Organize your digital photos in 5 easy steps


Unorganized Pictures Can you really learn how to organize your pictures in just 5 steps? If you have been trying to find a simple way to organize your growing collection of digital pictures, you are probably frustrated by now because everyone seems to have a different method. Why is my method better? Because it is simple ! Yes, I believe it is the simplest and most efficient method to organize your digital pictures…for most people.

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My simple method to organize your digital photos folders is based on events because this is how most people search for photos. The steps are all centered on creating a simple and efficient folder structure organized around the events that occur in your life. Why events?

Our lives are made up of events

The steps are simple: establish one folder as your base, create sub-folders for large categories of events, create a sub-folder for each year of events, create an efficient name for each folder containing photos from a particular event. Last but not least…be consistent and persevere.

Why not learn how to organize that “pile” of digital pictures?
Unorganized Pictures

This picture organization method is based on events. Why? It’s simple: our lives are filled with events, some more important than others. From getting up in the morning, going to work, getting a hair cut to traveling, getting married and giving birth, the events in our lives vary in their impact to our lives. Those events that are most important to our lives become the subject of our pictures. So the basic criterion of organization must match the main subject of our lives.

STEP 1: Have only ONE folder that contains all your digital photos folders

All your pictures folders should be contained in only one folder. Usually it’s My Documents/My Pictures or just My Pictures. You must start here, otherwise you will be lost.

STEP 2: Add a folder for each significant category of events

The next step is to create a folder for each significant category of events. The criterion for this folder structure is events. We’re creating folders for significant categories of events.

The criterion for this folder structure is events. We’re creating folders for significant categories of events. These folders DO NOT represent the subject of the pictures, but they are groupings of events.

The structure shown below outlines the folder structure created for a fictitious family: FAMILY (pictures containing family events, WORK (for all pictures containing work events) and HOBBY (for pictures containing events from their hobby).

These folders DO NOT represent the subject of the pictures, but they represent groupings of related events. We’re just grouping the events into large categories that do not overlap. This way you’re dividing a large quantity of event photos into more manageable chunks. This will help you a lot when you want to find specific photos.

STEP 2: Add Event Category Folders
» My Pictures
    » FAMILY
    » WORK
    » HOBBY 

STEP 3: Add a folder for each year

There is one thing still missing. While adding event category folders certainly helps, the FAMILY folder will grow very large very quickly as time passes by and events accumulate. So, “divide and conquer” is required here. For this reason I recommend creating a folder for each year in the FAMILY events folder. You may add folders for years in the other event category folders as well but that may be too much for a folder like WORK where there might be only one or two events per year. However, if you anticipate that any category of events will grow very much, then you should add folders for each year.

If you anticipate that a category of events (i.e. FAMILY, WORK) will grow very much, then add a sub-folder for each year in that event category folder. This way you can divide the quantity of photos even more.

STEP 3: Add Event Year Folders
» My Pictures
    » FAMILY
      » 2005
      » 2006
      » 2007
      » 2008
    » WORK
    » HOBBY 

STEP 4: Create and name your event folders

This is the most important step. The folder structure you create here is the backbone of my photo organization system. In order for us to remember an event we need three pieces of information: an approximate date, a place and a short description (read How should you name your event folders? ). You must include all of these in your folder names in order to be efficient.
So, you must use the following convention:

