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9 ways to organize your photos. Really.

A photo of the author’s son that was well-organized. (Jamie Davis Smith)
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The end of summer has many parents asking a burning question:  How do I organize my photos? Most of us have taken a lot of photos on several different devices, our “real” camera, our phone, and perhaps a tablet. Photos tend to pile up over the summer when kids are out of school and many families go on vacation. But year after year, month after month photos accumulate leaving parents to wonder what do with all of them. For the past couple of years I’ve tried to take at least a photo a day, which has left me with more photos than most and forced me into finding a simple but effective organizational system. After some trial-and-error I’ve found a streamlined way to keep my photos organized.

1. Delete, delete, delete. The great thing about digital photography is how easy it is to take so many so many photos. The bad thing about digital photography is how easy it is to take so many photos. Do you really need seven photos of your daughter building a sand castle? And, sure that burger was good but will you really want a photo of it 10 years from now? Make it easier to organize your photos by weeding out the keepers and ditching the rest.

2. Create a folder. This one is easy. Although there are many different places to store photos I like to start with creating a folder on my hard drive since I import photos from different devices. This folder can be named something simple as simple as “Photos” and can be moved easily to a new computer or backed-up quickly.

3. Make chronological sub-folders. Start with your current photos and make a folder for 2015. Within each folder, create a folder for each month that starts with a number. This way, you keep your photos in chronological, rather than alphabetical, order. So, January would be 01 January, February would be 02 February and so on. Put all of your photos from a given month in the correct folder. Often you will remember in which month (or so) an event occurred and this makes it easy to locate a photo when you need to.

4. Separate your special occasions. Some months you may take only a few photos while other months there may be occasions where you take tons of photos. For those times, make a sub-folder within the appropriate month with a simple, descriptive name such as “John’s 7th Birthday Party” or “Trip to Disney World.”  That way, your special occasion photos will be easy to find.

5. Import photos at least monthly. It’s not always possible to import and save photos to your computer the same day you take them. However, I encourage everyone to import their photos as soon as they can to avoid an accidental loss.  A good time to put photos on your to-do list is the end of the month when you will be able to fill up your folder for that month. This is also a good time to take photos off of your camera’s memory card and email yourself the pictures from your phone or other devices that you determined were keepers.

6. Name your photos well. When I save my photos I use long names to make them easy to search. If you find yourself taking a lot of photos you may want to use the day of the month as the first part of your naming scheme, although this isn’t necessary. If you have multiple children you should also include their name in the photo’s name. Similarly, you may want to include the name of the place as well. For example, if you take a photo of your son Jack on August 28, 2015 at Sunny Street Playground you would name your photo “28 Jack Sunny Street Playground” then place it in the August folder within your 2015 folder. This will enable you to search for only photos of Jack or only photos taken at playgrounds later on.

7. Back-up. It’s inevitable that you will have a hard drive crash at some point, so it’s essential to back-up your photos frequently. I recommend doing this at least monthly. There are many different back-up systems available and through trail-and-error you will find the one that works for you. I use two external hard drives that I keep in different places. There are also several online back-up storage systems that will back-up your photos for a fee. Printing is also an option!

8. Tackling the back-log. Most parents have tons of unorganized photos going back (at least0 until their child’s birth. While this system is relatively easy to implement, it may seem daunting to go back and organize six or 10 years worth of photos. The good news is that you can organize your older photos gradually. Set a goal of finishing a year’s worth of photos over a month or two or even six. Looking through your old photos will be a fun trip down memory lane and you will probably enjoy the process. As you are going through your old photos remember to delete the ones that aren’t keepers. If you are unable to determine in which month old photos were taken or find it too time consuming to do so, concentrate just on organizing the photos by year and pay attention to creating folders for special events like “Johnny’s First Day of Kindergarten” or Halloween so that you can easily find them later. If you have printed photos you may want to scan them yourself or use a service like to do it for you.

9. Create folders by event. If you want to take your photo organization one step further, you can create additional folders to group all photos of a similar theme together. Just imagine how much fun it would be to look through a “Halloween” or “First Day of School” folder containing an image or two from each year when your child is older. Once you get in the habit of organizing photos it will become second nature and will go quickly. You will likely look at your photos more often if you save only the keepers and can easily find the ones that matter most to you. And, when it comes time to put together a collage of photos for your daughter’s high school graduation party or your son’s rehearsal dinner you will be so glad to be able to find those photos that capture the special moments your children had growing up.

Jamie Davis Smith is a Washington, DC based mother of four.  She can be reached at . Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @jamiedavissmith.

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