Face it you have too many digital photos. There are several causes of this situation, but the biggest problem is that it can make finding and using your photos far more difficult. Fortunately, it just takes a little time and a good piece of software to tackle the data creep that is swelling and scattering your photo library of digital photos. So whether you’re a budding amateur photographer, you’re slowly cataloging all your family’s old photos with digital scanning, or you’re just snap-happy with your smart phone, one of these approaches will help you make your time more worthwhile.
The range of software options for organizing your photos can itself be oppressive. The best approach is to focus on the photos themselves, and not worry too much about which software you want. If your first choice ends up being too complicated, it’s easy to try something else. The average situation is a person who has photos spread across multiple hard drives and storage devices, as well as some in their inbox, still on their camera’s card, and on their smart phone. The divide between camera and smart phone might also be perpetuated on the primary storage drive. And then there are the awesome old photos of our childhood preserved with digital scanning in their own folder (hopefully). Most people in this situation want to both make casually browsing their photos easier and more fruitful, and gain the ability to find specific photos or types of photos for projects like photo books or calendars.
Your first step should be the arduous task of getting every photo you have in one place, one main directory, on one drive. That means move everything off your memory cards, download everything from emails, and consolidate. If you don’t have space, buy a used older drive online and use that. If you have a backup, just leave it for now, but get rid of duplicates anywhere else. Consolidating is the biggest change you can make in terms of being able to find and browse photos.
Next, pick organization software. Some people prefer the native folder system in their operating system, and that is fine too. But if you want tagging and any other automatic search and filter, you need third-party software. Picasa, by Google, is a favorite for many, but iPhoto appeals to a lot of Mac users. Flickr is a good cloud solution although getting enough storage costs $25, and you can get some of the same automation with upload and sharing features from cross-platform smart phone apps, if you tend to do most of your shooting and browsing with a phone.
Now comes the hard part. You have to organize and delete. Many amateurs will suggest that you should get in the habit of sorting and deleting photos on your digital camera. This is actually a terrible idea, because you’re relying on the fidelity of the camera’s screen and making judgments based on a 2X2.5 inch view of a shot. You run the risk of discarding really good shots with this method. Just get in the habit of uploading your pictures once a week and filtering through them at the same time. It will force you to actually look at your photos and think about them, which will also make you a better digital photographer.
You can organize your photos however you want, or just let the software do it by date. It’s a good idea to organize by big things like month, then by location, with separate folders or tags for specific vacations or photo projects. Tagging your photos can take a long time, but if they’re already in any sort of order, the process can be easier. Don’t let the idea of coming up with an appropriate tag for every aspect of your life intimidate you. Tags like “vacation” and “California” are often enough when combined with the date to make your photos navigable and searchable.
After a first pass on organization, it’s time to chop. You have too many photos. Getting rid of what are functionally worse duplicates will make organizing and browsing photos easier and reduce storage needs. So if you have three of the same shot, pick the best and erase the rest. Then, make sure your backup is up-to-date, preferably kept in a different place just in case.
Digital photos are awesome. There’s a reason most people prefer a digital camera to an analogue option that requires digital scanning to preserve photos: they are easier and less expensive. But just having photos doesn’t do you any good. Organize them and keep them organized, and you’ll be able to use them for projects as well as review and actually enjoy the memories they captured.