5 Photo Management Strategies for (Mostly) Hassle-Free Organizing

Of all the places in my house I wish were more organized — linen closet, garage, bathroom cupboards, the list goes on — our digital photo library may be the one that causes me the most frustration. It contains more than 30,000 photos (10,000 from the last 18 months alone, and I blame that on a new baby and a new house). The problem is that while I could spend hours looking through them, I actually have to spend hours. I dream of printing albums to show off the best, but I am years behind at this. If you’re trying to get your photos organized too, here are five ways to get started. Full disclosure: Three of these tips I have fully under control; I could use some more practice on the last two.

Photo: Blythe Palumbo

Photo by Blythe Copeland.

1. Trash stuff

One of the best parts of digital photography is being able to see the photos the instant you take them – which means you have no excuse for keeping any that are even slightly blurry (like the one above) or that show off people with their eyes closed. Delete these immediately; they should never even find their way to your computer. If your camera has a function that allows you to take continuous photos with one press of the shutter release, then keep only the best few. You may need to see them zoomed in to figure out which group shot is the best, but getting rid of the five in a row where Uncle Ned was sneezing will make organizing the better ones that much easier.

2. Upload, upload, upload

wireless photo scan disk and laptop

Photo by Cristiano Betta via flckr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

Storing months’ worth of photos on your memory card instead of on a hard drive or the cloud is a risky proposition — cameras get lost, stolen, or spilled on all the time. Remind yourself to upload photos from your camera and your smartphone regularly by pairing it with another monthly or weekly event, like payday, your mortgage due date, or sitting down to watch Game of Thrones. If you’ve gone on vacation, had a major life event (birthday, baptism, retirement), or seen your child reach a milestone, upload those photos as soon as you get home. Just can’t make time for uploading? Consider a wireless memory card, which will allow you to send photos from your camera directly to your smartphone, computer, or tablet. Storing your photos on an external hard drive can keep them safe if anything happens to your computer (and gives you plenty of spare space); you can even get a hard drive with an included backup drive for extra protection.

3. Follow your instincts

polaroid photos

Photo by Ben Seidelman via flickr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

The key to deciding how to organize your photos lies in figuring out what comes naturally to you. For me, it’s splitting up photos into folders for each event (trip to the zoo, visit from the cousins, renovating the living room) and then creating one monthly folder for any random shots. It’s easier to find one memorable photo from a playdate or wedding when I’m not wading through all the photos from an entire month, and I can have the photos automatically split by date when I upload them so I only need to retitle the folders. Of course, this means I have dozens of folders, which may not work for you. You could organize your photos by who’s in them, where they were taken, or by month. Maybe it’s more intuitive for you to immediately divide them into shots for a family album, photos to be printed, and images to upload to social media. All that matters is that when you’re trying to find that adorable photo of your nephew with ice cream all over his face, you know whether you should look under Vacation, July, Messy Kids, or Best of the Year.

4. Play favorites

photo album book

Photo by Thomas Frost Jensen via flickr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

Even the most perfectly organized photos aren’t doing you very much good if they’re sitting on your hard drive — when do you ever see them there? Set aside some time each month to go through and choose the best ones to print and frame, put in a scrapbook, or upload to an online publisher for your next album. This is a good opportunity to edit them, too; you don’t need to be a Photoshop wiz, but basic changes like removing red-eye, cropping out photobombs from strangers in public, and brightening up dark images can turn so-so images into future favorites. (Most photo software makes these changes simple, even for novices.) One caution: Don’t mark every photo from every event as a favorite. Be ruthless about picking the absolute best, or else you’ll end up with hundreds of photos that look similar, wildly cramped and overstuffed album layouts, and a fortune spent in printing costs.

5. Stay ahead of the game

vintage photo album sepia tone

Photo by martinak15 via flckr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

You’re always taking pictures, right? Which means it’s unbelievably easy to let them pile up — and get the best of even the most passionate organizing efforts. Spend an hour or two each month choosing your favorites and setting them aside or else you’ll end up with an overwhelming haul that could easily take days to wade through. If your end goal is to make family albums each Christmas or birthday, then doing a little each month will keep your creativity fresh — and ensure that your trip down memory lane doesn’t turn into an intolerable chore.

Blythe Copeland is a writer, editor, and blogger who's covered everything from style and weddings to parenting and the environment. She lives outside Philadelphia with her family.

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