How to Organize Your Photos in Three Simple Steps

Are you constantly getting a “memory full” message on your phone because of the hundreds, if not thousands of photos stored? Or are you randomly seeing printed photos on bins and drawers around your house that are starting to deteriorate?

The worst possible thing you can do is panic at the end of December and try and sort the year’s worth of pictures in one evening. So here is a quick guide to start tackling that job right now.

Whether print or digital, organizing photos can be a daunting task! Most people don’t bother sorting their photos. They take pictures, share them on their social media and that’s about it! Because of this, many pictures, along with their memories, get lost forever. With the right approach, however, organizing photos can seem less a chore.

While organising and working on images for my clients is a well-established process for me, keeping on top on my personal digital archive is a whole different beast, and is often an afterthought and there’s never enough time for it.

Well, it was an afterthought but not anymore, because I’ve decided to finally take control of my digital images and apply the well-established systems and practices I know and use in my work, so you too can take control of your photographs, organize them and preserve them for your children.

Holiday Family Photography - London Documentary Photographer

Organizing Digital Photos

Step One: Get Photos Off Your Devices

Transfer your photos from your mobile or camera to your computer. You can put them directly to a photo management program or load them to a trusted online storage site. Do this at least once a month so that you have one less thing to worry about when your device gets stolen or malfunctions.

Step Two: Review Your Photos

Clean up the duplicates, correct the dates, and fix other issues. To save up space, you should also delete the repetitive shots where your poses or backgrounds don’t change. Trust me, you wouldn’t need every single shot.

One thing that worked for me is to start as I mean to go on, and then allocate certain times to sort through the older images.

So what I’d suggest you do is schedule an hour or so every month (or once every couple of weeks, depending on how prolific a photo-taker you are), and do a small chunk of organizing the newly taken pictures. Once you get better at it, you’ll be doing it a lot quicker and it will free up the time to go through your archives as well. In short,  little and often is the key here.

Step Three: Strategize

Decide on a system on how you’ll organize your photos. You can do this chronologically, by theme, or whatever makes sense to you. Make folders based on that structure and move your photos accordingly. This could be overwhelming so make sure to take breaks in between!

Organise your photographs by year and/or specific event. Decide on a folder and file naming convention and stick with it, so it’s easier for you to find images in the future. A good folder structure to use is to have a folder for each year, and subfolders for each event. Start each folder name with a year, followed by a month in numerical form, and then a date, then a description of what’s inside. It will allow your computer to automatically order the folders chronologically. Consider also creating a “Favourites” folder for each year, and copy your best photos there for easy access.

Then, once you have all your photos in their relevant folders, don’t forget to back them up.

You should also consider printing your favorite photos. Printing gives life to your pictures. Having printed albums from digital copies is a lovely way to take a look back at your photos over and over again.

BONUS Back. It. Up.

I can’t stress this enough – you have to back up your photos. The first rule of storing your digital photographs is to assume that it’s never safe in one place and it’s not the question of ifa hard drive fails, but whenit will.

In order to keep your precious photographs safe, you need to have copies of them in at least two places – three is even better. One on your actual computer, another on an external hard drive that’s kept in a safe at home, or another location altogether (in the case of fire), and yet another – in the cloud.

For physical, hard drive backup I recommend an external drive like Seagate (it’s actually really small, and you can even buy travel/storage pouches for them as well) or a large capacity USB stick like  SanDisk.

For cloud backup, I use and recommend CrashPlan but unfortunately now it’s only available for businesses. You simply install the app on your computer, tell it which folders you want backing up and when (a good idea is to leave the backup running overnight), and that’s it, the rest is done auto-magically for you. An initial backup might take a while, depending on how many photos you have (mine took several months because I have so many RAW files that are huge, but with JPEGs, you shouldn’t have this problem).

I do not recommend Backblaze – it’s a mirrored backup which means if you delete it (even accidentally, without realising it) from your computer, it will also be deleted in your backup online – not great!

Other cloud backup options include Dropbox or Google Drive, but once you fill up their initial storage allowance things can get pricey. Plus, you have to remember to actually put stuff in there, which is where CrashPlan comes out on top, as it’s one less thing to remember to do.

You also can use Amazon Photos (free photo and video storage for Prime members) and Flickrwhich offers 1TB of free storage for everyone (but make sure you mark your photos as private if you don’t want the whole world to see them).

If you have iCloud to back up your iPhone or iPad, you have to make sure you have it set up correctly, otherwise, it might not be backing up as you think it is.

Now – and that’s the final step on our initial download, organise and backup journey – that your photographs are safely backed up, you’re going to delete all the photos you’ve just imported off your smartphone and SD cards.

Deleting the already imported photos is an important step, as you honestly don’t want to be importing duplicates and sorting through them again in the future.

Phew! That was quite a bit of work, wasn’t it?! It’ll get easier once you have a regular system going, and do it regularly, I promise.


Organizing Printed Photos


Step One: Collect your prints

Gather all your photos together. You need to know exactly what you’re working with. Look for your prints in drawers, closets, safety deposit boxes, on the fridge, and even inside your old wallets! Go over them one by one and throw away the blurry shots, with bad exposure, or those that you never want to look at again. Meanwhile, you can pick your favorites to be placed in frames or given out to friends and relatives.


Step Two: Invest

Prepare yourself with the proper tools and get yourself a large photo album or storage box. Make sure they are photo-safe which means they are acid-free and can protect your pics from damage caused by light or chemicals. You can also buy a photo-safe pen or pencil to write on the back of your prints.


Step Three: Strategize

Just like with the digital copies, you need to plan how you want to organize your photos. Chronological might be a little harder to do since not all prints have their dates on them. But don’t fret! It doesn’t have to be perfect since you can always tweak them later on. Also, don’t forget to toss in the negatives with the photographs. These may come handy later on.


Create backup copies of your precious old photos by scanning or digitizing them! You can then easily share them on your social media or other platforms for everyone to see.

Organizing photos may seem like a time-consuming and towering assignment. But once you start, you’ll automatically find yourself smiling while going down the memory lane.

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Hello! I'm Ana, a London photographer, in love with light and with the magic of every day. I believe documentary photography transcends time and allows you not only to tell your story but also to relive once again your most cherished memories. In my blog, I share my recent work and some tips and topics I am passionate about.


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