Besides photo cameras themselves, it seems that every digital device we own these days is equipped with a camera and many of us shoot photos daily. With hundreds of billions of photos taken each year worldwide, it comes as no surprise that we get overwhelmed. Unless we find an easy and effective way to organize and store this wealth of imagery, we may as well forget these photos exist.
Having been in this situation, I am happy that through trial and error I have finally been able to work out a system that works for me, and I would like to share the tricks that have helped me in the process.
These are the most effective ways to organize your photos so that you can easily access any image when you need it, meaning you will be able to actually enjoy your collection and share it with friends and family.
- Make the Delete button your friend. Since with digital images there is no actual film that we are afraid to waste, we often snap without thinking too much of what we are photographing, and end up with way more photos than we may ever want or need to keep. Before you transfer all of these images to your computer’s hard drive, go through them and delete anything that is of low quality or isn’t something you would want to pull up and look at in the future.
- Figure out what kind of photographer you are. It helps to decide ahead of time why you are taking the photos and how you plan to use them in the future. Do you do scrapbooking or want to keep record of every moment in time, or do you want to just capture special moments and occasions? Are you photographing your children’s every day to share with their grandparents or relatives living far away, or do you want to just keep an old-style family album with photos of the most important milestones and events? This will influence how much and how often you photograph and how many photos you keep.
- Create a schedule and stick to it. Decide when you will take the time to transfer photos from your camera and other devices to your computer and work on organizing them. It may be once a week, once a month or any time that works for you, but it has to be a regular time that you will mark on your calendar and do your best to adhere to.
- Work out a storage system for your shots. To ensure easy access to any part of your photo collection, it is crucial to create some kind of a structure for filing and keeping the pictures you take. What works for me, and for a lot of other people, is to create a folder for each year with subfolders for each month or each major event, depending on your picture taking style and goals. Even though every digital photo we take usually comes tagged with the date and time taken, it is still best to transfer and sort your photos regularly for easy filing.
- Make backing up your photos a habit. Many of us are afraid to delete photos from the camera and copy them instead just for the fear of losing precious memories. Instead of keeping photos on your camera, create a regular schedule for backing up your photo collection to an external drive or an online photo sharing service. With the latter, you have to make sure the service will not delete your images if they are not viewed for a certain number of months. If you keep 2 copies of all your images (not on the same drive), you can breathe easy knowing they are safe from any calamity.
- Use photo processing software or online service if you like. There are special programs and online services that let you tag your images and organize them in creative ways, so if you have the time for it, try one or a couple of such programs and have fun with your photos. Some popular applications are iPhoto for Mac, Photoshop Elements or PhotoScape, and popular online services are Picasa, Flickr or Photobucket. There are others, of course, which you can find through a simple Google search.
- Print your photos and organize your prints. We aren’t always able to share or show our photos in digital format, and the old-fashioned prints are a good way to ensure that you get more use, value and enjoyment out of your photo collection. With print prices as low as they are today, you can print pretty much every picture you take to keep in albums or send to family and friends. Of course, printing hundreds of photos and keeping them in a chaotic pile would make the prints unusable, so it’s important to create a filing system similar to your virtual setup and organize your prints as soon as you receive them from the shop.
- Have fun with your photos. Besides regular prints, there are so many ways your photos can be used to create memorable items for gift giving or personal enjoyment. If you have some favorite pictures that you never get tired of looking at – shots that bring back pleasant memories, remind you of your dreams and goals or otherwise cause you to have positive emotions – you may want to have such photos printed on an item you will use every day. This could be a mug, mousepad, magnet, blanket or t-shirt – many photo printing services offer hundreds of gift items you could put your photos on. You could also use your favorite shots as a custom screensaver, desktop wallpaper or put them in a digital frame that allows keeping more photos on display without crowding your desk or mantel.
With so many options for taking, storing, editing, organizing and sharing your photos it is easy to get obsessed with them and forget that photographs are actually not your memories or your real life. If you mostly look at life through a camera lens, you may be missing out on a lot of things and not actually experiencing what’s happening around you. Don’t forget to put your camera away now and then and live in the moment seeing everything with your own eyes. Life is much more than what can be captured in a photo!