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How to Store Your Digital Photos Like the Pros Do

One of the things I’ve been dying to tackle with Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life is digital photo storage.  I have thousands (maybe even tens of thousands? I’m not sure – I’m too scared to look) of photos currently on my computer.  Not at all organized, not even a little.  I just haven’t been sure how to go about it.

Then it hit me… I have some stellar professional photographers on my team, why not ask them how they do it?  So today MPMK’s own professional photog Kristin is here doing just that – sharing her fast and dirty technique for organizing her thousands upon thousands of photos.

My tip?  Don’t get overwhelmed trying to catch up with photos from the past.  Start implementing this system for all photos from now on and catch up with the rest on a rainy day.

One of my favorite things about going home is looking through the old photo albums with my siblings. Each photo represents a memory. But how many times have we wondered… where were we? How old was I? What were we doing?

We’re actually lucky that our parents took the time to document our growing up in the 70’s and 80’s! One of the benefits of living in 2013 is digital photography and the ease of taking and storing photos.

And yet, it seems silly that one of the most valuable things we own gets treated so carelessly sometimes. Taking the time to capture a moment in time should mean organizing and correctly storing it.

Here’s the process I use:



1. Download my photos from my memory card. I don’t leave them on the card forever. It’s easy to forget what you’ve downloaded and accidentally format a card (erasing your photos forever). So, the day I take the photos is the day I download them.

2. When I download my photos I create a folder and label it. For example, if I took photos at the preschool open house, the folder might say ‘Jillian’s Preschool Open House’. You can get more specific if you want.

3. At this point I go through the photos and delete any that I don’t want (eyes closed, blurry, etc). This just helps with digital storage space. And quality is always better than quantity!

4. The folder is then moved into a folder for that month…so this one would be moved into January 2013.

5. I keep the January folder on my desk top so I can easily move photos into that folder as I take them throughout the month.

6. When January is over, I move that folder into the yearly folder, which would be Eldridge 2013. My folders go all the way back to 2000 when I got my first digital camera!

I’ve found this process to not only help with organizing the photos and cutting back on the amount of photos that I store, but it’s also easy to find the photos when I’m looking for something specific. I recently wrote about how important it is to document life here, because things don’t stay the same for long. So, take the extra effort to organize and store your photos. Your kids will thank you one day!


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Kristin is a former teacher turned children’s photographer in southern California. Visit her website to read all about her adventures in photography, cooking, and her love of style.

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Karyn January 17, 2013 at 12:35 am

Thanks for this tip; it is not too unlike what I do. However, what do you do with the stray photos, like when you grabbed the camera for a quick shot of the kids reading on the couch together? That does not seem to warrant its own folder, but I would want it to be kept in chronological order with the other multi-photo events of the days surrounding it.


Carol Ann January 17, 2013 at 8:18 am

I have the same question as Karyn. I find that as I go back through my folders, I find random pictures that are keepsakes but without a proper place. A few years ago I made folders by season entitled “Around the House” and kept the photos there but then missed them while scrapbooking. Any advice?


kristin eldridge photography January 17, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Karyn and Carol Ann,
I agree…there are lots of random photos, especially since I now take a lot of them on my iphone. When I download, I could just name the folder ‘random photos in January’ and put all the non-event photos in there. I have 3 kids, so sometimes, I’ll put their name on the folder like ‘Jillian-January’ and put loose photos of her in that folder.
There’s no right way to do it. The point is being able find your photos and have a tag that will help you remember where you were and what you were doing when the photo was taken.


Karen October 10, 2013 at 7:41 pm

I like putting their name month and year on a folder. I tried random folder but that was too vague for me as I take photos of six nieces and two nephews and other photos.
I just recently switched computer systems and do you organize the photos that were transferred from the old to the new system?


Karlotta January 17, 2013 at 8:20 am

Do you know of any (cheap/free) photo organizing software that allows you to tag photos?


kristin eldridge photography January 17, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I use Adobe Bridge that comes with my free with Photoshop. I know you may not have Photoshop, so I looked up free programs for organizing photos and found this link with 10 free programs for photo management. Hope that helps!



