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Top Five Tips for photo organizing

You have to start somewhere, you have to start sometime!

Prelude – These top five tips are to help you get your photo collection organized and then teach you how to keep it organized using a number of practices that I have learned from over 20 years of working with and managing digital photo collections.

One of the most important things you can do is to have all your photos in one place, which is the first tip. Should be simple right, but we all know it is anything but.

I think we all managed to keep our photo collections organized to some degree or another until that amazing little device called the smartphone came along, and we soon found ourselves taking photos of just about everything in sight. Not just trips or special events mind you, but everything we do - our meals, our parking spaces, our trip to the supermarket and even the dreaded selfie. That’s when everything started to go to pot.

Now we have our photos scattered around on all sorts of devices - our computers, cameras, smartphones, tablets and that strange thing called the Cloud (yes, let’s all look skyward and pray our pictures are up there somewhere). And if our friends or family sent us any photos, we might have them on Facebook, or some other file-sharing platform. We pretended that everything was all right and safe for as long as we could, but we all knew it was just a matter of time before something crashes, fails or was lost forever. Oh anxiety, I know you well. But that anxiety is good, because it is going to get us off our butts and do something about it. Right?

So where do you start?

Tip 1 – Setting up a core file structure. Organizing your folders by year and month.

To be honest, this might be the most difficult step to take by yourself, but its also one of the most important. If you need help, feel free to call me or find a local organizer in your area. If you are ready to do it yourself, here goes.

A core file structure is a main folder on your desktop, laptop or external hard drive that contains ALL your photos. It has sub-folders divided up by year and usually month as well.

Having a core file structure with all your photos in one place obviously makes it easier to manage your collection. It also makes it transportable if ever you run out of storage on your hard drive, you can simply copy this main folder to a larger or external hard drive.

By creating and maintaining this core file structure you can also import your photos into most cataloging programs such as Mylio or Lightroom, and if ever someday you find another program you like, you can simply import it into that program.

The exception to this is Apple Photos (or the older iPhoto), which uses its own proprietary organizing structure, but we will talk more about at a later date.

The first step is to collect all your photos in one folder. Initially you will simply be dumping every photo you can find into this folder. Create a folder on your hard drive, or an external hard drive (if storage is an issue). You can call this main folder “My Photos” or “Photos” or something brilliant like that, whatever you like really.

You may think you know where all our photos are, but I would sit down make a list of all possible locations, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you come up with a few places that weren’t initially apparent. Desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, external hard drives, cameras, file sharing programs, social media sites and cloud storage sites are the most common.

Drag and/or copy over all the photos from all your devices to the main folder you have created. If you copied over a whole folder of images, that is fine, but at some point you will need to empty those folders so ALL the individual photos are in the one main folder.

After you copy over the photos, the device you originally copied them from will still have a copy. You can either delete them if you are feeling bold, or make a note on your list where they are, and go back and delete them later after you have organized your whole collection. I recommend the latter.

Downloading your photos from your mobile devices can be done in a number of ways. Try the two below for Mac and Windows respectively. If these don’t work, search for downloading methods for your particular device and Computer OS or iOS.

If you are on a Mac, there is a simple program called Image Capture located in your Applications folder, this will download all the images from your mobile devices.

For Windows, ALWAYS turn off iTunes before plugging in your phone, then…

1.     Wait for the AutoPlay popup asking you what you want to do with the device
2.     Select “View Content” or choose a device option like ‘Import pictures and videos’
3.     Find your photos through the folders that are displayed
4.     Copy the images to the main folder you have set up

To download the images from your Facebook site, you can either download individual images by right clicking on them, or a new FB feature allows you to download your albums one at a time. If you want to download your whole site (that includes everything), here are the instructions.

In the event that you don’t know where all your photos are, there is a great little tool that will find them all for you and then collect them on a supplied flash drive, it’s called Picture Keepers and it will download ALL your photos to the flash drive which you can then copy to the main folder you set up.

Now on to sorting them into folders based on a Year/Month file structure. Sorting your photos manually is difficult on a Windows platform and very unreliable on a Mac. If you want to know why, read the paragraph below, otherwise skip to the next.

All digital cameras embed the Image Creation Date (the date and time the photo was taken) into the actual photo file. This is called EXIF meta data (boring I know). In your file directories, your Mac and PC sorts your photos and other files by something called the Date Created, but this is not necessarily the same date the photo was taken. For instance if you exported your photos from a cataloging program, then the Date Created will reflect the date of the export not the date the photo was taken. There are some other ways the Date Created may be different from the Image Creation Date so don’t count on it for accuracy. There is a way in Windows that you can access the Image Creation Date using Explorer/Pictures and then sorting by creation date. I recommend using one the two apps below

If you are on a Mac, there is inexpensive software that will sort your files for you called Photo Sifter.

If you are on a Windows platform try – PhotoMove, there is a free version and a very inexpensive pro version.

If you want a full cataloging program, Mylio is my favorite photo cataloging software and what I use for my own personal and family photo collection. It also has a tool that will organize all your photos into exactly the year/month folder structure I am talking about. It is actually very reasonably priced and has a host of other great tools and features as well. Learn more here and try it free for 30 days.

Lastly, you undoubtedly have duplicate files. The best programs for removing duplicates are for Macs, for Windows.

As I said, it is a process that involves some technical navigation as well as some menial sorting tasks. It is the most important thing you can do, and finding a way of getting it done either by yourself, or with outside help, will be well worth it, trust me.

Tip 2 –  Coming soon... Organizing with Albums

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