How you organize your photos on the computer is not necessarily contingent on where the files are stored. Many packages also offer another way to organize how you view your photos. My many mistresses project, has shown me it is this second. more virtual view, rather than the actual folder location, that brings real power to how you interact with your collections on your computer or on-line.
The idea is to have a second method of organising just the photos you wish to see in a given [computer] "album". This album is much like an old fashion photo album with those peel back or transparent sleaves. You can easily rearranges the contents but at any given time it will have a fixed content that anyone can look through. Picasa and Photoshop elements use the term album, Lightroom uses collections and Flickr calls them photosets but they are essentially the same type of always editable collections of the photos you wish to show as a group. The albums don’t actually exist as folders on your computer disk, and they will probably contain photos spread across many actual folders of photos on your computers, or the net. Importantly deleting a photo from an album doesn’t delete the original from its folder on your computer. Without doubt they are the best way to group and organize your photo collections. It is also a great way to always have only "the good ones" to show guests, or groom you portfolios.
The Big Downside to using Collections & Albums as an organization tool is that they are not easily exchanged between different software or even computers and other logical collections of images. The following mind map tries to document the many paths (and processes) that I have learnt to follow trying to preserve the integrity of my albums (which are shown as the shaded wavy/bubble edged groupings)
Without doubt the best tool for me has been picasa. its albums are easy to setup and maintain, with the big bonus that if I move or copy the directories containing the original files (such as backing up and archiving them) then the flagging of those photos from specific albums travels with the photos inside the picasa.ini file. So that when you look at those photos on the new machine using picasa that will automatically create the same albums. Also you can easily choose to upload the whole album of just selected photos from it to google+ and the album name and attributes are also created as well as a link to indicate the file has been uploaded. My album names and content tend to be quiet ad hoc, depending mainly on what I am photographing at the time. I also generally tag the data with suitable keywords that identify the album contents. Whilst on the initial machine I upload to (typically my laptop) I do load and display both the raw and jpeg files, I have recently stopped including the raw files in my picasa albums (ie they are becoming exclusively just the jpegs) but I do tag both the jpeg and matching raw files with the same keyword tags. This ability to quickly organize the photos as well as the speed of importing are the prime reasons I prefer to load everything into picasa first.
I have recently gone over pretty exclusively to using dropbox to upload my phone images, because it does it so seamlessly. Dropbox also has an album feature which is useful both to organise and share these phone photos, without having to first upload them to any computer. Since I also have the chrome drop box sync app running, if I just put the drop box folder in my picasa watch list the drop box organization also automatically appears in picasa. Albums are also a great way to control how you share your drop box photos.
Lightroom has proven more fussy and lives up to her precious and self-centred reputation. Collections are essentially the same but lightroom must control all aspects of the collection, and I haven’t yet found a way to let lightroom “share” this organization with other software including photoshop express! However lightroom does offer the most elegant tools to manage and use collections. it has a two tiered structure, so you can have collections within collection sets, which gives you a useful subsetting capability at the collection level. they one down side with collections is I haven’t found a simple keyboard shortcut to add the current photo to these collections (i’ll talk about quick collections, which do have a keyboard shortcut, a little further down). So you have to drag and drop photos from the library grid view or the film strip into the collections, which i find disturbs the selection process a little. You also have the very useful smart collections feature, which has a couple of basic categories such as recently modified, without keywords, video files etc but the real power is you can set up your own smart collections based on any filterable selection you like, by keyword, location,camera exif metadata like ISO or Focal length and elaborate combination of any of these. the beauty of smart collections are they are built automatically. The quick collections are useful, because you can use the B key as a keyboard short cut to add the current image into a quick collection. Quick collections are an grouping that only last for the current lightroom session and that organization is lost next time you start lightroom. So when using quick collections it is important to select the whole new collection (keyboard shortcut is <CTRL> B) then drag and drop this into the appropriate collection, or create an new collection and tick the include the selected photos option. I have found that quick collection often pick up some stray images, not sure why (<CTRL> <SHI+FT> B clears the quick collection). You can also export collections, as a lightroom catalogue for transferring to other computers (or backup/archiving).
Lightroom’s publishing services, are a great way to “share” collections directly from lightroom but again they rely on a more manual selection and setup. Once selected however its just a case of pressing the publish button and everything else happens according to the options you have set up in the service. I am finding the flickr service works well and I can publish straight into photosets set up in lightroom.
My final observation is that it is very good practise to add appropriate keyword coding into your metadata, because then you can easily use a filter in a different package to reselect your grouping and recreated your album/collection. Typically I will be using keywording created in picasa as I review my new photos to help the grouping in lightroom but the reverse also it very useful for taking a reorganization in lightroom back into picasa.