Gaby {lifeineight.com} January 23, 2013 at 10:11 am

Karlotta, if you use windows, Photo Gallery is a brilliant and free software. You can add tags to your photos and all that information is actually saved in the pictures themselves so even if you open them with a different programs, all the tags will be there. Another great feature of Photo Gallery is face recognition. Once you start assigning names to the detected faces, Photo Gallery will recognize those people in future pics and you’ll be able to use their names as search categories!


Courtney January 17, 2013 at 9:33 am

Do you recommend any online storage or backup system? I’m always fearful that my computer will crash and we won’t be able to recover lost photos. (It’s only happened once, pre-kids….) I would die if I lost my daughter’s first birthday photos or her smiling in her high chair…


Lindsey Pieper January 17, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I would recommend Dropbox as an online storage place for photos!


kristin eldridge photography January 17, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Hi Courtney,

I use Lacie hard drives. They are so tiny and hold a ton of photos. I buy them on Amazon and all the pros use Lacie because they have a very very low failure rate. I’m sure you know that even back up drives can corrupt. I’ve used Lacie for many many years and never had a problem.

I love that they are easily portable, because I can just throw it in my bag and bring it with me to show photos somewhere other than my home computer.

Hope that helps!


domonique @ a bowl full of simple January 17, 2013 at 11:53 am

I organize like this too, but continue to have two things come up for me that i’d like to know your advice for.
1. i often move from my desktop to my laptop. i have photos in both places. any suggestions on how to merge them so i can access both?
2. question one always leads me to question 2, i would like to have backup or ‘cloud’ storage. suggestions??


kristin eldridge photography January 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm

I would suggest having your portable hard drive, I use the Lacie as your main storage. That way you can easily access them from your laptop or computer. Then for back up, try DropBox.


Gaby {lifeineight.com} January 23, 2013 at 10:06 am

Domonique, I managed to fix that same issue by buying an external hard drive that acts like a server. I haveit connected to my router so now, both my hubby and I can access/save files to this share place from our personal laptops. It can also be accessed from Iphones, Playstation and pretty much anything that can connect to the internet! I totally love it! The one we got is the Buffallo Live station (or something similar) and it was very easy to set-up!


Quinn January 17, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I have been importing directly to iPhoto for years, thinking that although they look so organized, when I actually go to my images folder on the laptop, they are not organized at all.

The way this appears to me is that uploading to iPhoto is not helpful in organizing your photos and the step is bypassed completely, is this correct?


kristin eldridge photography January 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I don’t use iPhoto either for organizing my photos. I should mention that I print yearly books through apple and it makes you use iPhoto to start, so I’ll just import into iPhoto and then create the book. It’s just an easy way for my kids to look at the photos (and lets you write memories).


Missa January 17, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I’ve been importing into iPhoto TOOOOO. Worst decision ever, but I don’t know how to stop! Help :)


Sally from Little Hiccups January 17, 2013 at 2:23 pm

I use Aperture for downloading and storing all of my photos. I try to upload my photos onto my computer the day that I’ve taken them to keep things simple. When I upload the photos Aperture asks if I’d like to add them to an existing project or create a new one. I simply create a new project with the date and description in the title. Writing the date in year, month, day order is the best as the projects are sorted alphabetically. If I’m feeling super organised (which isn’t always the case!) I then move the project into a folder of related projects. I have all sorts of folders set up such as Travel, Family, Craft Projects… If I want to look through my photos in date order I can always just click on the “Projects” tab at the top and the projects appear in date order. I find this a simple way of keeping track of where all my photos are and as I pretty much always use Aperture to look at them they’re really easy to find.
I’m super paranoid about losing my photos so we have quite a few back up steps as well. My photos are all stored on an external hard drive (my older iMac is starting to get a little flakey at times). We have a second external hard drive which runs a back up program every hour. My husband also keeps a third external hard drive at his work. Once a week he brings it home, does a back up and then takes it straight back to work. That way we’re covered for pretty much all situations that might result in losing our photos: computer dying, theft, fire in our house… Did I mention that I’m paranoid about losing my photos? 😉
My Mum drives me crazy as she leaves all her photos on her memory card and then visits K-Mart or somewhere similar when the memory card is full and uses their photo machines download them all onto a CD. She then deletes the memory card and starts over again. She doesn’t sort her photos into folders so whenever she wants to show someone a photo she has to go through the entire CD to find it! I did manage to convince her to upload her photos daily to her iPad while she was on a recent European vacation but I know she’s gone straight back to her old habit once she got home.


kristin eldridge photography January 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Wow! Your system sounds great! I like the idea of having the third hard drive at the office in the worst case scenario.


