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How to Organize Digital Photos in 6 Easy Steps

October 24, 2019

Many people have pictures stored on multiple devices, spread across their phones, cameras, and laptops. This lack of organization can make it hard to find images when you need them. Fortunately, you can follow these expert tips and learn how to organize digital photos.

How to Organize Digital Photos in 6 Easy Steps

  1. Choose One Place to House All Your Photos
  2. Know Your Photo Inputs, Outputs, and Workflow
  3. Delete Unwanted Photos
  4. Define Your Folders
  5. Identify Your File Naming Conventions
  6. Use Metadata

Today, many people are looking for ways to organize and simplify their lives. There are dozens of books with smart strategies to address physical clutter in our homes. But what about digital clutter? Many of us don’t pay as much attention to digital asset organization since it’s not visible every day.

If you love photography, you’ve probably felt the pains of not having a photo organizing system for your digital pictures. The good news is that you can find a solution to this very common problem. Dedicate some time to learning how to organize digital photos and apply these proven principles.

1. Choose One Place to House All Your Photos

You likely have photos scattered across devices and websites. Even casual photographers can have thousands of photos in their digital photo collection.

Your first step in learning how to organize digital photos is to choose one location for photo storage. Often, professional photographers and organizers refer to this centralized storage location as a photo hub. Every photo that you have should pass through your digital photo hub at some point.

Experts at organizing photos recommend that your photo hub should reside on a computer or external hard drive. Dedicate a single place—one master folder—for all your photographic memories. While paid photo organizer solutions are available, you really shouldn’t have to pay to store and access your photos. Although your photo hub may be one a single device, having a place to back up your photos is always essential. You may want to use a cloud-based storage solution as a backup.

When choosing the site for your photo hub, make sure that you have ample storage space. A good idea is to assess the size of your photo collection now—and double it to meet future needs. Consider your photo-taking habits and determine whether you have printed images that you may need to scan and store.

Be sure to use a digital photo hub that’s durable. If you decide to use your computer hard drive, you should make sure that your computer is up-to-date and doesn’t need upgrading. And if you opt for an external hard drive, you may want to pay a bit extra for a waterproof and shockproof device. Purchasing an extended warranty may also be a good idea. You don’t want to skimp when it comes to your precious digital photos.

2. Know Your Photo Inputs, Outputs, and Workflow

After you’ve set up your digital photo hub, you should identify all the sources where your photos are located. It may be helpful to make a list. Include your camera roll, memory card, smartphone photo library, and social media sites, such as Instagram or Facebook.

Next, think of places where smaller collections of your photos may be housed. Have you ever used a photo printing website to order photo books or entered photo contests? Do you have any CDs or printed pictures in photo albums that you need to address? If you have family or friends that send photos by email, add those sources to your list too.

Be sure to identify the most common, recurring sources for your photos that you use every month. You should also think about outputs. In the output category, identify places where you send your digital photos regularly. Outputs may include print shops or your social media feeds. And if you have a professional photography portfolio that you update regularly, be sure to list that as an output as well.

Now, you can think about streamlined ways to transfer your photos from your input sources to your digital photo hub. For example, if you use your smartphone regularly, linking your phone to a computer wirelessly or via a USB may be the quickest option. For other sources, you may need to route photos to a storage solution—like Dropbox—and then move them to your hub.

You may also want to use workflow automation tools that can automatically transfer photos from places like Facebook to your hub. And you may find automated options to share or publish photos from your hub to various places too. Automation is an excellent way to streamline organizing your photos.

Organize Digital Photography

3. Delete Unwanted Photos

Modern camera and smartphone technology make it easy to take many photos. And every photographer knows that you often need to take several shots to get one keeper. Unfortunately, this approach can quickly lead to high quantities of unwanted photos.

For this reason, you must review your photos regularly. Look at each photo critically and delete it if you don’t think it has value. Of course, you can improve some subpar originals with photo editing software. And you may want to keep lower quality photos that represent special memories. If you have any older family photos that have been digitized, you may find those have imperfections or are lower in resolution.

The best thing to do is to use good judgment. If you have multiples of a similar shot, you may only want to keep the best one. But if you have one imperfect photo that holds sentimental value, keep it. Your aim is to create a photo collection that you and your loved ones can enjoy.

