Organized digital photos…

“My photos are so organized!”… yeaaa, I have not heard that once from a single client, friend or family member.

digital photos pinterest

Organizing digital photos can seem like an extremely daunting task in this ever-evolving digital age that we live in. We have palm-size cameras at our fingertips that allow us to take photos of anything, anywhere. There are multiple sources of photos: our phones and our point and shoots and/or DSLRs in which we need to combine photos from. There are new and improved applications that can edit and share our photos coming out all the time. There are back-up concerns and an ever-expanding market of cloud back-up methods. Oh, and then there is the fundamental decision of how to print or store the photos. There are so many options for everything and it really can seem confounding, but I’m here to tell you…

You can do it. I’m going to walk you through 6 simple steps I take to ensure that my photos are safely organized and used for their most basic intended purpose… enjoyment! Note: I use Apple products but my hope is that non-Apple users will gain some valuable tips as well.


Pictures mean different things to different folks, but for me photos capture memories and they help me remember those memories. Photos also capture the beauty in life that I could so easily overlook.

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Step #1: Take Lots of Photos. One of my organizing mantras is “less is more”, however, in the case of digital photos I just don’t always stick to that. I just love photos too much. We only live each unique experience once in our life and I support taking lots of photos. Unlike all other things in our life, digital photos can be deleted at the swipe of a button.

However, there is a fine line between capturing the moments and staying present in the moment to actually enjoy them. I have become increasingly more aware over the years of how snap-happy our culture has become: from camera phones lighting up concerts to our kids’ every moves being documented. It really is pretty silly.

There is no simple answer of how many photos are too much, however, one simple tip I have is to  slow down and take a mental picture before you take the picture… this not only allows you to better remember the moment, but it will prevent you from taking too many photos, photos without meaning. Consider asking a friend or family member to take photos at a child’s birthday party or event where that’s hard to do. While they might not capture the same feelings you had at the event at least it is documented and allows you to be more present.

Tip: At this step, ensure that your camera’s date is set correctly so your photos can be later auto-sorted!

Step #2: Purge.  I highly recommend deleting photos before they even leave your phone or memory card. I try to delete really blurry photos immediately after taking them on my phone or DSLR as well as duplicates that I know that I will not want to keep. On the plane or in the car on your way home from a family vacation is a great time to comb through your photos to get your photos down to a manageable quantity. However, it is hard to get a feel for the quality of a picture until you see it on a large screen so don’t feel like you need to be too selective at this point.

Step #3: Combine Photos Onto Computer.  Yes, this means downloading all memory cards and combining those with photos from your phone or other devices. In general, when downloading your photos to your computer you have 3 choices: 1. simply copy files to a folder on your computer, 2. use the operating system’s photo importing features, or 3. use third-party software’s import feature. I use (and recommend) Apple’s iPhoto software that comes standard on Mac computers for uploading photos.

I use both a Nikon DSLR and an iPhone to take all my photos. I upload my camera photos typically after each major event. iPhoto auto-slits pictures into Events, which you can title. I don’t spend much time labeling Events at this point but use these quick labels for organizing in the next step. After importing all photos, I select “Delete Photos”. While “Keep Photos” is the default, it is imperative that once you have transferred photos over from your camera that you don’t create duplicate copies during a future upload (especially if you aren’t working in a photo management software); there’s no need to clutter up and waste space on your memory card as well.

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My iPhone photos automatically upload to my computer via the cloud’s Photostream. When I take a photo on my iPhone it automatically appears in My Photo Stream, a rolling collection of my last 1,000 photos; and each month a folder labeled with the month (i.e. October Photostream) is sent to my desktop iPhoto without me having to do a thing. If you are lagging in the cloud and photostream set-up knowledge check out this Apple iCloud set-up info.

Cloud Computing Concept

Step #4: Organize Photos Chronologically.  After my photos are uploaded, I chronologically organize all photos (combining DSLR and iPhone pictures) into Event groupings. For example I may label my Events “Summer 2013” or “July-August 2012” but with vacations and other major events in separate events, i.e. “Paris: June 2012”. Since iPhoto is such a visual application it’s nice to not have to be rigid with the naming convention. I set a “key photo” for the cover of my event and it is both easy and fun to scroll through the years’ events.

