One of the reasons I am able to produce a blog post each week is that I have a treasure trove of both good and bad photos to pull from to use as examples. The KEY is that I am able to find them among multiple hard drives with very little effort. In 2004, before I purchased my very first DSLR, I took a class that taught me to organize my digital photos. What a gift that has been. I'd like to teach you to do the same!
But wait, my hard drive is a digital wasteland!
That's ok. Get rid of the guilt and overwhelm. STOP with the idea that you have to go back before you can go forward. I am here to tell you that you are not likely to ever go back and organize your photos. BUT, you can make the future a lot easier by starting TODAY with a new, simple system to organize your digital life. I've been teaching this for years, and it is one of the most popular modules in my class!
I have been doing exactly what you warn against...trying to organize and make deletions to the zillions of pictures I have before setting up a good filing and backup system...and I will never get it done!! Big relief to sort of let that go and move forward with new stuff for the time being.
Mandy, Current Student
organize your digital photos: my proven system
As I mentioned earlier, I've been following this exact system for 15 years and it is has served me well. You can download the free guide that will walk you through this step-by-step.
Step #1: create a year folder inside of "pictures"
Whether you are on a PC or a Mac, go to your Pictures folder and go to File, "New Folder" and create a folder with the year name. You will do this 1x/year. How easy is that?
step #2: import all new Pictures into that folder
For the rest of the year, all of the pictures you take will get imported (by event, more on that in a minute) into that folder.
Whether you copy/paste from your card into that folder, or you use a program like Photos on the Mac; however you get your photos from your camera to your computer, they will go into that folder. Until of course January 1, 2020 when you will create a "2020" folder (crazy it's that close, but I digress!)
The important thing is that you import your photos each and every time you go out and take pictures. This will a) keep you organized, and b) minimize the risk of losing your photos due to theft or leaving your camera somewhere! Ask my friend Cathy...she had a years worth of unimported photos on her camera when it was stolen. She knows that she's my cautionary tale whenever I teach this subject.
Step #3: create DESCRIPTIVE folders inside of "year" folder
An "event" is each and every time you shoot something new (think baseball game, Christmas morning, vacation, etc.) Each event needs its own folder. I have a specific format for naming the event folder, and it is very important to do this because it will automatically put everything you do for the year in date order.
YR/MO/DAY DESCRIPTIVE NAME (as in...what will I search for in 10 years to find these pictures)
Here's a personal example:
That's it really...just use everyday language that you would normally use to describe the event. That way, 18 years from now when you are creating a graduation video or Shutterfly book, you can easily go back and search for pictures without wondering where they are or what they are called.
Sometimes, I know that something took place in the Spring of a certain year which makes it much easier to narrow down your search. Or maybe it was Spring, but not quite sure what year. You can pop open your year folder, browse the Spring folders, and move on to the next year if you didn't find it.
You can also search through all of your folders. For example, our family did YEARS of summer swim. If I am looking for a swim picture, I can look at the "All Photos" folder, search swim (because I always used the word "swim" in my description) and everything across all of the years with the word swim will pop up.
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Step #4: repeat
The key to this system working is to do it consistently. If you let your card fill with 6 months worth of photos, it will become that much harder to import them event by event and stay organized. It is so simple if you stay on top of it.
step #5: backup
Do you have a backup plan?
Most people I know don't have a backup plan. Years of photos will be lost if their laptop is stolen or the hard drive stops working (the latter happened to me...I had 2004-2010 on that hard drive. Fortunately, I did have it backed up and they just sent me a hard drive with all of my photos. Whew!)
I don't consider an external hard drive a backup plan. Sure, if your hard drive goes south, it's great to have. But what if your house burns down (I hope it doesn't but you've seen the wildfires out west!)?
I use Backblaze. It is simple, automatic, and very inexpensive. For $5/month (or so) you get automatic backup and if you lose your pictures, they send you a hard drive to replace them. You can even backup your external drives. I HIGHLY recommend automated backup. I also use Carbonite for those 2004-2010 photos I told you about.
There are other ways...you can store on Shutterfly or Dropbox but those aren't AUTOMATED backups. You have to remember to do that and I don't know about you, but I can barely remember what I had for dinner let alone to backup my photos regularly.
but andrea, i'll never get caught up!
You know what? You might not. But, you might. You might like this system so much going forward that you decide to go back and organize by year (at least.) In my class, I've helped students get organized. But you have to let go of the idea that you need to go back before you can go forward.
That's dangerous thinking that will keep you paralyzed, will set you back even further, and put you at risk for a hard drive failure or other ways of losing all of your memories.
WATCH THIS MODULE FOR FREE
Get instant access to Week 1: Lesson 2 "Big Girls Get Organized" from my class "Learn to Use Your Big Girl Camera. You will get immediate access to the full module (10 min. video) PLUS you'll automatically get an email with the cheat sheet to walk you through the process step by step.
Let me know in the comments below what your biggest struggles are with organization. Do you regularly backup your photos?
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3 steps to organize digital photos
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Andrea Ferenchik, Founder
Andrea started The Big Girl School because she loves sharing her passion of photography with other women. As a former trainer at Microsoft and current professional photographer, she has the unique ability to break down technical jargon of the camera into easy to understand language. She loves nothing more than to see her students grow and thrive in their photographic journey.
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