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
Facial 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
Search 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