There’s no simple process to organizing your digital photos. In fact, our Certified Photo Managers find that most clients have more photos than they think they do, especially when it comes to digital photos. Many people underestimate the number of digital photos they’ve accumulated. Add the number of places our digital photos exist – Dropbox, Google Photos, Apple Photos, old phones, CDs and hard drives), it’s not a wonder this is a confusing process. In our collective experience, the average person has more than 50,000 digital files alone! 

Organizing your digital photos isn’t a project likely to be finished in one afternoon; it takes multiple steps to get the job done. 

Here, we’ll break down the basics to help you get started with organizing your digital files. 

Table of Contents

Step 1: Make a list of where your photos are kept.
Step 2: Back up all of your digital files.
Step 3: Consolidate your files.
Step 4: Choose a single system for file management moving forward.
Step 5: Delete duplicate images from your collection.
Digital Photo Organizing Best Practices

Step 1: Make a list of where your photos are kept.

Though this may sound like a no-brainer, it’s a step that often gets overlooked. 

Chances are you’ve got digital photos stored in multiple places – your computer hard drives, cloud storage services, your smartphone, old thumb drives, or elsewhere. 

Start by making a literal list of everywhere you know you have photos stored. Separate your list into two groups – physical devices like your computer and local drives and separate cloud-based locations like Apple Photos or Google Photos.

Step 2: Back up all of your digital files.

You’ve heard the horror stories – something goes wrong and everything on a friend’s hard drive is lost forever. Don’t let this happen to you!

Before you get started on your project, it’s wise to back up all your files from your physical devices somewhere safe. We recommend purchasing a separate external hard drive with a large amount of space. 1-2 terabytes (TB) is generally more than enough storage. The brand you purchase is less important than the amount of storage the hard drive offers, so do a little research and purchase based on your budget and not necessarily on a name brand.

Follow the instructions on your computer to back up your system just in case something goes wrong.

Step 3: Consolidate your files.

Now that you’ve backed up your computer files, you’re ready to begin moving your photos around and into a “photo hub.” We recommend a separate area on your backup external hard drive or, better yet, a photos-only hard drive where you can pool your digital photos from all your devices. 

Device by device, work on copying, exporting, or moving the files to your newly-designated photo hub. Do yourself a favor and stay as organized as possible through the process: Label which device the files are coming from. This will help you as you move forward in your system.

The key here is to have all your images in one place so you can begin organizing them from a single location. This is often a big job and will take a significant amount of time on its own, but it’s an important step in the process. 

Step 4: Choose a single system for file management. 

Not all devices and programs “communicate” nicely. If you’re operating from an Apple device but expect to share or work on your files from an Android or PC (or vice versa), it’s essential to be sure you can access and share your files widely from whichever system you settle on. 

It’s also important to choose a platform or software that allows you to use metadata or other tagging systems. Why does this matter? Because if an image fits into multiple categories (which most photos will), you may want to “tag” it with more than one metadata keyword. We’ll get into this more below.

Step 5: Delete duplicate images from your collection.

Contrary to what you might think, it’s best to remove any duplicates before you really start wading into thousands of photos and begin organizing. Keeping multiple photos showing the same thing won’t help you finish your organization project; it will prolong it.

We recommend backing up your files one more time before you begin the de-duping process. Then, start by separating out all your image files away from any video, MP3, or other document files. 

A little internet sleuthing will help you find instructions on how to manually remove duplicate photos from your Mac or Windows computer. Alternatively, you can opt to use a service like the Photo Sweeper app for Mac or Duplicate Cleaner Pro for PCs.

Need a hand de-duplicating your photo collection. Take a look at the photo de-duplication courses at The Photo Managers Academy.

Digital Photo Organizing Best Practices

Once you’ve created and de-duplicated your photo hub, you’re ready to start digging into the heart of your photo project. Here are a few tips and best practices that will help as you wrap things up.

Decide where you’ll store your photos moving forward. 

You’ve chosen a single place to work from, but now you need to choose where your newly-organized collection will live. 

As you likely did with your photo hub, external hard drives are a great place to have full control over your images. They also ensure you don’t need to pay for server space from a cloud service provider like Google Photos, Apple iCloud, or Dropbox.

Start by making aptly-named folders or albums and renaming your image files. 

Consider this carefully: This will be the system you use for organizing all your photos for the foreseeable future. 

Start by creating folders or albums with relevant names to help you quickly move and rename files. How you choose to divvy up your collection is up to you. Use trip details, details of specific events or times in your life, or even just the names of the people in the images. 

Then, consider whether it’s worth updating your file names. The majority of your digital photos likely have irrelevant file names – a number that only organizes photos in the order they were taken on a specific device. This won’t help you if you’re trying to search for specific photos later. 

That said, because file names are often so irrelevant, some photo management systems don’t use them as a primary search tool. Be sure this will be worth your time and effort before you make any changes.

Add tags or metadata to your folders, albums, and images right away. 

Your photo organizing system should have a few features to help you quickly tag photos with relevant details making them easier to find in a search. This process is called “automated tagging,” which uses artificial intelligence, facial and other recognition processes to identify people, places, or things within a digital image file. 

Depending on the platform you use, you may also be able to add a specific keyword tag to all the photos in a single folder rather than doing it individually. For example, you might want to label a gathering as a particular wedding or family reunion.  

Your system will likely also offer the option of updating your photos’ metadata. In a nutshell, metadata is the most basic information associated with a particular digital image, including the time and date when a photo was taken, the specific GPS coordinates of where it was taken, and details about the device with which it was taken. 

Organizing Your Digital Photos Is a Worthwhile Process

Organizing digital photos is a big job and isn’t something that can easily be wrapped up in a day. It takes both time and consideration. And while it’s not a simple undertaking, the result is something that will bring you and your family joy for years to come. 

Get the Help You Need with Your Digital Photo Collection

Feeling overwhelmed by your digital photo organization project? Get in touch with one of our Certified Photo Managers to help you collect, consolidate, and organize your digital photo collection.