It can be a pain to organize your photos. If you’re like me, you have several digital cameras and smartphones in your household – plus even the kids’ have devices that take photos. On top of it, you have multiple desktop computers, laptops, and tablets with collections of photos you’ve accumulated over the years. Then people text you photos, share photos on Facebook and Instagram. The photos are everywhere! It’s easy to get overwhelmed and just let the photos pile up. But if you want to preserve your digital memories and easily reference them years from now, I offer 6 tips for how to organize photos.
Keep all your photos in one spot. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to find old vacation photos, and they could be in one of several places. Maybe they’re on your laptop, maybe they’re on the external drive in the den, or maybe they’re on the old computer in the garage that crashed. What I recommend is having all your photos on a desktop computer with a large hard drive. Many newer computers come with very large hard drives capable of storing a decade of family photos. If you have access to technical support, I recommend installing a second large hard drive – with 2 or 3 terabytes of storage – in your desktop computer. A second drive won’t be running your operating system (eg: Windows), so it will spin less and likely have a longer life. Takeaway Tip: Make a habit of downloading all your photos to your central location.
Isn’t the cloud supposed to be the one of the latest and greatest trends in computing? Yes! But storing your life’s photos in the cloud (on someone else’s servers) as the one and only location can be problematic for a few reasons. Some photo services will size down your photos when you upload them, so you lose the original photos’ quality and metadata (the timestamp, camera model, and even location). So don’t delete those originals! For instance, you may have a 10MB photo from your camera, and when you upload it to your photo service’s site, it might be 1MB and half the resolution. There are some great sites like Snapfish and Flickr that offer many options for uploading and sharing photos, but I recommend using these as secondary locations for the photos you want to share, not your primary, one-and-only location. Photo website’s may have changing storage policies, limits, and price increases that can creep up with little notice, and while they have extensive backup systems, they’re not exempt from systems failure and data loss. Takeaway Tip: Own your own storage for all your photos and use cloud services for sharing and secondary storage.
The key to organizing collections of photos on your hard drive is a well thought out folder, or directory, structure. Perhaps you don’t worry about how or where the files are stored on your computer because you have a program that handles organization for you in which it searches photos from a variety of locations on your computer and allows you to group them and sort by date. The question is – will this software be around in 10 or 20 years? You could spend hours organizing photos within your software program only to find its development has been discontinued. The surest way for how to organize photos is by maintaining a set of folders on your computer, just like you may do with emails or documents you save. Creating folders of photos on your hard drive will future proof your collection and can be moved from computer to computer for decades to come, since folders and files can easily be migrated to newer and different systems. I’ve created a simple folder structure in the example below. Simply create sets of folders for all the photos you download from your devices. I also use a Year/Month/Day naming format, so I can easily find photos by date – without that you’ll end up with just a giant set of arbitrarily named folders. For example, a folder named “20130612-16 Road Trip through Arizona” is easy to find on a long sorted list of vacation folders, since you are more likely to remember roughly when you took the trip than exactly what you named your folder. Takeaway Tip: It’s worth the effort to organize your photos with a logical hierarchy of folders in order to stay organized long term.
Stay on Top of It
My 7-year-old daughter has a LeapPad tablet that takes photos, and she would shoot a lot of cute photos and videos of herself with it. What great memories to enjoy when she’s older. But I later learned she was deleting some of her photos because the memory was full! Immediately I got into the habit of downloading its photos regularly. Of course it’s easy to let your camera’s memory card fill up before thinking about downloading to your computer. But if you stay up on it, you’re not only saving yourself from a larger chunk of work later on, you’re protecting yourself from data loss. It’s risky to carry your camera around with hundreds of precious photos because it’s vulnerable to being lost, stolen, or damaged. I like to pop that memory card into my computer as soon as I can to cut and paste those photos into the right folder on my hard drive. Even if you don’t have time to put all the photos into the right folders now, it’s at least better to put them in a generic folder, eg: “20121015-1231 Assorted”, that you can sort through later. Takeaway Tip: Download frequently to make it easy on yourself and take away the worry of losing photos.
The Social Life of Photos
A large part of your life in photos may actually be snapped by some other friend or family member. Those photos can be all over the place: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Emails, and Text Messages to name a few. Some of those photos can be great memories for years to come, but when they live in those locations, they scroll up and away from memory. And who really knows where the companies that host those photos will be years from now. What I like to do is save any photo I really like that comes my way. Facebook on your computer’s browser has a “Download” option for every image you open up. Smartphones allow you to save most photos to your camera roll, which then will make it to your hard drive when you download. Takeaway Tip: If you’re a fanatic about a having a photo box of memories like I am, then grabbing pics from those who share them is a great way to build a story of your life.
Last, but most important, backup your photos. I wrote another article about why backing up your data is a critical step. Without a backup, your hard drive of lifetime photos is at risk of being lost. Computers fail, get stolen, damaged, and just don’t last. Takeaway Tip: With a good backup strategy, you have peace of mind that your digital memories are with you forever.
I hope these 6 tips for how to organize photos has helped you. Did you make any to do notes? What are some of your tips for the best way to organize photos?This post is written by William (my husband) who works as a systems engineer at a dot com company.