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How to Organize your Photos of Years

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Everybody has a camera or at least, a smartphone. We take more and more photos nowadays. However, we look at our images less and less. Guess, why? Because we can’t find them! They are hidden on our computer, a hard drive, or in the cloud. Our precious photos are at risk of getting lost forever because they are not backed up. But how can we back them up if they are not organized in a specific place? I would like to suggest a workflow that helps you organize your hot mess of a computer.


Imagine if you lost irreplaceable images of your grandma before she passed away. Or if a few months worth of photos of your child are deleted from the camera before saving them to your computer and backing them up. And I don’t even mention the bogeyman of all computer disasters, namely when your computer breaks down and all the data is gone. Devastating, isn’t it? So, organizing your precious photographs — memories — and doing regular backups is crucial.

I know organizing images is pretty overwhelming. I did it once. But the longer you wait the more stressing it becomes. It is good to develop a photo workflow that includes saving your images from camera to your computer, editing them (if you like) and at last backing them up. You can create a different process for yourself but be consistent with your system.

Photo Organizing Workflow in Steps

  1. Deciding on a “home” for your photos First things first, you need a “home” for your photos. You can choose a dedicated hard drive or a partition on your computer but a simple folder is enough, too. That can include photos and videos, or even scanned photographs, but don’t mix in your other files. The photo hub should implicitly have a large amount of storage space and be easy to access and secure. I would not recommend a cloud storage to be your photo hub because without internet access your original photo library is not available. It is a great backup solution, though.

  2. Locate all of your photographs After deciding on a photo hub you have to transfer all of your photographs from different places, devices into that hub. Copy or move all of your images from cameras, phones, hard drive, thumb drive, cloud, and from different folders of your computer. You can move them manually into that folder or, I recommend to use a photo organizing/managing program that can simplify the process.

  3. Defining how to organize your photos To organize your images effectively, you need a consistent and logical system that works for YOU. A transparent folder and file naming is a key here. In a good and logical system you find what you are looking for in a minute. In a chronological folder structure, you create folders for each year, then you can subdivide those folders into months or events within that year. My folder naming method looks like yyyy_mm_event/place. 2020_01_London 2019_05 ← no special event, all images of May, 2019 2019_05_Emmas birthday ← special event in May in a separate folder Personally, I don’t use year folders separately and try to avoid dividing a folder in subfolders because it makes the system chaotic. For me, subdividing a year folder into events doesn’t seem to be useful or transparent. If you only see the folder name “Emmas birthday” or you move the folder accidentally, you can’t determine straight away to which year it belongs. I use numbers instead of names for months so the folders are in numerical order. Inside the folder you can put subfolders for videos and "favorites". I personally find a "favorites" folder very useful, in case you would like to make a photo book, order prints or other gifts from your images.

  4. Sorting files for deletion or keeping/editing If working with a photo managing/organizing software, ratings and color labels are a powerful tool for managing your photo collection. By rating photos you can pick the best ones for editing and keeping or you can easily delete the unrated aka bad images.

  5. Renaming images When it comes to organizing your photos, file names matter. By adopting a system and sticking to it, you guarantee that your photos will be easy to find, no matter how many years have passed. By using the date the photo was taken as part of the file name, you ensure that you don’t accidentally assign a photo a name that has already been given to another photo. I recommend to use the same system here as used at folders. 2020_01_LondonHPtour-01.jpg folder name-sequence #01 or #001 (depending on your photos) Luckily, you don’t have to do it separately because the photo managing software does it for you in bulk. Don’t use punctuation or spaces in file names. (I use the same name as folders without spaces)

  6. Tagging images with keywords Tags or keywords are searchable words in the metadata of an image. They help you have your photos organized into categories and subcategories without creating a maze of subfolders. Tags or keywords allow you to find files based on common terms you attribute to them such as subject matter, name, event and location. Keywording is a very powerful tool if doing appropriately. You have to come up with a group of words but not too many, otherwise you will be lost in the sea of words. There is no sense to tag only a few photos with a keyword.

  7. Back-up Now that you have everything organized and renamed, it is now time to back up your data. All you need to do is to copy your files from the current location to a different one.

  8. Regular maintenance To maintain this wonderfully organized structure, you have to incorporate new images into your photo management system. I highly recommend to put a dedicated day to your calendar every month (e.g. first Sunday of the month) and sit down with a glass of wine to organize and back up new images.

  9. Use your images

“Pictures aren’t meant to stay hidden in folders. They’re meant to be seen and experienced and enjoyed, especially photos that have sentimental value. So go ahead and spring for some canvas prints to hang on the wall. Order a yearly photo book to stack on your coffee table. Put your photography in places where you will see it and be uplifted by it when you aren’t expecting it.” (Aaron Nace @Phlearn)

Don't Know Where to Start?

You just start with the photos that you have on your camera and devices right now. Begin the process of sorting, deleting and rating the photos you’ve taken in the last month. If you want to organize all of your photos, work backwards. I read some good advice from a professional photo organizer once. She recommended giving yourself ONE hour every weekend to work on it as a project. Just work backwards one month at a time until you are caught up. The amount of your photographs can be overwhelming but don’t focus on how behind you are.


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