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iPhoto users… Think of Events as something that “happens” and that they are your image archive of your uploaded photos. Albums, on the other hand, can be “created” if you want to refine your Event(s) into sub-groups or if you want a temporary holding place for pictures you may print or use in a slideshow, for example.

At this point, I separate videos from photos since they are used differently.  And my business, profile and eBay/craigslist photos go into separate Events as well so they are easily found.

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If you are working outside of a photo management software, I recommend organizing photos into yearly folders and then monthly folders with the following naming convention in order for the folders to be easily sorted automatically – i.e. 2013-01, 2013-02. You could further separate out major events in sub-folders within monthly folders.

Step #5: Purge More.  Now that my photos are organized I find time then and throughout the year to further go through my events and delete photos. I find that as time passes I’m able to distance myself from the photos and get rid of more than I did right after the event. I don’t have a rigid process or timeline for reducing photos but do so with the knowledge that there are many more photos to come so if I don’t love the photo or it doesn’t tell a piece of the event’s story it might need to go. Digital clutter is still clutter.

Step #6: Back-Up.  There are so many ways to back-up your digital photos. Some options are external hard drives, CDs, cloud storage and printing. I highly recommend you picking at least 2 of these back-up methods to ensure that your cherished photo memories are safe from destruction.

You may want to do this before you begin Step #1 depending on your situation. One of the worst feelings is accidentally deleting all your photos. Yes, I’ve had that tearful call from a friend.

I personally have all our photos backed up in 2 ways. My husband bought a NAS this year, which is essentially a networked external hard-drive, so our photos are automatically backed up there. I also print photo books annually so that is another form of “back-up”.

highly recommend printing photobooks through an online provider. In 2010 I moved from making traditional albums to creating an annual family yearbook with MyPublisher and my whole family absolutely loves them. I don’t work on our photobook until the beginning of the next year so I have a complete set of pictures to work with. Stay tuned for a future blog post with tips on how to create an awesome photobook of your own!


I can actually say that “My photos are organized!” and you can too. It takes time and patience, but the sooner you start the better! Please leave me a comment if you have any questions or comments. I love learning from my readers.


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23 responses

  • Great tips! Do you dedicate a set amount of time to organize your photos? I find I am terrible at making time to organize it. I download, delete from primary source and that’s as far as I get. Can’t wait to see your photobook post!

  • Thanks, Christine! I really appreciate your comment. I do not dedicate a set amount of time but am pretty dedicated to completing a task at hand since I really enjoy pictures and love organization… and love the end result of having a family yearbook! I would recommend putting a calendar invite to yourself for an hour appointment each month to purge and organize photos. That should be sufficient! Good luck… and make sure you subscribe to my blog in order to not miss that photo book post :).

  • Love this post! I use a very similar system, Nikon and Apple (iPhoto). This has given me some fresh inspiration to keep my photo’s organised!

  • Thanks for your comment, Mikaela! So thrilled when I can provide a little inspiration. Happy organizing!

  • That was a great piece on your blog. I feel like i already do so much of what you suggested. I still ned help though. I am having trouble with having too much video and photos on my iPhoto and it bogs down my computer (runs slowly) so I am always trying to come up with more efficient ways to store my photos/videos. I have been a Snpfish user since 2004 and and pretty good about keeping my photo sin iPhoto organized by month/year or a big event (like you suggested). My problem is the video storage. I pay extra to store my videos on snapfish but they take FOREVER to download on to their website. Ideally I want to store my videos somewhere so that I can bring them back to my desktop (Apple) and one day compose a running video (movie) of my kids growing up. I figured that at one point I will need to learn how to use iMovie, but that’s a whole ‘notther issue. I am embarassed to say I have a back-up hard drive but I really don’t know how to use it. Please help! Thank you

  • Heidi, thanks so much for your comment. I agree that storing on Snapfish doesn’t seem ideal since it is only temporary storage. I’m not an expert in video storage, however, my first recommendation is that you become familiar with using your back-up hard-drive. Storing videos on a separate back-up source is ideal since the videos probably aren’t accessed very often and so they won’t clog up your computer. I also recommend looking into making a physical copy. One of our goals is to get all our videos on to DVDs we just haven’t yet. Having both an electronic version (back-up) and physical copy is ideal for extra back-up and for convenience. Best of luck in your organizing!

