Tips to Organize Photos so They Don't Get Lost in Digital Clutter
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
Do you have thousands of photos on your phone's camera roll? An old computer that's too slow to use but has tens of thousands, years, worth of pictures stored on it that you don't even look at anymore because of the overwhelming amount of images? This used to be me too, and it brought a certain amount of anxiety to my life. I feared losing these precious memories. I finally overhauled my system and found an organized way to store these photos safely. Not only that, but I found a way to keep up with it, so I won’t ever be in that position again. I’m going to share what I’ve learned through this process and what works for my family.
To me, the time invested in saving these images and printing our family yearbooks is a way to preserve our family legacy, and is well worth the effort. When I create a photo book, I like to imagine looking back at it as I age, sharing each one with our future grandchildren and seeing the life we’ve built together laid out in images. We already look through our books with our three year old daughter all the time. We live far from family, so it's a great tool to keep them close and to help her remember the names of family members that we don’t see as often. First, let's go over how I keep all of my files sorted in a way that makes them easily searchable and accessible, and gets rid of the junk.
My Storage System:
Where to Store?
We store our personal photos in two different places (for our photography clients we do three). I have a two terabyte external hard drive that I reserve for our personal photos only (we have separate drives for our clients). When I am not using this hard drive, it lives in our firesafe so it doesn’t get lost and is protected in the event of a fire. I keep an additional copy of everything saved on my Google Drive. Whenever I add anything to the hard drive, I copy it over to Google Drive immediately. I choose Google Drive because I have unlimited storage through my alumni email. If I didn’t have that free space, I’d probably try the photo storage that is offered through our Amazon Prime account. Additionally, we have the physical copies of our favorites that are printed in our family yearbooks (more on that below). I know that if something happens to my hard drive, I have a back up of all my images. Additionally, if something happens to my Google Drive, I still have my hard drive.
How to Store?
My folder storage system is pretty simple. I have a folder for each year. Within the year is each month and within each month is an event. I like to put the date at the beginning of the folder titles so that they sort chronologically. I can always search by keyword for specific events if I don’t remember exactly when they happened. Additionally, each month has a folder for cell phone pictures. I do this because often what I take on my cell phone is just one snap instead of a whole outing. I also take the majority of my photos on my DSLR, so I don’t have many cell phone photos. For large trips that go across two months, I often put them inside the year folder instead of inside of a month folder. Here's what our system looks like:
Managing Cell Phone Images:
At the end of each month, I take the time to sort through and store my cell phone photos. I have my phone set to sync photos to my computer, so they're already there and waiting. I’ll snag my husband’s phone and Air Drop any additional photos that he took to the computer. Now, I am ready to sort through these photos to pick the keepers.
First, I go through and delete the most obvious photos: screen shots, photos that are too dark or blurry, etc. Next, I go through and delete the ‘duplicates’. Often I snap 3-5 photos of the same thing in order to make sure that I get a great image. My rule of thumb is if the pictures are so similar that I would only print one of them, then I should only keep one. I have found that after weeding through my photos, it's changed the way that I take photos. Knowing what I will keep in the end, I take less of the ones that I wouldn’t want to actually store for years to come. Eventually, it shortens the process.
Once I’ve identified the keepers, I do basic edits on them (exposure, color correction, crop). Then I export them to that month’s cell phone folder and corresponding Google Drive folder. Once these are safely stored, I delete them off of my phone and out of my photos. I find since they're available online, I don’t need to keep more copies on my phone since I can easily view them through the Google Drive App. Bonus: all of our videos are stored in a similar way, so this provides for tons of toddler entertainment without taking up phone storage :)
Managing DSLR Images:
First I create a folder within the current month for the event with the date and a basic description. When I import my DSLR images, I put the raw files directly on my personal drive in a subfolder for the event with ‘RAWS’ in the title. I use Photo Mechanic to easily skim through and cull the images to the best ones. Once I pick the keepers, I delete the rest from the hard drive. Then I bring the keepers into Lightroom where I edit them. Once that is complete I export them as JPEGs to the appropriate folder. I add them to the online drive as well. Once they're stored in both places, I delete them from the camera cards and from Lightroom.
Even with a great storage system in place, photos are meant to be printed. I look at the ones I've printed far more than those stored away on my hard drive. This is why I create family ‘yearbooks’. I say ‘yearbooks’ because they usually cover around nine months since I max out the page limits on our photo books with all of our memories. I wish I could say that every month I add pages to the yearbook for that month’s events, but it tends to be a project that I keep up with every 3-4 months or so. For these books, I pick the best of the best images that I’ve stored and include text with the corresponding memories. I also make separate books for international trips that are larger with lay flat pages. Everything else goes into these yearbooks.
In addition to our yearbooks, we have the luxury of having our own professional quality photo printer. We print and update images to hang on our walls often. Most of our wall art is our own photography and we love seeing the images come to life this way. I highly recommend ordering prints for your home. It's so much more meaningful than hanging a sign with a cliche quote that you randomly grabbed on a Target run.
I hope that you can use some of these ideas to implement your own storage system with your photos. I've found that sorting through these images and only keeping the best makes it so much easier to enjoy them, rather than having them lost among thousands and thousands of unimportant ones.