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6 Tips for How to Organize Photos

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.

6 Tips for How to Organize Photos and keep your memories organized


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.

Cloud Caution

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.

Create Folders

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.

6 Tips for How to Organize your Photos Best Way to Organize your photos

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.

Protect Yourself

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.

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  1. Thanks for the tips — but what happens if I don’t have a PC with a big hard drive? All I have is a 500GB portable USB drive.

    • Hi Paul, thanks for your question. An external USB hard drive is fine for your primary storage. But I would keep it in a safe place and not carry it around with you, since it’s your primary data storage. And secondly, you will definitely want to back it up. You may either back it up to another external drive which you should keep off-site, or you can use a Cloud backup service such as CrashPlan which runs automatically and gives you a secure, off-site backup. (-William)

  2. These are great tips! I got a portable hard drive while I was in college, and now I store all my photos on it. I keep them in folders based on each year and month. It’s so helpful, and when I got a new computer this year I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to protect my pictures!

    • Thanks Chelsea! Glad you liked the tips. Make sure you have a backup of your portable drive in case it gets lost or fails! :)

  3. Thanks for the tips! I really have to come up with a good online back-up…I’m still in mourning from kodakgallery going away; I had a decade’s worth of photos there! (they moved them all over to shutterfly, but I can’t download them full resolution from there)

    • Yikes Gretchen! Yeah, that’s one of the big warnings about online photo storage. Hope you’re able to get a new plan figured out!

  4. All of this sounds like great advice. I mainly just use my camera to take photos and not my phone and also do the date thing with a title on the folders – really helps to find things when you need them. Sometimes I slip up and put them in the wrong folder but have learned how to copy them and put them in the correct folder that I want. Occasionally I also go through and delete the items I don’t need or want and we also bought a back up drive to store everything.

    • Sounds good Kimberlee! It’s great that you try and stay on top of photo management because it can get out of hand fast!

  5. These are great tips, Kimberly (and Willam)! I would agree that organizing photos into folders is a crucial – it makes it so easy to find the one you are looking for months (and years) later. I just got a new camera and really need to back up my photos on an external hard drive more often – I’d hate to lose all my photos. Happy SITS day!

    • Hi Dana! Glad these tips help. My hubby is really obsessed with backing up our data, but I’m very thankful for it! :)

    • Hi Kerrie! We used to use CDs (in the olden days) and store them at our family’s homes or in our glovebox, but we’ve found other ways that work a little better for us. It’s great that you’re remembering to back them up and store them somehow because many people have them all on one hard drive and have no clue what they’re setting themselves up for!

    • Hi Nellie! Way to go for recognizing the drawbacks to cloud storage. Some don’t understand that aspect. The lovely SITS readers are being great and I’m having a great time reading all the comments!

  6. These are wonderful tips! Photo organization is such a huge issue for me. I have a fairly good system of folders on my desktop, and one of my goals this year is to make more CDs of them. Happy SITS day!

    • I hope you can get to that project Pam! Once you get it done, you’ll have more peace of mind about your digital memories.

  7. These are great tips! My husband is really pushing me to use Lightroom to organize/edit my photos instead of iPhoto, but it’s got so many features, I’m pretty overwhelmed by it. I need to figure out a folder system! (Found you via SITS)

    • Hi Sarah! It’s so hard to change and learn something new when you’re used to the way something else works. I have loved using Windows (and use an iPhone & iPad), but tried to use a Mac recently. I think Mac hardware is gorgeous, and really wanted to love it. But, it was just different and I found I didn’t have the patience or desire to learn the ins and outs and shortcuts that I already knew on Windows. Best luck!

  8. I used to be this organized then all of a sudden, I started to get lazy. This is a reminder to me to get back on this and organize my photos! Thanks!

  9. Oh boy do I have some work cut out for me!! I am SO disorganized with this!! I need someone to come in and organize my files and photos for me!

    You are on TOP of it! So impressed….

    • It really helps being married to a guy who is fanatical about it! I’m not sure if my digital memories would be quite as organized without him!

  10. Thanks so much for the wonderful post! I’ve just been wondering about this exact subject and wasn’t sure the best way to go about organizing all my digital photos… so now I can get to it! I hope you had a wonderful SITS Day, and I’m so glad to have found you! Following you now on FB, G+ and Twitter. :D

    • Hi Andrea! Thank you for following along with me here at Stuffed Suitcase! I hope the post can help give you some tasks to get your photos organized. :)

    • Yes Christie! My husband was a little bummed when he realized she had been deleting some very cute photos and videos to make room for new ones! Good luck.

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