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10 Tips to Keep Your Digital Photos Organized

by on July 14, 2014
in Cameras and Photography, Photo / Video Sharing, Tips & How-Tos, Tech 101, Time Savers :: 17 comments

Over the years, your photo collection will swell to the tens of thousands, you’ll migrate from one computer to another, you’ll go through several different cameras and industry formats will change.

Fortunately, organizing your digital photos has become easier and easier, thanks to new automation tools. But you still need to pitch in.

Follow these tips to keep track of your memories through all the changes.

1) Set your camera to the correct date and time

This simple step will permanently tag every photo with the correct date, allowing you to search and sort chronologically for all posterity. And if you often import other people’s photos to your own library, make sure their cameras are set correctly too!

2) Delete the junkers as soon as you take them

Fight the instinct that says every photo is precious, because in reality, bad photos are just clutter,making it harder to find the good ones. Delete them from the camera. Over your lifetime, you will thank yourself for keeping the collection manageable. 

3) Know where your photos go

Put all your pictures in the same folder, such as your PC’s existing “Pictures” folder. One universal folder means that photos will be easy to back up and move to a new PC for years to come. Override any attempts by your camera’s software to store them in a proprietary folder on your drive. 

4) Use a sub-foldering system

Within your “Pictures” folder, organize your photos into sub-folders that will make sense over the long-term. A common method is by year – 2010, 2011, etc., and inside those, more sub-folders by month, topic (Little League), and event (vacation). Or, rely on tags instead for organizing by that sub-level of detail, as explained below.

5) Backup your photos

Make sure your photos are stored in at least two locations, such as your own PC and an external drive. External drives are relatively inexpensive now. For added safety in case of fire or theft, also store photos at a reputable online photo site, such as Shutterfly, SmugMug, or Flickr, or a online backup service, such as Dropbox or Carbonite.

6) Give star-ratings to your best photos

Each time you import photos from your camera, give star ratings to the best photos in each batch. Most image management packages use a 5-star system. These let you quickly find your best photos in the future.

7) Use image management software to tag and find photos

Excellent image management software is downloadable for free, such as Google’s Picasa (works with Windows 7 or Windows 8 in Desktop) or Microsoft’s Windows Live Photo Gallery, and Apple’s iPhoto comes pre-installed on Macs. These help you navigate your collection easily. You can further hone your searching with “tags”, keywords you apply in the software to photos, such as “Summer Vacation”. Most tags will stay with the image and remain searchable, regardless of which brand of software you're using, thanks to emerging industry standards. Image management software is your gateway to helpful tools like face recognition, geo-tagging and more.

8) Make use of People tags

Picasa face recognitionFacial recognition is a breakthrough technology included free with the image management software mentioned. It uses advanced intelligence to find faces in photos and guess who the people are—an incredible time saver. No need to manually tag every person in all your photos and searching your archive to find someone’s photo is now a snap.

9) Print an annual photo book

Shutterfly photo booksSearch on your star ratings to instantly call up your best shots of the year, and choose a service such as Blurb, Shutterfly,  or Snapfish to print them in an annual photo book. Regardless of what happens to digital standards over the decades, the printed photo book will always be viewable by anyone, anytime. 

10) Form good habits

Just like brushing your teeth or doing the laundry on a schedule, photos require basic maintenance habits. Getting in the habit means having access to all your photos in the coming years. 

Updated July 14, 2014 with new software information


Discussion loading

Picasa

From Kevin P. Jenssen on August 31, 2012 :: 2:42 pm

You can now download Picasa for Macs!  I like this program more than iPhoto.

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iPhoto renders better

From Zeeshan A Zakaria on August 10, 2015 :: 3:04 pm

I always used Picasa and still like it better due to its filtering and easy management options. But iPhoto renders photos better on the screen as compared to Picasa. To me it seems like Picasa converts images to low quality so that it could display them faster. That’s why now I find myself using iPhoto more often than Picasa.

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Great timing!

From Janet on July 14, 2014 :: 8:19 pm

Thank you for these tips.  Great timing with all the kid’s summer activities and our vacation.  I needed this advice.  Especially the reminder about setting the camera date and time. We got some pictures from our friend and they are all jumbled out of order! 

