Organizing Your Digital Photos
We all know the feeling — your kid is doing something ridiculous or adorable (or both!) and you pull out your phone to snap a quick picture of it only to get an error message — no more space! Or you carefully put everything on your computer, but then your hard-drive fails. Or you need to use some pictures for a project and can’t find that picture you know would be just PERFECT because you don’t have a good filing system. And while the problem of thousands and thousands of images to sift through is exacerbated by the ease of taking so many images with digital photography, most of the tips below would apply just as well to the shoebox of photos you’ve been meaning to sort through since your days taking pictures with film.
Here are some tips to get you started on your organization journey.
Culling ~ A Vital First Step to Organizing Your Digital Photos
Culling — a nice way of saying that you’re deleting the images you don’t need, is absolutely vital before you get started with any other aspect of organizing your photos. It’s hard, but it’s really important to let go of the idea that every image is precious. If too many images are cluttering up your digital space, you won’t be able to easily retrieve the ones that truly make your heart sing. What should you get rid of?
- Duplicates — with rapid-fire shutters, you can take a dozen images in a matter of seconds. Pick the best of the series and chuck the rest (or if it’s a truly entertaining series, with your child making different expressions, for instance, pick at most three).
- Blurry/out of focus images — keep only the images that you will want to look at and best show what you’re trying to remember. If it’s too blurry, you won’t even remember what it’s a picture of in a few years!
- “Postcard pictures” — When I go on vacation, before I take a picture of the scene before me, I ask “is there something unique about this? Could I buy a postcard of this exact same thing? If the answer to that second question is yes, it’s not worth taking your own — just buy the postcard! Focus your pictures on the things that you will want to remember about the trip — your loved ones in the location, doing things together, the people you meet (Ok, this is totally my bias a portrait photographer showing, but I still think it’s a valid point!).
- Think — will I want to see this in 25 years? If the answer is no, don’t hesitate to delete!
You can make exceptions — one of my all-time favorite pictures of my middle son is a bit out of focus and I kept it anyway since it was such a perfect capture of him at that age — but make them rare so you can really focus on organizing the images you really want to keep.
Filing — Where do you put it all? (Organizing Your Digital Photos)
Once you’ve culled, the question then becomes how to keep track of what you’ve kept. Most people use a theme-based (“Our family vacation” “Jacob’s birthday party”) or chronological-based (“2017 pictures”) or some combination thereof (“2017: January: Family Vacation”). Figure out how your brain likes to retrieve information and go for it! The important thing is to be consistent.
Start with your images going forward, and then spend 10-20 minutes a day or so working on filing your older images according to your new system — you don’t have to do it all in one go.
Printing — Why? What? How?
- Why Print? Why not just keep everything as a digital file? Digital files are fundamentally not archival — it’s incredibly easy to have files become corrupted, or for media to become obsolete.
- I like to tell the story at this point of my own wedding photos — we got them on CD. I recently purchased a new computer, and realized that none of the laptops I was looking at had an optical drive. I was incredibly glad I’d made a printed album of our favorite wedding images so I can enjoy them for decades, and my grandchildren will be able to as well even without the ability to read that CD.
- Hard drive failures are also fairly common. If you’re very lucky your files may be recoverable, but as one of the families who attended the class found out recently, it can cost thousands of dollars to go through that process (and it’s often not possible at all). The mom who was telling me this story was horrified that she could have lost all the pictures of her children’s early years to that hard drive failure. You can back up, but nothing is as archival as acid-free paper.
- Aside from the loss of your images entirely, there is also the issue of visibility. You should be able to enjoy looking at your photos! Just tucked away on your computer they aren’t visible the way they are on a wall or in an album. If you have children, there have also been some studies about visible family photos helping to boost children’s self-esteem, and I know I’ve seen that in my own family: my kids will often request a photo album as a nap or bedtime story — they love seeing themselves in the pictures and hearing our family’s story and their part in it.
- What to print? The two most common things to print are pictures for your wall or albums — which you pick will depend on which you prefer and how much space you have — there isn’t a right or wrong answer here!
- How to print? It’s so overwhelming!
- For the wall: Every month or two, go through your images (after you’ve culled!) to pick a few favorites. Put those favorites in a folder, and go through them deciding what to print and what sizes at the end of the year — you’ll only have a couple of dozen images to choose from rather than hundreds, so it’ll be a much quicker process.
- Albums: Similar in theory to the wall prints strategy — every month or two take 20-30 minutes and do that month’s pages in an album for the year (many online album makers allow you to save your work over time). When you get to the end of the year, you’ll just have December pictures to put in, and then you’ll have your album for the year done.
- For both of these the real trick is to do it a little bit at a time throughout the year so it feels less overwhelming. Several of the attendees at the class last most mentioned that they felt overwhelmed going back and printing out their old pictures — start this way going forward and take 20 minutes a few times a week to start working backwards to the older pictures — you’ll get it done eventually if you chunk it into manageable pieces!
Organizing your digital photos