Don’t hold on to photos unnecessarily. That’s one of the most vital lessons to know when learning how to organize digital photos.

4. Define Your Folders

To help organize your photos, you can create folders and subfolders in your digital photo hub. For your main folders, you likely want to start with very broad categories. For example, create a main folder called “travel photography” for all of your vacation and road trip photos. Family pictures—whether everyday photos you take on your phone or professional pictures—can go into a main folder named “family photography.” If you take a lot of photos of your adorable pup, organize them in a “pet photography” folder.

For your subfolders, one strategy is to create a folder for each year—and then another folder for each month of the year. Another approach is using topics for subfolders. So, if you have a baseball player and a ballerina in your family, you can create subfolders for “baseball” or “ballet” under your main folder for each year.

The right organization strategy depends on your needs—and it may evolve as you learn how to organize digital photos. It’s always a good idea to write out your folder names to help you follow your conventions as you add more photos over time.

5. Identify Your File Naming Conventions

Often when you take photos, your digital camera or smartphone will automatically assign generic file names. If you don’t overwrite these file names with your own information, you will find that organizing your photos can be very difficult. That’s why coming up with your own naming convention is critical.

Many photographers use a combination of location and date in their photo naming conventions. For the date, you may want to use a format that puts the year first and uses numbers for the month. You may also want to add a descriptive word or short phrase to make your file name meaningful.

Consider this example. For a photo taken on January 27, 2018, you may have a date identifier such as “20180127” in your file name. If that photo was taken in Miami, your file name may then look like “Miami_20180121.” But what if you took more than one photo that day in Miami? Adding a short descriptor can be helpful. A photo of a palm tree would then become “Miami_20180127_Palm_Tree.” If you took more than one shot of a palm tree, you can add numbers to your file name: “Miami_20180127_Palm_Tree_2.”

With a well-defined naming convention, you’ll be able to look through your file directories and always have a good idea of the subject of the photo. This can be much easier than using image thumbnails if you have a large number of photos in a single folder.

6. Use Metadata

Metadata is information about an image that is embedded into a file. It stays with the image file even if you share it or change its storage location.

There are two types of metadata to know. The first is Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF), and the second is International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC). So, what’s the difference?

Digital cameras or other image capture devices automatically add EXIF data to files. Typically, that EXIF data includes the camera model and make, resolution, and date and time the image was captured. Since smartphones have GPS, these images will often contain location data as well.

Most often, users add IPTC metadata to an image file. IPTC can include a header, description, keywords or tags. If you plan on sharing the data, adding your name and phone number is also a wise idea. While many photographers prefer editing tools like Adobe Lightroom to add metadata, you can update metadata without special software. You can add metadata on a PC, Mac, or iPhone.

Organize Digital Photography

Learning How to Organize Digital Photos Is a Must for Every Photographer

At some point, every photographer feels overwhelmed with hundreds or even thousands of unorganized photos. It’s important that everyone who loves photography spends some time learning how to organize digital photos. While getting your photo organizing system set up takes some effort, it’s a worthwhile investment.

You can purchase photo organizing software, but many people prefer to use their own computer hard drive or an external hard drive to store photos. The advantage of using your own hardware is that you are always in control of your photo library. You’ll never need to worry about a software provider changing terms or pricing. That said, having a cloud-based backup storage solution is always an excellent idea.

In addition to having a single location, or digital photo hub, for photo storage, you’ll also need to consider naming conventions. Take some time to create a strategy for your folder names and your image. And define a naming approach for image files too. Be sure to take advantage of the metadata that you can embed manually in each file. Add keywords, headers, and tags to help you find photos in the future. Including your name and email can be valuable as well so that viewers can always trace photos back to you as their original owner.

Putting a digital asset management approach in place to organize your photos can feel like a challenge at first. It can be tempting to put off this important task. However, working through the six steps we’ve outlined here can help you move in the right direction. Once you’ve taken the time to get your photos in order, it’s easy to stay up to date.

A little effort can help you uncover the best way to organize photos for your personal needs. Soon, you’ll be able to spend less time hunting down images and more time enjoying your favorite photos.


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