  • 4 digits for the year (i.e. 2006)
  • 2 digits for the month (i.e. 08 for August)
  • 2 digits for the day – the day is not required, but if you remember it put it in the folder name. If an event spans more than one day, use only the month.
  • event place – use one or two words to describe the place. You can also use abbreviations that make sense to you.
  • short event description – you need two things: the place and a description of the event. Use a max of 3 short words to describe the event.
  • don’t leave blank spaces in the folder names, instead use the minus sign between your words. This way your folders will be automatically sorted properly by your operating system.
  • Examples of good folder names: 2006-08-11-tony-restaurant-dads-bday, 2005-07-california-family_trip.
  • Examples of good descriptions: “kings-cyn-hiking”, “mandalay-beach-church-picnic”, “grandma-visit”, “our-house-christmas”, “petersens-4th-july”
STEP 4: Create and name your folders
You MUST name your folders as follows: 
(read this article to see why.)
» Rule: YYYY-MM-DD-[place]-[description]
» 4 digits for the year [YY]
» 2 digits for the month [MM]
» 2 digits for the day (optional) [DD]
» 2 words max description of the place
» 3 words max description of the event
» examples of efficient folder names:
  »» 2004-10-23-grandma-family-trip
  »» 2006-08-11-tonys-restaurant-dads-bday
Final Example
» My Pictures
    » FAMILY
      » 2005
      » 2006
      » 2007
        » 2007-01-15-grandma-family-trip
        » 2007-02-18-tonys-restaurant-dads-bday
        » 2007-04-12-yosemite-park-family-trip
      » 2008
        » 2008-01-01-smiths-new-years-party
    » HOBBY 
      » 2007
        » 2007-01-15-fresno-3rd-round-volleyball-games
        » 2007-01-15-bakersfield-semifinals-volleyball
    » WORK
      » 2006-05-10-mandalay-park-company-picnic
      » 2007-07-04-beach-company-july4th

STEP 5: Be consistent

Now, use the same techniques every time you transfer more pictures from your camera to your computer. However, it is very important that you remain consistent every time you transfer new pictures to your computer. If you become lazy again, you will have to go through the same process later on. However, it will take more time because you will not remember what has been organized and what hasn’t.

STEP 5: Be consistent!
You MUST use the same rules every time:
» you download new pictures from your camera
» you download new pictures from the web
» you download new pictures from emails

Congratulations! You have just organized your digital photos in 5 easy steps!

Hmmm…maybe it’s not that simple

Organizing your pictures is not a trivial problem…actually it’s quite complex. In fact the more pictures you have the more complex it can become. However, I believe that creating an efficient folder structure based on events is a great step towards organizing your pictures. On the other hand, while this events based folder structure work well for most people, sometimes folders are not enough for complex organization structures. If your folder structure seems to not be enough for you, read this article: “When folders are not enough…tags are your friends.”

This current article outlines the steps necessary for creating an efficient folder structure based on events as the criterion for organization. To read more about choosing the right criterion for organizing your pictures read the article entitled: “Divide and Conquer for efficient picture organization.”

Essentials for organizing your digital photos

Over the years I have come to rely on only a few products for managing and backing up my large media collection. These are my essential products and services I have been using for many years to keep things organized and safe. Even though these are affiliate links, I wholeheartedly recommend them.

I recommend using Adobe Lightroom Classic CC via the annual Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Lightroom has excellent photo editing capabilities. Yes, Lightroom has a steeper learning curve as you have to learn to keep your catalogs in sync with your hard drive. However, Adobe Lightroom makes most sense especially when you do lots of image editing.

Excellent Lightroom and Picasa alternative. If you're looking for a cheaper and simpler photo manager then ACDSee Photo Studio for Mac or ACDSee Pro for Windows is my preferred solution for organizing your media on your computer. It has a very fast browser, beautiful image editing capabilities and you don't work with catalogs at all.

In addition, make sure you have an inexpensive and reliable external hard drive for backing everything up. It is absolutely essential for backing up your media regularly.

If you're looking for a reliable unlimited cloud backup service, I recommend Backblaze Cloud Backup. I have used Backblaze for my online backup for more than 3 years now. All my files are safe and secure and I have never had any problems with them.

YOURS FREE! 10 crucial steps most people miss when organizing their digital photos

Most people want to just organize their digital pictures and ignore these crucial steps right at the beginning...when they are shooting and transferring their digital pictures. Then they wonder why they can't organize their digital photos! Avoid most people's mistakes and start on the right track!

Start organizing now using detailed, step-by-step instructions and videos:
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