“Help! I have tens of thousands of photographs and I can’t find anything. What should I do? How should I organize my digital photos?”

Huilin, Seattle


How many photos do you have across all devices? I am a photographer and I have 13,425 on my cell phone alone. Yikes. A recent study concluded that US household photographers took more than 10 billion photos a month with just their cell phone (Shutterfly).

We are drowning in digital media. From baseball games to family holidays, digital images are everywhere, on our phones, in email, in the Cloud, and on hard drives – and we can’t find a thing.


Why? No one has been educated on best practices for storage, search and naming of images. In days long gone, professional photographers had that responsibility. We knew how to find your images. You didn’t have to worry – but now you do. Your family visual assets are at risk. Here is what I recommend to help you begin to protect these memories and find peace of mind.


First of all BACK UP YOUR IMAGES especially those on your phone. Do it now – IPhoto, Google Photos, or just synch it to your laptop. Don’t delay. Why not delegate it to your teenager and pay them an hourly fee?


Once you have backed up, then you can begin to organize your digital photos. I have my clients copy their images onto a hard drive and mail it to me. Then we know they have at least one backup.


Here are some easy tips in order from easiest to hardest of how to organize your photos.


  1. Organize by year naming each folder by year. Each image you take (if your device is set to the right time and date) will have that information recorded. Start by creating folders for each year and copy over the images created within that year. HINT: If you view the images in a list, and sort by date, the year should become obvious.
  2. Within your annual folders, next organize by month. Each image will also have the exact day and month it was taken when viewed as a list. Now you can parse the images down into the twelve months of the year further helping you to find an important moment.
  3. Within your month folders, create folders to organize by event. This is optional. Many clients like to have the event so they can search for it. This requires some time, but if you can’t deal with this level of organization, don’t worry.
  4. For those who really want to search for specific people at specific events on specific dates, it is time to get a software to help you. I recommend Adobe LIGHTROOM. This software is very robust, though has a learning curve. With a few tricks you will be organizing your images by creating key words, starring your favorites, color coding your family members, and captioning event names. It also imports the metadata of the images including the dates and times they were taken and can move your images.



Once you have the images organized, then you have to really start to cull the images down and to figure out the best images. This is an entirely different topic, but let’s start with the big three Focus, Framing, and Exposure. If they don’t have those three, reject it, and move on to the next one.