Kelly January 17, 2013 at 8:08 pm

I recommend Picassa! I’ve been using it for years and love it. I use the hierarchical folder sort so I can see my years and open them up to see the months. You can tag, create albums, etc. For example, I take pictures of my son’s artwork, and I’ll leave it in the monthly folder, but yet tag it to see all the artwork together as well. My videos are organized in Picassa the same way. Also, because it just accesses my folders from their location, it’s easy to back-up all the folders, and the yearly/monthly organization will still be there – that’s not dependent on Picassa.


Presha August 22, 2013 at 1:57 pm

The editing options in Picassa are also wonderful. I tried to use iPhoto when I got a Mac and it seemed to work, but I went back to Picassa. Love It.


Kelly January 17, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Oh, and I should also say – we have an external hd for backup. We also will burn to a DVD every few months, and those are kept in my parents’ safe at their house. We are planning to replace those with another external hd soon – since we got our iPhones we fill 4-5 DVDs/year, so that will get out of hand soon.


Amy January 17, 2013 at 11:43 pm

I, too, noticed that you work on a Mac, but you do not use iPhoto. I wonder if I should stop (or use both?). I love how iPhoto lets me click through the photos in a sequence, whereas if I store them in a folder on the HD, I have to click to open each photo. i find that annoying and cumbersome. Any tips?


kristin eldridge photography January 18, 2013 at 10:13 am


You’re right, I’m a mac lover! I’ve gotten used to viewing my photos in Bridge, so I haven’t explored iPhoto. But, if it works for you stick with it! Just use the folders (naming and organizing) in iPhoto!



Jennifer January 18, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Thank you for the great tips! I also have the same question as Amy. I am posting a comment so I can see if she gets a response. Thank you!


kristin eldridge photography January 18, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Amy and Jennifer,

If you’re using a mac, open your hard drive and go to the Finder menu at the top. You’ll see a View Menu button. Click on ‘as Cover Flow’ and expand the window you are viewing the photos in. You’ll be able to see the photos like a slide show instead of a list of image numbers.

Hope that helps!


Becca January 18, 2013 at 4:44 pm

I use iPhoto and like it. I love being able to click through pictures too much to just deal with folders where you can only click on one picture at a time. Inside Iphoto I have “folders” events for each week because that’s the way I scrapbook. When I first started organizing them I lumped them together by month and by big events and then went back through and did smaller groups. It’s a lot easier to tackle 200 pictures from March then 1000 pictures from who knows when. :)


Tracey@ prettygreatmom.blogspot.com January 27, 2013 at 10:52 pm

These are great suggestions. I have some many photos saved in different places it’s hard to find them. Thanks for the tips and inspiration.


Tammy March 26, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I have just Pinterest-stumbled upon this blog and am in love. I to, live in a world that longs for organization, but find it takes a backseat to everyday life.
I just wanted to mention that in addition to external hard drives for backup storage of photos, I also burn disks and ship one to my parents and my sister at the end of every year. This is my “backup-backups” just in case. :)
I can’t wait to keep looking around for great ideas!
*Should I mention that I am “cleaning” my house right now? Does this look like cleaning to you? I’m reading about organization – that should count for something. Ha!


Morgan {Style Oyster} April 8, 2013 at 9:43 am

Great tips. I organize my photos very similarly and it has saved a lot of headache! Now if I could just get myself to get them actually printed…lol.


Natalia G May 20, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Do you use iPhoto at all? Or no? I’m in the process of re organizing ALL our pictures. We keep them in iPhoto but I kinda like the idea of using folders like that instead. But I do use iPhoto for a lot of quick editing.. xx


kristin eldridge photography May 21, 2013 at 5:42 pm


I use Bridge instead of iPhoto. It helps sort and organize the photos. But, if you’re happy with iPhoto, I’d stick with it!



