It's essential that you find some means of knowing where your digital images are and that you set up a method of finding them quickly. I've tried several organizational programs (I used to love iPhoto but recent versions are just not reliable and create more problems than they solve) and I've developed a very simple two-step method.
The first thing I do when I download a new set of images from the camera is to put them into a folder that describes the primary subject and date. For the photo here, for example, I created a folder called "Paris, September 2008." Because I use Photoshop and an excellent stand-along Adobe program called the Bridge, all of these folders are alphabetically organized within the Bridge. To find Paris I simply scroll down through the folders alphabetically. Very simple. Because the Bridge and Photoshop are integrated, all I have to do is double-click on the image and it opens in Photoshop.
But within any given folder, of course, there may be several different topics. The "Paris, September 2008" folder might contain images of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Paris Cafes, etc. So as I download images I also use the Bridge to apply keywords to each image (you can do batch keyworking which makes it very fast). So if I'm in the a Pais folder I can then click on "Notre Dame" and only the images of Notre Dame will show up. If I want to see Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, I can search on both keywords at once.
There are a lot of free and inexpensive organizational programs available and it really doesn't matter which one you use if it seems logical to you and if it lets you navigate your files efficiently. The important thing is to create a system early and stick with it. I now have upwards of 60,000 images in my library and as good as my memory usually is, if I didn't organize my files by both folder and keyword, I'd spend half my life looking for images. And nothing is worse than having a client on the phone that wants to buy an image "today" and then having to spend hours looking for it.