  • Hi Sarah, I have decided to set myself an “Organise Your Photos” Challenge for the month of August 2014 and I came across your blog! Your 6 Steps are so simple yet effective! I too use Apple (iPhoto). One day at a time in the month of August – I will tackle the thousands of digital photos I have and sort/organise them! This post on your blog is an inspiration! Thank you! Will keep you posted at the end of the month!

  • So happy to hear I’ve been an inspiration! Good luck with your challenge!! Thanks for the comment.

  • Where I always fall short is combining the iPhone and camera photos, because I never plug my phone into the computer. I think I set up the Photostream but then never quite figured out how to use it. This is clearly a reminder from the Pinterest powers that be that I need to start. Thanks for the organizing tips!

  • This blog post could not have come at a better time. As of Christmas I am an all out Apple girl. On top of that I am a die hard scrapbooker so photos are so important to me. Just yesterday I tried to do some organizing in iPhoto for the first time. It was a bit frustrating. I was trying to organize them in albums or folders and what I found frustrating is you can’t delete them from your stream or it will delete them alltogether even if they are in a album or folder. I will try organizing them in events but will I find the same thing? You shouldn’t delete them from your stream? Thank you for this great post! It is very helpful!

  • hi! I love this post. One question I still have, say you go to a family reunion, take pictures on your phone and dslr. You get home, unload from your dslr and name the folder family reunion June 2015. Then do you take all of your iPhone pictures from photo stream and put them in your family reunion folder? If so, do you clear out all of your photo stream folders or only major events? Thanks so much!

  • Thanks, Lisa! Sorry for my delay in getting back to you. So, yes! I do clear out all my photostream folders. After I’m done organizing them – putting pics in either monthly or seasonal folders (i.e. Mar 2015 or Spring 2015) and/or major events (i.e. Family Reunion 2015) I will have no pics left and thus the photostream folder is deleted. Hope that’s helpful!

  • Great post! I’m hapoy to say I started organizing my photos in this manner & it’s nice to learn that’s how you organize as well 🙂 I was wondering, you mentioned that there would be a future blog post regarding how to make an online photo book. Has this already been posted & I just can’t find it, or is it still coming? I make photo books online, but it takes me ages & I’m wanting to know if there’s an easier/faster way of accomplishing this that I’m not aware of? Also, wanting your opinion of the site you use pros/cons, quality & durability of book etc. I want these books to last. I’m making books for each of my 3 girls, they will be a present to them on their wedding day- birth to present moment. So, obviously i want something that isn’t cheaply made & will fall apart 🙂 Thanks again!!

  • Hi, Nancy. I don’t print many pictures (nor do I scan) anymore since I do the printed albums. I have photo albums from when I did print, and any loose photos I do have go into a box with paper dividers (can organize by person, year or decade). Happy Organizing!

  • Hi, Sara! Thanks for the comment and sorry for my delay in response. So, no, the post I promised has not been published as I got pregnant with twins and it has been a whirlwind ever since. I do plan on doing one in the future though! Glad to hear you are organizing your photos! Such a great feeling and your daughters will be so thankful to have their memories in order to easily enjoy for many years to come. I do really like MyPublisher. Only other service I have used is Shutterfly. Main difference between the two is quality. The quality of photos and book construction is much superior with MyPublisher. With any service it does take time to create an awesome book. MyPublisher is pretty intuitive but the two annoyances that come to mind are uploading process (be sure to not submit photo book over wireless {may be case with any really large book} nor at the last few hours of a big sale — their server seems to get overloaded) and the lack of templates (there are a lot of options but not near as many as I would like). I guess also the sizing of books is a bit odd to me – originally I would have preferred a large yearbook size option rather than a coffee table size (the next size down is just a little too small). However, I have gotten used to the large size and it is fun to see pics so big and vivid. The construction of the coffee table books is great and I don’t foresee them falling a part ever if taken care of. Hope that helps. And happy organizing!

  • Can you walk me step by step through this way of organizing the photos I really like the way you organized your pictures. I do have iCloud I’m not computer illiterate. thank you

  • Hi, Jessica. I believe the blog post should walk you through the way I organize my pictures. If you have any specific questions I would love to answer them. Thanks for reading!

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