Lessons from a Photographer of 15 years

I have been taking myself seriously as a photographer for about 15 years. In that time I've posted about 13,000 photos on the internet, and taken easily ten times that (not counting time lapse videos). I've taken great pains to organize these photos and describe them. I've primarily photographed a region of the country which has largely been overlooked by previous generations of photographers. I specialize taking landscape photos of caves, waterfalls, natural arches, rivers, and named natural features, as well as historic and prehistoric cultural features. I am not trying to be an influencer. I am trying to be respected in my art, and I'm trying to use it as a way to make the world a better place, and if I am very lucky, maybe make enough money doing it to support my hobby.

Here are a few lessons I've learned from this experience which may be useful to people who are just beginning their photography career. Some of this may be overly specific to the tools I use. If you don't use the same tools as I do, consider my discussion of them to be symbolic, and try to find parallels within the tools that you use. If you don't have parallels, consider finding new tools. The functions of the tools I demonstrate are useful and will serve you well.


“Any system is only as good as the metadata that it ingests.” ― Chris Bulock

Metadata is data about data. The EXIF data in your images is a type of metadata. When I describe an image on Flickr there is a title box, a description box, there are comments which other users can add, and there are metatags. I try to describe each image with words I would remember if I needed to search for that particular image.

Here are a few example images, and their associated metatags for your consideration.

Dukes River Cave Nr1 twilight, Jackson County, Tennessee JK24, Dukes River Cave Nr1, cave, twilight, Jackson County, Tennessee, TN, kayak, water, stream, creek, Cumberland River, Cordell Hull Reservoir
Honey Creek Falls, Big South Fork NRRA, Scott County, Tennessee 4 Honey Creek Falls, Honey Creek, river, stream, creek, water, waterfall, falls, Honey Creek trail, BSF, BISO, Big South Fork, National River and Recreation Area, NRRA, Scott County, Tennessee, TN
Complex Narceus americanus, Chlorociboria aeruginascens, Cohutta Wilderness, Murray County, Georgia 2 Cohutta Wilderness, Wildlife Management Area, Murray County, Georgia, GA, Animalia, Arthropoda, Diplopoda, Spirobolida, Spirobolidae, Narceus, N. americanus, American giant millipede, worm millipede, iron worm, Fungi, Ascomycota, Pezizomycotina, Leotiomycetes, Helotiales, Chlorociboriaceae, Chlorociboria, C. aeruginascens, green elfcup, green wood cup
Hashtags, used on Instagram aren't paricularly useful for conveying data. They are a marketing tool. On Instagram, if I use the same metatags as hashtags, it generally will not help others find my things, and it will generally not help me find my own content because their search tool just brings up the most recent or hip things on the platform with that tag. Popularity rises to the top, not usefulness.

On Flickr I can search my own content, I can search my friends content exclusively, I can search all my friends content, I can search the entire platform, or I can search the entire platform for Creative Common images. Sure, there are some downsides to Flickr, like it not being the cool and popular place anymore, how it's hard to identify active communities, and its user interface is unweidly and doesn't work sometimes (refreshing the browner page often fixes this issue). But there is even more to love about Flickr which I touch on in the next section.


“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” – Anonymous.

This section is important enought to break down into two parts: Local Organization and Cloud Organization. Local organization is how you have your data organized on your computer. Ideally this is where you keep your camera raw files. Cloud organization can be a private drive where you have your stuff off-site and backed up, or it can be a public image host like Flickr, Smugmug, Instagram, or Facebook. I should also note that metadata is an important part of organization, but not the only kind of organization that needs to be done when tracking a large data archive.

Local Organization

Folders y'all: use 'em. File Explorer in Windows is my best friend, and I organize my data in folders and subfolders. What follows a snippet of my organization technique on my own local computer.

Folder template
YYYY/MM-DD - [Description of Folder's Photos]

/ - Raw files from cameras.
/docs - Documentation about the trip. Could include scientific papers associated with the subject, magazine, website, books, articles, or other documentation. Could include landowner contact information.
/gps - GPS points and tracks of the trip in .CSV or .GPX format, processed GPS tracks, geotagged camera photos, geotagged drone photos, other relevant GIS data. An an Android user, the software I use is Locus Pro, and GPS Average.
/keep - Finished JPGs and videos.
/photos by others - Subfolders for individuals who have shared photos with my from the same trip.
/recorder - Google Recorder app output of .WAV or .MP3 and a transcribed .TXT file. This is an excellent tool to quickly make notes.
/video- Videos, Premiere Pro files.

Cloud Organization

Like folders and subfolders, Flickr has collections and albums. I use these to organize my data in the exact same way as I do my local data. Instead of YYYY/MM-DD - [Description of Folder's Photos] I use [collection]/[album] where the collection is YYYY and the album is YYYY/MM-DD - [Description of Folder's Photos].

For example, the album 2021/08/08 - Cohutta Wilderness is nested inside a collection called 2021.


“It's hard for young players to see the big picture. They just see three or four years down the road.” – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Why do you take photos? It's important to have a clear vision of why you take photos, and what you want to photograph. Do you want to shoot weddings, events, landscapes, macros, or aerial imagery from a drone? Who is your intended audience? Are you trying to impress your friends, flesh out a newsletter, document history or science, or score some swag from the marketing team of a brand? I recommend writing down your "mission statement" and keeping it handy. If you need to revise or revisit it, it will be there to guide you.

My own mission statement, which you may remember from the first paragraph of this post reads,

    "I specialize taking landscape photos of caves, waterfalls, natural arches, rivers, and named natural features, as well as historic and prehistoric cultural features."

I hope that the above advice is useful to you. Feel free to share with me your own advice in the comments.