What about using Facebook?  I post a lot of photos there and it’s been great. I use it like a photo album.

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Facebook is fine as a supplement

From Kristy Holch on July 26, 2014 :: 11:49 pm

Can you rely on Facebook as your sole photo album?  It depends on whether you would be heartbroken in future years if those photos were gone.  Near term, Facebook looks strong and permanent, and is paying significant attention to enhancing the photo sharing experience.  But long term, (think a generation from now, if not a decade), no one can guarantee that Facebook albums will still be viable.

That said, Facebook is improving the whole photo experience (at the possible cost of your privacy). As digital photos proliferate exponentially, managing them can be a humongous task.  Facebook does that by default. It helps you automatically bubble up some of your most important photos over the years, based on the number of “likes”. And, your friends’ photos mix with your own to enrich the memories. Features like facial recognition could be used to speed searches. 

Given these benefits, it is certainly reasonable to embrace Facebook as a valuable tool in the photo management toolbox, though one that may be impermanent. Wisdom dictates that one should also keep photos in another location that is held personally.

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To keep all pix in one folder....

From Adela on August 16, 2014 :: 9:35 pm

<<3) Know where your photos go

Put all your pictures in the same folder, such as your PC’s existing “Pictures” folder. One universal folder means that photos will be easy to back up and move to a new PC for years to come. Override any attempts by your camera’s software to store them in a proprietary folder on your drive. >>

Thanks so much for this useful article.  I wish I could keep them all in one place (namely, in “My Pictures” folder, but whenever I transfer them from my camera to my computer… they go wherever they want as I don’t see any provision where I could type where I want them.  The result: I have real problem getting them.

If someone could possibly have the step by step path for me to make sure all my pix go to only one place - to “My Pictures” folder, I’d be deeply grateful.

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How to Transfer Photos from Camera to Computer

From Kristy Holch on August 19, 2014 :: 5:49 pm

This is in response to Adela’s question.  Indeed, keeping the photos in one place is not always easy, but it’s so important!

The best way to find a step-by-step guide is to search the Web for just that.  The exact steps may vary depending on whether you have a Mac or PC, and how old it is (which determines its operating system), so you can specify that in your search if you know what operating system you have. 

Many good articles pop up when you do such a search. YouTube videos are especially helpful, because many average people post useful “how to” videos there.  For example, the first YouTube video in my search results on “How to copy photos from a camera to PC” seemed to have a good step-by-step approach that would certainly work for you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4TpTi5t2kk 

Good work for asking how to do this!  It will just take you 5 minutes to try it along with a “how to” video or article, then you’ll have it down pat.

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You saved me much headache

From Meenakshi on November 17, 2014 :: 2:53 am

I have thousands of digital pictures to organize. I have been looking for suggestions on how to tackle these precious pictures of family and friends but none of the other suggestions was in such logical sense; maybe because its by a woman grin

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Reply to Meenakshi

From Kristy Holch on November 21, 2014 :: 3:27 pm

Meenakshi - You may be right!  Thanks for sharing your feedback. If you are taking up better photo management habits, you might want to read about how to digitize your old videotapes and photo prints.  http://www.techlicious.com/guide/best-photo-video-digitizing-services/  Enjoy your photos.

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THANK YOU!

From Christal on March 01, 2015 :: 7:12 pm

I have over 5,000 photos and I know some are duplicates!  The face recognition tip will really help me get rid of these…I think.  Great article!

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Duplicate

From Marcia Alexander on July 19, 2015 :: 4:36 pm

There is a free app “Duplicate Cleaner for iPhoto” that works very nicely for getting rid of doubles.

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My favourite app

From Liz Cunningham on July 28, 2015 :: 11:55 am

Guys, if you haven’t tried photozapper for sorting your photos you really should. Its really really simple and does just this one thing – helping you get your photos under control.

You choose buckets for sorting the photos into, then do a full screen no distractions slideshow of your photos. For each photo you press a key to rotate, delete, or to send it to one of the buckets. At the end it moves the photos to the relevant bucket folders.