Megan June 6, 2013 at 4:44 am

What I want to know is, how do you find the time to up/download your photos everyday!

I have a similar system but for my kiddo I just arrange the photos by date and then put them in the appropriate folder. Before kiddo I sorted them by event. For family events like holidays I put them in a family folder.


Germaine June 26, 2013 at 11:09 am

thanks for the tips.
Suddenly, I had the urge to print out all of my tens of tons of pictures into an album?!
DO you have any advice for that? I kind thinking too far out that my pictures will no longer be readable on technology in 10 years time. :(


kristin eldridge photography June 26, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Germaine, I’m with you! I like to enjoy the photos away from the computer too. Normally, I use Apple to make an album every year, but Shutterfly and companies like that also have great (easy-to-use) programs with templates for making your own album. As far as un-readable technology, I think there’s always ways to transition. Currently, I’m hiring a company to make all my old VHS movies of my kids into DVDs. :)


Scott September 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Kristin – I love your system, it’s very similar to the one I have been using, group by year, then by month, and then into events. I keep all of my files on two different computers, and I only allow my software applications to operate on one of the drives, because I had a bad experience with Picasa a few years back where it corrupted several months of photos. I have 84000 photos and videos – before my kids were born I only had 3000, amazing how that works.

The only downside to this system is the amount of time it takes. I would procrastinate and my pictures would build up, and eventually I would spend an entire Saturday organizing them. I still use this system, but I have automated it now.

I started a company last year and we wrote an Mac app called Silent Sifter, and it does most of the steps for me. I plug in my camera, and it automatically imports the photos from the camera, and stores them by year, by month into my folders. Then I group them into events, like birthdays, or trips by creating folders inside each month and moving the photos there. It saves me a lot of time. It detects duplicates, so the next time you want to import your photos, you can without worrying about a bunch of duplicate files creating a mess.

I hope you will take a look, it will automate 2/3 of your workflow. We have a trial version on our website that lets you organize up to 500 files if anyone wants to give it a try for free. Let me know if you want a closer look, I’ll give you a free promo code.

What company did you use to digitize your old VHS? About how much did that cost per tape, and were you happy with the results? I have a whole stack of old 8mm handicam tapes I need to digitize before they degrade.


Kristin September 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Thanks Scott, I’ll take a look. I used a local video company to digitize my VHS and it was about $25 per tape.


Andrea October 20, 2013 at 12:08 am

What are people using to make digital photo books?


Kristin October 21, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Andrea…I like using Apple. But there are so many companies out there making it super easy to put together a book!


Lori October 23, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Kristin – Love your system. Gonna try it out this weekend. My digital photos are a hodgepodge mess! Earlier this year I went from Windows to Mac so it’s not consistent…yet. How do you handle getting photos from others? I have a new great-nephew so my sister is frequently sending me shared photostreams of the pics she takes when she visits him. I typically save those down to iPhoto. Do you tag or name them in a different way since they weren’t “your” photos? Thanks!


Barry A. Martin October 28, 2013 at 10:50 pm

I’m not a professional photographer, but I’ve got GBs of photos from years of shooting.
I ended up at this post because it’s time to organize and secure them before I lose precious early family shots, etc.

A quick google for terms like manage digital photos 2013 brought me to the conclusion that date is the universally acknowledged preferred system. You can add whatever tags want to the names after the dates for more granular findability.

Scott’s note above is comprehensive and I’ll be buying his software, so thanks for that.

I just thought I’d suggest to your readers that they use a backup service like Backblaze or Crashplan. Dropbox can help, but it would be expensive for my purposes–that’s why they’re pushing photo management.

Hard Drives die in about 5 years. I have 3 dead Lacies. Just how it it is.

I bought a new, bigger Lacie. It’s set up as a raid, meaning it has two drives, and one clones the other. Then I use Backblaze ($5/month) to back up the changes to my drive incrementally.


