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Organizing Your Digital Media: 1. Getting Started

How to organize and work with digital media files (images, videos, audios) on your Windows or Macintosh computer

Created by Health Science Librarians


This guide discusses how to effectively organize digital media files on your computer (Macintosh or Windows). Media files can include images, videos, websites, presentations, or print media such as posters. This guide primarily discusses images, which are the most ubiquitous type of media file, but the concepts apply to other kinds of media.  

This guide includes these sections:

1. Getting started (this section) – Guide overview, organizing digital media process overview, acquiring media assets, references.

2. Working with folders and files – core skills, including viewing, organizing, searching, sorting, moving, and naming folders and files.

3. Managing digital media – concepts of media file and folder management, including browsing, cataloging, and metadata. 

4. Working with catalogs – techniques for working with catalogs (databases) using Adobe Lightroom for examples. These include topics such importing, moving files and folders, metadata, keywords and ratings 

5. Exporting, backing up, and archiving – important issues related to backing up and archiving, both of which are essential to your long-term success in managing media on a computer.  

Feel free to go directly to whatever content is most relevant to you. If you don't use catalog software, you could skip section 4, but it may help you decide if you want to use cataloging software in the future.

NOTE: This guide does not address organizing media repositories for an organization. The information here is very relevant to larger-scale digital asset management, but that larger topic is beyond the bounds of this guide. 

Organizing Media: Process

Organizing digital media: process overview

The following diagram is an overview of media file management on a computer. It shows a sequence of topics which roughly corresponds to workflow, but in reality there is a lot of back and forth between steps.  

Numbers in parentheses refer to the section(s) in which the topic is primarily addressed.


Input Process Output

The above flowchart doesn't include topics for editing media files (e.g. cropping, color correction, etc.), because these topics aren't covered in this guide. For information on editing images, see our Introduction to Photoshop guide. See the Instructional Media blog at for posts about audio and video, and as well as links to good sources of information on these topics. 


Acquiring Digital Media Assets

Acquiring digital media assets

Capturing and Creating

In digital media parlance, the term "assets" is used to refer to media data files, including images, audios, videos, and illustrations. When starting a new digital media project, the first step is to create or capture media assets.  These assets can then be combined in various way to create something new. 

Media assets can be acquired in several ways, but in general, you will either create a new asset (take a photo, record an audio, shoot video footage) or reuse as asset that either you or someone else previously created. For example, images could be acquired by taking photos, then copying the image files from your digital camera's media card to your computer. Or you could acquire images  by downloading them from the internet, by scanning, or by copying them from another project. 

This guide focuses primarily on organizing media assets. It doesn't describe the process of creating, acquiring, or editing digital assets in any detail. For our purposes, it is enough to know that in order to organize your media assets, you need to acquire them and have access to them, preferably in one place (usually, on the same hard drive).  Once you have your media assets together, you can start to organize and work with them.


Once you have media files on your computer you can browse and work with them in many ways, as described in section 2 of this guide.

if you are using a kind of software refered to as cataloging software, you will probably also need to import files, which is a step required for some software (such as Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture, and video editing programs). Other software, including operating systems and Adobe Bridge, do not require this step. 

For More Information...

For more information . . .

Other HSL Guides relevant to the topic of this guide include:

Designing Effective Posters

Introduction to Photoshop 

Getting Started with Macintosh

See also the Instructional Media blog at

The following resources were used in preparing this guide and are highly recommended. 

Bampton, Victoria. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5: The Missing FAQ, Lightroom Queen Publishing, 2014. 

Evening, Martin. The Adobe  Photoshop Lightroom 4 Book. Adobe Press, 2012. 

Hagen, Mike. Thousands of Images, Now What? John Wiley & Sons, 2012. 

Kost, Julieanne. The Complete Picture (video screencasts).

Krogh, Peter. The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers, 2nd Ed., O’Reilly, 2009.