How I Organize My Digital Photos

If you are like me you probably have taken thousands of pictures with your digital camera. Digital cameras make it very easy to take photos, since you can view the photos immediately, and only keep the photos you like. Once you are done taking pictures, it is usually very easy to transfer them to a computer and then print them out.

Once you have transferred them, how do you organize the photos? There are many methods that people use to organize their photos, and I have my method, which I explain below.

My Organizing Digital Photo Organizing Workflow

I have explained my backup workflow in the past, but before I backup my data I first organize the files the way I like them. My workflow requires photo management software, which you can easily find for free with Google’s Picassa, but I prefer to use ACDSee, which is not free.

Directory Structure.

I always organize my digital photos into specific directories organized by year and then event. I don’t worry too much about the specific date, as I leave that to my photo management software.

My directory structure is organized as:

  • [4-digit Year]
    • [Event Name or yyyymmdd]

I use the four digit year because it allows me to sort the directories in order when viewing the top-level directory. As for the subdirectories, I would provide an event name that is easy to read, or if there wasn’t anything going on, such as I just shot pictures at home, I would create a directory using the date. I prefer to use the format yyyymmdd since it allows me to easily sort my pictures within Windows Explorer by date.

If my directory structure look like:

  • 2008
    • At the Beach
    • Children
      • 20081030

I could immediately find the pictures taken at the beach. The children subdirectory indicates that the pictures below it are of my children, and the 20081030 (October 30, 2008) directory indicates it was just a day I decided to take pictures for no particular reason.

Digital Photo Tags

I have seen many organizing workflows that rename the digital photo files based on who is in the photo, the date, or the event. I prefer to keep the names generated by my camera, and let my photo management software do the rest of the work for me.

In the software I create three main categories:

  1. Event
  2. Family
  3. Friends
  4. Location

Within each category I create subcategories that I use to tag my digital photos. A tag is simply a label I assign to the photo, and that information can then be stored in a database or file. My photos are never modified by the photo management software when I tag the photos.

Using the example above, I would create a Beach subcategory under the main Event category. If going to the beach is an annual event, I would create a 2008 subcategory under the Beach category. Then I can just add another year subcategory under Beach for each subsequent year I go to the beach.

I would create each family member under the Family category using the [last name], [first name] format. This allows me to keep members of the same immediate family together in the list. I do the same for the Friends category.

Finally I organize the Location category by country, followed by province/state, and then city/town.

An example of the organization structure would look like:

  • Event
    • Beach
      • 2008
  • Family
    • Smith, Bob
    • Smith, Mary
  • Friends
    • Jones, John
    • Jones, Will
  • Location
    • Canada
      • Ontario
        • Toronto

The above structure allows me to find all photos of a single person, taken at a specific location, a single event, or photos for all years of a specific event.

Now that I have defined my directory structure, and setup my tagging in my photo management software, I can begin to organize my photos.

Organzing the Digital Photos

When I organize my photos I use the following steps:

  1. I insert the memory card into my card reader, and then open Windows Explorer. I create a subdirectory on my external hard drive similar to what was described above.
  2. I copy the photos from the card reader to the new subdirectory.
  3. Once the copy has completed, I open ACDSee (my photo management software).
  4. Using the category organization described above, I begin to create any new categories I need to tag my photos.
  5. I navigate to the directory I copied the photos into and begin to tag each photo with the correct categories.
  6. I then start my online backup to protect my new photos.

The above method works very well for me, and doesn’t take long to organize my photos. I now have the ability to find all photos of a specific person, event or place in a matter of seconds. I can also view all photos taken on a specific date by simply clicking on a day in a calendar, or view all photos taken on a specific month or in a specific year.

Gone are the days of unorganized pictures thrown together in unlabelled boxes, leaving no clues as to who is in the picture, when it was taken, or where.

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7 Responses to “How I Organize My Digital Photos”

  1. Carlyn Headd says:

    Useful posting, this is very similar to a site that I have. Please check it out sometime and feel free to leave me a comenet on it and tell me what you think. Im always looking for feedback.

  2. Lindsay says:

    Wow, i really wish i was that organized.. My issue is that i dont ever take pictures of anything specific, so organizing by dates really never tell me ANYTHING>. I end up with my categories like this

    But i also do graphic design and end up with a whole other section for that stuff..

    I am waiting for the day when they come out with a REALLY GOOD point and shoot camera that will connect to the next and automatically load your pictures to your computer with tags..

  3. riel says:

    Great! I gained some ideas. It has been my problem on how to organize my photos. Thanks!

  4. Michael Aulia says:

    Interesting.. I organize my photos with the year (as parent) and the event name as the sub-folders too. However I didn’t put the date separately like yours.

    Mine is like:
    o At somewhere beach – 13th October 2008
    o Someone’s Birthday – 10th March 2008

  5. Paul says:

    @Karen: I found that using yyyymmdd was the best format for sorting my pictures by date. I haven’t used Flickr or Photobucket for my digital photos, mainly because I don’t share them online. I just use Mozy for backing up my pictures.

    @Margaret: I agree that there is no perfect photo file system. For me, the best system is the one that works for me, and I feel comfortable with. Everyone will have a different method of organizing their photos.

  6. Margaret says:

    I download my photos straight from my camera which puts them in dated folders in my photos folder of my C drive.

    That’s minimally good enough for me. I’ve taken all of 2007’s folders, created a main folder labeled 2007 and moved them all there so I don’t have quite so many folders to look through when searching for a particular folder.

    Now if I could only get the camera to let me name the photos as I take them, that might be nice. As it is they all have these nice DSC##### file names.

    Since I pull them into PSP to crop, adjust and resize them for different projects, I can rename them at that time (which preserves the original for yet another process or project) and save them to a folder with a more intuitive name than just a date.

    I don’t really know of any perfect photo file system to be honest. I think sometimes that I just take too darned many photos! 😛


  7. I have way more directories for my photos than 4 but like the idea about using the yyyy/mm/dd format for dating them so they are listed in order that way. Thanks for the tip. I just copy my pictures from the SD memory card when it has a lot on it to a disk to back them up. I only upload the good ones to the computer. I tried using photobucket and Flickr to store them online, but it just takes too long and now Flickr doesn’t even show the codes for embedding them on my blogs. I think photobucket is hard to manipulate, very cumbersome.

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