5 Simple Habits to Keep Your Photos Organized

May 19, 2016  - by 

If your digital photos are scattered across multiple devices and you keep getting a notice that your phone storage capacity is full, don’t despair. You aren’t alone. Today we are taking more photos every second than all of humanity took since cameras were invented. In fact, it is estimated that over one trillion photos will be taken in 2016! That’s a lot of photos of babies’ first steps, weddings, anniversaries, sunsets, and selfies!

The key to managing your digital photos is to create a routine and an easy-to-follow system. If you stay disciplined and follow the five habits outlined below, you will be able to enjoy your family photos again!

  1. Archive and Backup
  2. If you haven’t digitized your printed photos yet, now is the time. By scanning your photos, you can share them with multiple family members and be assured that they are safe in case of fires, floods, or even a house break-in. The experts recommend you back up your photos to three locations: an external hard drive, a cloud-based environment, and printed photos. This redundancy may seem like a lot, but it is necessary because of the many ways your photos are at risk of being lost.

  3. Create a Routine and Stick with It 
  4. Pick a date, such as the last Sunday of every month, to manage your photo collection. Put the date on your calendar, and make it a habit. Just like you change the batteries in your smoke detectors, having a regularly scheduled time to manage your photos will ensure that you have access to your favorite family photos at any time.

  5. Transfer, Delete, Rename, and Tag (or Keyword)
  6. You will find the process easy to manage if you follow these four steps: transfer, delete, rename, and tag. The first step is to transfer your images to your central photo hub where all your digital photos reside, such as your computer. During this process, it is extremely important that you delete any unwanted photos. If you are like most people, you snap thousands of images that only matter for an instant—such as photos of a snowy day or new pair of shoes. It is important to delete those photos now (you’ll find more tips for deciding what to delete in my upcoming post, “Learn the ABCS of Photo Organizing!”)

    Next, rename your photos, otherwise you will never remember what photo IMG_0445 could possibly be. You can easily batch rename your photos in large groups (find instructions on how to do this by googling “batch renaming” for a MAC or PC, depending on your computer). If you just stop here, you will have done more than 90 percent of the photo-taking population.

    When renaming photos, use a consistent format, such as year_month_day (for example, 2016_05_04 to indicate May 4, 2016). If you put the year first, followed by the month and day, your computer will sort your photos in chronological order.

    Another key step is to tag your photos with important information about the who, what, and where of the photos. Keep in mind that these tags are simply important pieces of information (keywords) that describe your pictures. Adding tags is a lot like writing on the back of your photos—except you can easily make more copies! For more information on tagging photos and why it’s important, check out this recent blog post from Save Family Photos. If you develop a system (for example, Johnny, 5th birthday), you will easily be able to find your photos in the future. Of course, you will need photo organizing software to do this tagging; both PCs and MACs have photo applications, or you can use an independent solution such as Google Photos. The hardest part is creating the file structure, but once you have a system, it won’t take much time each month to keep everything organized in one place.

  7. Save, Share, and Enjoy Your Photos 
  8. Now that you have your photos back in the light of day, they are meant to be shared and enjoyed. There are many creative ways to share your family photos, from a printed photo book displayed on a coffee table to a family memory wall of framed photos to online photo sharing services.

  9. Create a “Did You Know” Storybook for Your Family 
  10. A few years ago, the New York Times published a great article by Bruce Feiler called, “The Stories That Bind Us.” He reported that families that refine and retell a unifying narrative about their positive moments and resilience during difficult times produce children who consistently show more self-confidence. The best predictor of a child’s mental health and happiness was knowing the answers to questions such as “Do you know where your parents grew up?” “Do you know the story of your birth?” or “Do you know of an illness or something difficult your family has experienced?” A way to help ensure your child knows answers to these kinds of questions is to create a “Do You Know” photo book. This photo book doesn’t need to take a lot of time or be overly creative. Think of 20 “Do You Know”questions about your family, and include the answers along with a photo. Now that your photos are organized, you should be able to find the photos easily to tell the story. The result will be a family photo book that can improve your child’s self-esteem and sense of belonging.

Cathi Nelson founded APPO as an answer to the growing need of our digital age—assistance for organizing an influx of digital photo memories, printed photos, media, and memorabilia. APPO supports its hundreds of members by offering ongoing training, a supportive community, professional credibility, and an annual educational national conference. You can learn more about the growing profession by downloading the ebook The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Photo Organizer or reading tips on organizing your own photos in The Insider’s Guide to Photo Organizing.


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    1. Oops, it looks like it was being covered up by those images at the bottom. I have fixed it for you. Thanks for making us aware!

  1. I have done most of this but it seems almost impossible to do the older photos. I am the gatekeeper to 2 families as both grandparents on both sides have passed. I thank you for letting me know that atleast I have a good system. Besides the computers I have made scrapbooks for each of my children hoping they will carry on. You must have roots to grow. Hope mine take hold.

    1. I have scanned all of the old photos I have. It was a long project, but so worth it! The nice thing about older photos is that they are small, so you can put multiple photos on a page and the scanner will recognize them as individual photos (make sure the scanner you get does this). Then, I name them by date as she suggests in the article and also add any written words from the album or back of the photo in the name. For instance, I would change IMG_4326 to 1968-10-31 Dad at Halloween, or something like that. I also sometimes name them by the subjects name, with last (maiden) name, first name and then the date. That helps when it’s time to upload to Family Search or Ancestry. It’s all what you prefer. I have saved the pictures for each side of the family to a flash drive and sent them to family. My great aunt was moved almost to tears when I gave it to her.

  2. 1966 I asked my mother who her dad was? She stated that it was none of my business! She was against organized religion, difficult to talk with. Abritish actress, married my father in the early 1940’s became a famous creator of television programs for NBC nationwide. Being a new member I had to by pass my parents altogether. I received some help other relatives, hired help until they died off. Mt sister Susan (stage name Sigourney), will be on the tv show “Roots” in the fall. Most of the success I have had is because of the wonderfull experts at my local Family History Center in Midvale, Utah.