We all know that there are tons of options – i.e. software – for organizing digital information, including our photographs. This is not this blog. A blog about photo software might never happen – although I have used several of them, none of them meet my needs enough that I use any of them exclusively (only when they serve a need I have). Truth be told, I don’t want to give up control to a program – not completely, not ever. What this means for you is that I am talking about organizing your photos on your hard drive – and then you can use any software you choose.
First, you need to get all your photos into 1 folder – which you might already be doing since computers these days often have a folder so labeled. If your pictures are all over the place – even digitally – then you’re making more work for yourself in finding them when you want them. If you’ve never had a system for organizing your digital photos, don’t worry about further organizing of these – you can do that over time. Create the system going forward – and if you do nothing else, get all your precious photographs into one location on your computer – off your camera, phone, etc. – and take the time to do this regularly.
Second, you need to decide how you’d like to have your pictures grouped together (i.e. a digital folder) – it can be easy to set things up for chronological organization with digital photos. At least it can be easy as long as your camera and phone have been set with the correct day and time – that data is included within the image. Just because it’s easier to do chronological organizing doesn’t mean this is right for you – or that you can’t incorporate it into the system somewhat. If your son’s birthday is in early October, you probably want to divide the pictures of him from the party and his costume for Halloween – though maybe you do want an “October 2012” folder. I discuss this in Organizing Photos.
As with all organizing endeavors, one of the things that either makes things work or makes them break down is the quantity you are grouping together. Therefore, consider the number of pictures that will make it worthwhile to create a folder to keep them together. The challenge can be that we all have some random pictures that don’t quite fit into a larger category – so we need to decide how we’re going to handle this.
Let’s talk about specifics – if you want to go chronological it could look like this:
You can see that the months are in alphabetical order rather than chronological, although your photos are still organized chronologically – at least all of one year is together within that folder. This is one reason some people will use numbers – and put them in the format of “year–two-digit month–two-digit day (when applicable) [space] and other data (if desired)” so that the view then matches our expectations. Then you have different options – though here you can see the way the computer organizes the folders based on name.
You could make the year folder or if you’re using the date formatting, you don’t absolutely need it. Although here is an example still inside the year folder – if you kept with the date naming, the pictures would all be chronological. If you look at this example, there are two folders that do not include the day – and those get placed before any folders with days listed, so keep this in mind as you decide about the folders you make and the format of how you label.
This is the easiest way to organize photos. You don’t need to worry about labeling each image – as the images are collected and organized within their labeled folder and tend to be chronological due to the metadata in the image.
Some people choose to label the picture itself. The biggest challenge with this approach can be the time and energy to do this for each and every image – and deciding what information to include in the name. The longer the name, the more of the text might be hidden, and could make the process of finding specific pictures more cumbersome. Of course, you could also do a combination – where you label the folder with the broad information and then the photos have more of the details of the image. Here are two examples of how long names can impact what is visible: on the left is the list and on the right are the mini-icons and both have pictures with a “…” which indicates that the full name is longer than the available space.
How ever you choose to organize your digital photos – make it work for you. I use a combination – where our trips get a folder for each year. Then there are other folders that are simply more general – some of which include dates. Here’s a view of some of how I’ve organized my digital photos – though I’ve discovered it needs a tune-up!
Remember, organizing your things – whatever they are – is setting things up so they work for you. How do you look for things? Would it make more sense to have a folder for your children – and then subdivide from there? It doesn’t make a difference how you do it, it matters that it makes sense for you. It’s all about being able to find and appreciate your photos when you want.