Mark November 13, 2013 at 6:00 am

This is a good filing system and I am using it to download photos from my devices to an external hard disk. Using Adobe Bridge this goes automatically. I refer to putting the photos in folders by date. However, for photos that are already on my computer, I am looking for a program that does the same: organise by date. I havent found it yet.


Peter March 5, 2014 at 12:15 am

Almost all photo viewers nowadays allows sorting by date and time so storing photos via actual date in a folder seems unintuitive to me. A description in the folder (as you do in the dated folder) is a much better way of categorizing photos.
However, storing photos without tagging them first is a recipe for eventual disaster, Even a broad tag across a whole group of photos allows you to find them again easily when they get misfiled (you note I said when and not if :-) ). Again most modern photo brwosers have the ability to tag photos and search for photos using the tag.


Fran April 5, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Thanks for the tips. I have gone one step further in naming the folders. Considering that files on the computer are generally sorted first numerically and then alphabetically I use the following filing system.

In pictures folder I have a folder for every year. Within the folder (since the month names are not alphabetical) I name the folders “01 January, 02 February, 03 March” etc. I also include a folder for “best” shots. (I also created a template so that starting the new year is easy). When importing photos I will also name the folder with the date first in a year, month, day order so that they are automatically sorted in the correct date order in my files before I sort them. Even if I add a subject after the date, they are always in the right order.

Having said all this, I have yet to find that rainy day when I can sort all of the older photos :)


Raheem May 18, 2014 at 12:28 am

Nice tips there Kristin. I often lose my best pics as I am not good at organizing so this should definitely help me.


yoli June 25, 2014 at 2:03 pm

thanks for the great tips. Any suggestions on Videos? I have a bunch of short little family clips videos taken w my iphone that I could love to have organized and save on a cd or some sort of website. any suggestions?


kristin eldridge June 25, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Hi Yoli,
I organize my photos the same way (by month and year) and then I back them up on a hard drive. If you are really into videos, you can always edit the clips into one long stream to save on a CD. Personally, video editing confuses me, so I just stick to collecting the little clips and organizing them by when they were taken.


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Meenakshi November 17, 2014 at 1:04 am

Backup & organizing are so important! I need to take an entire afternoon and devote myself to organizing my photos. Once the system is setup, rest of the things should be easy.


beverly November 22, 2014 at 4:18 pm

I am a senior citizen with over 25 hard cover albums. 3 years ago I decided to stop using albums because nobody looked at them any way. I have no grandchildren. So tried putting them on dvd but for some reason that did not work. Probably did it wrong. Then I went with a flash drive but found out that unless I specifically numbered them in the order I wanted them to be they would get all mixed up in the computers file. So I did 2011 numbering it in the order I wanted and put on drive, then I did 2012 same way and added to the drive -however they meshed together on the drive with the same number for each year together, so I went through and redid all photos starting with 001 in 2011 and so on ending with 445 in 2012. worked fine but now I have completed 2013 and labeled them 001 2013 and so on and found out it did the same thing. So now I have to re-label all (400 +) 2013 continuing on with the last # in 2012. Is there an easier way?


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lydia purple March 28, 2015 at 10:49 am

i used to do what you described, but the many folders drive me crazy. plus i lost various hard drives and computers, so i went to store all photos online. i love flickr pro. i upload all family pictures set as private only visible for family members, i tag all photos with the names of people in it and any other tag worthy things like ‘first steps’ or the location or ‘summer vacation 2014′. that’s it. i stopped making albums/ folders, except one for each kid with the pictures i want to put in their photo books and other things that i like to keep together (usually those are pics that are not related to family, pics for tutorials and other projects). it works great because i can search by upload date or by date the pic was taken in flickr’s archive, i can search by tags, people, location etc. we can upload directly to flickr from all our mobile phones and tablets and laptop. when i want to print the photobooks i don’t have to sift through folders, i just go to the childs photobook album. i can acces the pictures anytime, anywhere and download in original size. i love it. it’s my perfect back up dream. the only problem, all the pics on my computer are a mess…. i kind of think i should just delete them after printing the photobooks. because i have a print copy of the best shots of that year and an online backup. maybe to keep the photobook folder on the hard drive, too.


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