Best Way to Organize Digital Photos

Updated: May 24, 2020 | Contains affiliate links
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Unorganized Pictures Can you find the best way to organize digital photos? If you have been trying to find a simple way to organize your growing collection of digital photos, 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 photos…for most people.

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I found that the best way to organize digital photos must be based on events. This is how most people search for their digital photos. So, as long as we work on creating a simple and efficient folder structure organized around the events our method should make sense. So, let’s work together in creating the best way to organize digital photos. Why events?

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

Our Lives are Made of Events

Before diving into the details, let’s explore a bit further why events are at the core of our lives.

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 best way to organize digital photos is based on events and it has to be simple.  Here is an overview of the 5 simple steps for organizing your digital photos on your computer: 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.

So the basic criterion for digital photo organization must match the main subject of our lives. With this in mind let’s build the best way to organize digital photos.

1. Have One Folder Containing All Photo Folders

The best way to organize digital photos, must be simple.  Otherwise it will not work. So, let’s start with the beginning.

Have all your digital photo folders be contained in only one folder.  On Windows, usually it’s called My Pictures while on the Mac it’s called Pictures. So, look around your computer and make sure that you move (not copy) all your photo folders inside this one master digital photo folder. Do it now, before you proceed.

You must start here, otherwise you will be lost.

2. Create 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 

3. Add a Folder for Each Year

There is one thing still missing in our best way to organize digital photos. 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 

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? ). So, our best way to organized digital photos must include all of these pieces of information in our folder names. Otherwise our method will not be efficient.

Event folder names must contain three essential pieces of information that will help us remember events: an approximate date, a place and a short description.

To make things easy, here is the event folder naming convention I use:

  • 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

5. Be Consistent

Now, as we come towards the end of creating the best way to organized digital photos, we come to an easy step to describe but hard to practice. We now must use the same techniques every time we transfer more photos from your cameras to your computer. However, it is very important that you remain consistent every time you transfer new digital photos to your computer. If we become lazy, we will have to go through the same process later on. However, it will take more time because you will not remember which photos have been organized and which haven’t. That is utter confusion.

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 digital photos is not a trivial problem…actually it’s quite complex. In fact the more digital photos you have, the more complex it can become. However, I believe that the best way to organize digital photos must start with an efficient folder structure based on events. As long as your way to organize digital photos matches your life, the method will work. 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 event 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

Here are the essential products and services I have come to rely on for many years to keep my media collection organized and safe. Even though these are affiliate links, I wholeheartedly recommend them.

Best Way to Organize Digital Photos 1Excellent Lightroom and Picasa alternative. If you're looking for a cheaper and simpler photo manager then ACDSee Photo Studio for Mac (60% off until October 7, 2020) 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.

Best Way to Organize Digital Photos 3If you do a lot of image editing like I do, 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. But if do image editing, Adobe Lightroom is my favorite.

Best Way to Organize Digital Photos 5 I recommend Backblaze Cloud Backup for affordable & reliable unlimited cloud backup. I have been using Backblaze for backing up all pictures & videos for more than 4 years now. All my invaluable digital memories are safe and secure.

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.

YOURS FREE! 10 crucial steps most people miss when organizing their digital photosBest Way to Organize Digital Photos 7

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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