How to Corral Your Photos So You Can Share and Secure Them

This is Part One of a series on gathering all your photos into a Digital Photo Hub.
Read Part Two (The 3-Step Process for Finding and Eliminating Your Duplicate Photos) here.
Read Part Three (Simple Strategies for Organizing and Maintaining Your Photo Collection) here.

If you’ve got photos stored in many different locations, it can feel overwhelming and chaotic.

Most of us have photos stored:

  • On multiple devices (like your phone, tablet, computer, or social media accounts).
  • In “the cloud” (a backup system run on the Internet).
  • In Dropbox or Google Photos.
  • On social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram.

It’s easy to lose track of the images in your collection. You’re not sure what you have, and you’re reluctant to add more photos to online storage sites. Some call this “cloud fatigue.”

There is a system that can help! In the same way we gather our financial information to make it easier to file our taxes, we can consolidate our photos into one place, so we know what we have and keep our images safe. Having our photos gathered in one location also makes it easier to find and share images when we need them.

Organizing your digital photo collection is a big job, so we’re going to break it up into manageable chunks for you in a series of posts.

In Part One of this series, we start with gathering your photos into a centralized location. Organizing images is easier when they live in one place. In the photo organizing world, we call this centralized location a “Digital Photo Hub.”

In upcoming posts, we will guide you through steps to eliminate duplicates and unwanted photos, create a filing system that works for you, and perform ongoing maintenance and backup.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to gather all your photos into one place:

STEP ONE: Make a list of every possible location for your current digital photos.

You can’t create a photo hub until you know how many photos you have, so in this step, you will brainstorm a list of all the places your digital photos currently live.

Think of it like renting a storage unit. You don’t pick the size of the unit before you know exactly how much you will need to store inside.

I recommend sitting down and writing out a list of all possible locations for your photos – either on paper or in a digital document.

Do you have photos on your:

  • Phone?
  • Computer?
  • Old computers you no longer use?
  • Online sites such as Dropbox, Google, Flickr, Smugmug, Snapfish, Shutterfly, etc.?
  • Social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest?
  • Camera memory (SD) cards?
  • CDs?

STEP TWO: Create a “Digital Photo Hub” for your photos.

Once you’ve made a list of possible photo locations, it’s time to set up your Digital Photo Hub to gather all your pictures into one place. At Picture This Organized, we recommend using an external hard drive to gather, edit, and organize your images.

Choose a Hard Drive.

You’ve got a lot of options and prices available when you’re choosing a hard drive for your photo hub. To avoid overwhelm, use these quick guidelines:

  • Look for hard drives G-drive by Western Digital and LaCie. For more detailed information, check reviews on Cnet.
  • Expect to pay between $60 – $100 for a high quality, portable hard drive.
  • Choose a brand compatible with your computer. Both G-drive by Western Digital and LaCie carry models formatted for Mac and Windows, as well as some made specifically for Mac.
  • Buy a hard drive with at least one terabyte (1TB) of memory.
  • Consider whether or not you will include videos on your photo hub. If you have a large collection of video files, either place them on a separate external hard drive, or purchase one with 2 to 3TB to hold both photos and videos.
  • Visit this resource for more detail on choosing an external hard drive.

Create your hub folders.

Before you begin copying images to your drive, set up folders on your hard drive and name them by the source of the photo. The photo’s source will be important later in the process when you purge duplicates. Here are some naming ideas to get you started:

If you’re moving photos from your phone, name the phone folders by the person and the brand of phone, i.e., “Julie’s_iPhone_(date).”

If you’re moving photos from an SD card, create folders with the camera name, SD card number, and the date range of the photos on the card. For example, “Nikon_SD1_(date range),” “Nikon_SD2_(date range),” etc.

STEP THREE: Copy your images to your hub folders.

Now it’s time to copy all your photos to your hub. Don’t worry about duplicates or bad photos at this point in the process. We will cover that in Part Two of this series.

Here are some guidelines to use when you’re copying photos from different sources:

Phones – In this previous post, we explain how to save all images to your phone’s camera roll, even those shared with you via text message or email.

Once you’ve saved all your images, copy your phone photos directly to your external hard drive. The steps are fairly simple for iPhone using your Mac and the built-in Image Capture app.  

If your Android phone supports a “USB On-the-Go (OTG)” cable adapter, you can plug your phone directly into the hard drive and copy photos. If not, you can put photos on a portable flash drive first, then insert the flash drive into the external hard drive.

Old Computer – If your external hard drive is compatible with your old computer, you can transfer files directly. If not, then you will need to copy the images on to a USB flash drive, then plug the USB flash drive into your hub and move the files.

Online sites – Most online photo storage sites have a command to download all image files. Shutterfly charges a fee for this service. If you put photos on Shutterfly to create cards or photo books, double check to see what photos live there. If you already have a copy in your hub, don’t pay to download your images.

Social media sites – As a rule of thumb, it’s better to gather your photos from the original source, but you can download images from social media apps if you think that might be the only location a photo exists.

Camera (SD) memory cards –  Most computers no longer come with built-in slots for camera memory cards, so you’ll have to buy a card reader, which is available at most office supply stores or on Amazon. Most models have multiple slots to accommodate various types of cards. Once you connect your SD card, open the folder to copy files.

CDs – Newer computers no longer have built-in CD slots. If you’re computer doesn’t have a CD slot, you will need to buy an external disc reader to plug in to your computer.

Because files on CDs open slowly, go ahead and copy the images over to the external hard drive first. Look at them later.

Also keep in mind that CDs processed from prints did not always attach the date the photo was taken, but rather the date processed.

Once you see what is on the CD and SD cards, label them for later reference. Note the date you copied them onto your hub so you won’t accidentally copy them again.

You’re on your way to digital photo organization!

Your photo memories are a critical part of your legacy. An organized photo system eliminates chaos, and builds a framework for future maintenance.

Once you complete the first step of gathering your photos into your Digital Photo Hub, you are on your way to getting your photos organized and protected.

In Part Two of our series, we will move on to the next step of digital photo organization: The search for duplicates.

If you run into snags or roadblocks along the way, let us know how we can help.

3 thoughts on “How to Corral Your Photos So You Can Share and Secure Them

  1. Most useful site, I’ll try to follow it so I can finally see my photos intelligently organized, thank you! If I may ask you, since I was thinking of buying an external hard drive for backing up all my files, do you think the one you’re suggesting for the photos will also serve as a backing up for all my files? At present I’m having Carbonite to do that but I’m not satisfied. Thanks again for your good articles.

    1. Hi Adela,
      For a backup system we recommend having both a local and a cloud based backup. So the external hard drive could serve as the local backup. Then you can use either Carbonite or Backblaze as the cloud based backup. I personally prefer Backblaze as you can use that to backup your local drive as well as an external hard drive to your cloud account. And they don’t charge extra for external hard drives whereas I believe Carbonite charges an additional fee for that. Good luck!

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