Check it out http://photozapper.rocks

(PS – its windows and its not very slick, but it really does the job well)

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Keeping your images visible on a timeline

From Juliette on July 28, 2015 :: 4:31 pm

I have now started to keep my photos all in a folder by year and subfolders of all events which I name with the ‘date - description’ such as ‘2015-07-30 Summer Vacation Holland’. This keeps everything in order. I know it’s tedious, but it really pays off!

My greatest memories however I like to keep on a visual timeline. For example my childhood photos, images of vacations, living places, pets, children’s drawings, my collections of vintage fashion photos etc. I arrange on a timeline tool called ‘liniaa’. They just look great there and I can share them with my family.

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Sub folders and images from different cameras

From Zeeshan A Zakaria on August 08, 2015 :: 10:34 am

These tips are very useful. One thing on which I would like to get your suggestion is, how to deal with multiple camera sources when sub-foldering photos for organization. I tend to create a new main folder for each camera, and then under it sort by year, but would like a simpler approach.

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Reply to Zeeshan

From Kristy Holch on August 10, 2015 :: 2:41 pm

Zeeshan - You will probably find it best to put them all together, organized by date or however you set up your subfolders.  Over time, you will have many different cameras, and knowing which camera took a picture will be less important than the content, date, event, etc.  You didn’t mention why you separate them in the first place - but at any time, if you want to separate them out again, you can sort your folder of images based on file name or image size, which may be easy ways to group the photos from a cell phone vs. an SLR, for example.  Meanwhile, if you are faithful about keeping the time/date settings current in your devices (phone, camera), you will be able to sort by “date taken” and see everything in chronological order, no matter which capture device you used. That can be very helpful!

If you ever wonder which camera you used for any given photo, just view its properties.  (To do this in Windows, right-click on the picture and select “properties”.  Under the “details” tab, it lists the camera make and model.)

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Thanks for your reply. This

From Zeeshan A Zakaria on August 10, 2015 :: 3:13 pm

Thanks for your reply. This is a very good advice. Originally, when years ago I started sorting photos, I got into habit of sorting by cameras, and a separate folder of scanned photos. It continued afterwards when I had better cameras and smartphone photos, in order to keep separation between good quality photos and ordinary photos. However, now it has become almost impossible to manage unlimited amount of photos that I have, not to mention when I search for the ‘good’ photos which I know I had taken and viewed many time, can’t find where they were stored.

Another issue is, that I want to keep a separation between my semi-professional work, family photos, and photos of a non-profit for which I work occasionally. And then the photos which I edit and consider amazing piece of art, should stay separated in a separate ‘Art Work’ folder smile

I plan to get a new external hard drive and can experiment to throw all my thousands of photos on it, in one place under one folder. Then over the course of next couple of years I’ll see how it works for me.

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Windows 10 not photo album friendly

From Crowe on August 29, 2015 :: 4:38 pm

If you love your photo album and haven’t downloaded Windows 10—DON’T.  The awesome feature of showing your tags in separate “folders” is gone!  I’m sick about it.  And, it takes forever to process the pictures folder.  The sort by tag option does absolutely nothing other than take a lot of time.  You can search on a tag name and everything will appear, but it’s not nearly as user friendly as when you could see all your tags in folders.  That’s how I cleaned up the misspellings, dups, etc.  Hopefully enough complaints with prompt Microsoft to bring back an awesome feature they trashed.

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Easiest method of keeping photos

From Crowe on August 29, 2015 :: 4:43 pm

I have over 25,000 photos in one folder.  Think of it like a paper photo album.  You put all the photos in order. Do the same on the computer.  All my photos start with the same name—the date, year first, then month, then day, then time.  Ex: 201508291641 for Aug 29 at 4:41p.  Then the name you want to assign.  And remember to tag the photo. Ex: 201508291641 - family beach vacation.  The tags are: family, vacation, jimmy, susan, beach. Then if I want to find a particular photo later, I can go in date order or search by tag.  Keeping all in the same folder makes it more like looking through an old time album.  And, I scan in memorabilia as well and put it in the date order to be by the photos.

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