It's been a while since I've talked about how to organize photos, so it's time to tackle that subject. Let's start with how to organize digital photos. It is easy to put off organizing photos on a computer because they don't create big piles all over our office, so it's out of sight, out of mind. However, even though it’s less visible, it’s no less frustrating to search for hours for a file or a photo that we need! Besides that, what good are photos if they simply sit on a hard drive and can never be enjoyed?
Before I explain how I organize my digital photos, I want to talk for a minute about taking photographs. I don't know about you, but one of the thoughts that creeps into my mind frequently is, “Why couldn’t I capture that moment in time perfectly?” My daughter's first smile and laugh. Her expression of joy when she sees Daddy walk in the door. All those special moments.I want to remember those times, but am often frustrated that I failed to capture the moment. I get ridiculously snap-happy at a moment’s notice, but when I look at those photos on the computer, I'm often disappointed. If you can relate, I have good news for you! My friends Ryan and Steph at Ultimate Bundles have put together something amazing to help with your photography woes.
It’s called The Ultimate Digital Photography Bundle (Beginner’s Edition), and it contains ebooks and video training guides to help you become a better photographer. Everything is put together by excellent photographers who are experts in teaching others – even complete beginners. You definitely don't need to switch up to a more expensive camera to make full use of the bundle (even if you just use your iPhone for photographs), and you don’t need to neglect your family for weeks upon weeks of training! You can learn everything in little chunks – whenever you have a spare moment. Click here to see the full range of ebooks and training courses included in The Ultimate Photography Bundle (Beginner’s Edition). (It's only available this week, so go ahead and check it out if you're interested.)
True confession: The other reason that I've chosen to start with digital photos is that I have absolutely no wisdom to offer when it comes to organizing physical photos. All of my prints from the pre-digital era are currently in one box in our storage room with no type of order within the box. They're all mixed up. Some have doubles and some don't. Some are 3×5 and some are 4×6. There's a bunch of negatives inside the box but I have no idea what they go with. My goal is to someday tackle that box and get those photos out where they can be enjoyed, but who knows when that will happen.
When it comes to organizing digital photos, I’m certainly not an expert, but I have learned a few things. I do finally have a system that is working for me! I really believe the simpler and more straightforward the better. I’ve tried more advanced, complicated systems, and, trust me, they just fall apart. Here are the steps for getting your digital photos in order.
Step 1: Start from This Point Forward
Don't skip this step! It's a critical part of the no fail system. If your digital photos on your computer are a total mess and you really don’t have a system to organize them, or if your current system isn’t working for you, I do NOT recommend that you start by trying to reorganize all your previous digital photos. That can be a very daunting task that is likely to take quite a while. Also, you’re more likely to put off starting an organizing system if you think you’ll have to start by spending hours and hours reorganizing your older files. I highly suggest you just start TODAY organizing your files with your new system. Any photos you take from this point forward will fit into the new system. Don’t worry so much about prior photos. You might get to them someday, and even if you never do, it will be so much better to have everything from this point forward all organized.
Step 2: The Delete Key is Your Friend!
No matter what system you choose, the delete key will always be your friend. Don’t be afraid to use it. Sometimes we think that because our files aren’t taking up literal physical space that it’s okay to keep everything. It’s still clutter, though. If you keep every digital photo, your hard drive will fill up quickly plus it will be a lot harder to find what you need. If you see a photo that is blurry or unusable, just delete it. If you take 12 shots of the exact same thing, delete 11 of them and only keep your favorite. I don’t overthink this or spend hours deciding what to delete. I’ve formed the habit of always deleting blurry or way too dark photos. That only takes a second. Then if I am choosing certain photos out of a group, I go ahead and delete the ones I didn’t choose.
For example, in this post about organizing my desk drawer, I had 3 pictures of the top view of the inside. Believe it or not, all three of these were different pictures! I applied the same adjustments to them, then cropped, and chose my favorite. I deleted the other two permanently from my computer. I used to feel like I needed to save them all, but that quickly gets out of hand, and it just makes life harder. These three pictures look identical, don’t they? In no way do I need to sift through all three when I want one.
Step 3: Choose a Very Simple File Structure
I know this from personal experience, but a very simple file structure for your photos will likely work long term. I wouldn’t suggest some fancy way of naming, categorizing, and tagging everything. For one thing, if your system takes you 15 minutes every time you import photos, you’re less likely to use it. Also, if you don’t have a straightforward way of naming folders, it can actually be harder to find what you’re looking for.
Here’s what I do. Each time I import photos, I name the folder with today’s date first. I use the format of year-month-day, like 2014-01-31. I highly recommend that you do put the year first so you can easily look at all the folders in chronological order. (If you did something like 01-31-2014, then by the time a lot of years went by you’d end up with all the January’s from every year together, then all the February’s, etc.) I also recommend using leading zero’s in front of the months and days (like 01 instead of 1 for January). This will also ensure everything can easily be sorted in chronological order.
When I want to add more description, I will put a title of the event after the date. That would look like “2014-01-31 Planner Post Pics.” Also, I try to upload photos often, but sometimes I go a month or two without uploading. When I finally get around to it, there might be five or six different events that I’m importing. In that case, I do NOT separate the events. This takes too long, and I know I won’t keep up with it. I just put the date that I’m uploading. When I’m looking through folders I know that the folder could contain anything from the previous dated folder up to that date. In the example below, I know that “2013-11-17 Planners” could actually contain anything from November 3rd through the 17th, and it’s super easy to see that at a glance. Here’s what my files look like:
I find that using the date is the most straightforward method. I usually know the approximate date when things happened and there’s no ambiguity.
Step 4: Use Your Photos
This is one of those do as I say and not as I do moments. Make sure you actually do something with your photos. You didn’t take them just so that they can hang out on your hard drive. Print them, hang them, put them in an album, etc. I would love to share with you my brilliant method of consistently using my photos, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. I majorly stink at this! I’m a complete photo failure! I have the best of intentions of printing photos and putting together a Project Life album, but I never actually do! I’ve even bought supplies for 3 project life albums, but they're headed to the Goodwill pile. I'm hoping the person who gets them will be able to put them to much better use. I liked the idea of putting together physical albums, but it's somewhat time consuming. I realized, that I would much rather have a complete album in whatever form I can get it done rather than just great intentions and a bunch of half completed albums that never make it to the bookshelf to be enjoyed. Therefore, from this point forward I plan to use the Project Life app.
Photo Organizing Software
There is software that can help you do this. I personally use Lightroom these days, but I’m guessing most of you don’t have that program. (If you do have Lightroom and want me to do a tutorial on my Lightroom workflow, let me know.) I have my phone photos auto imported into Lightroom as well.
If you have a Mac, iPhoto does this very well. I really love iPhoto, and if I didn’t have Lightroom, I would consider using nothing but that. It automatically pulls in all your photos, organizes them by date, and splits them into events. You can order prints directly from iPhoto and do minor edits. The major frustration is that it's hard to access the photos.
If you don’t have a Mac, I recommend Picasa for your computer. It’s free, and it does a lot of the organizing work for you! You can edit photos in the program, and it connects to a lot of popular print services online. I used it before I got my Mac.
You can also consider using something like box.com or dropbox.com to keep your photos so you can access them anywhere. I also recommend downloading their app that allows you to access the folders on your computer (windows or Mac) just like any regular folder.
This post contains affiliate or referral links. For more information, you can see my disclosure here.
How do you organize your photos? Do you struggle with actually getting them into albums like I do? What are your favorite programs to use?