The 3-Step Process for Finding and Eliminating Your Duplicate Photos

This is Part Two of a series on gathering all your photos into a Digital Photo Hub.
Read Part One (How to Corral Your Digital Photos) here.
Read Part Three (Simple Strategies for Organizing and Maintaining Your Photo Collection) here.

Got your photos all gathered into one place? Great! You can breathe a little easier knowing you’re on your way to having any photo available at your fingertips in just a few seconds.

Now it’s time to sift through your photos and find out exactly what you’ve got. This second part of our series provides tips to quickly scan and compare your images in order to remove duplicates.

In this process, you will take a bird’s eye review of your photos, learn how to use duplicate cleaning software, and identify which photos to keep.

Step One: Review Your Collection.

Now that you have all of your photos on your hard drive, open the folders and photo files using File Explorer (PC) or Finder (Mac). A simple way to spot check your photo files is to use “Icon view.This way you can see the image in addition to the file name.

To see this view on a Mac, open your Finder window and click View > as Icons. Windows commands vary by version, but look in the File Explorer View settings for “Large Icons,” “Small Icons,” “Icons,” or “Titles.”

Start by scanning through the folders on your hard drive and make a list of things such as:

    • Number of photos.
    • Number of folders (there are usually a large number if you copied your Pictures or My Pictures folders from your Computer). When a folder contains more than 10,000 images, consider dividing it into multiple folders named after the source folder (i.e. MyPictures-1, MyPictures-2, etc.). This will help your duplicate cleaning program move quickly.
    • Folder customizations (i.e. folders named for specific events, people, or dates). If you’ve already spent some time selecting some favorites pictures from an event and created some project folders, make a note of those to reference later during the duplicate scan.
    • File names and file sizes. Scan through your images quickly, noting any irregularities in file size or name. If anything looks unusual, you can see more information by right clicking on a photo and choosing “Properties” (PC), or “Get info” (Mac). You’re performing this scan to familiarize yourself with the files in your collection.

Get an overview of duplicates
Do a quick visual check, noting where you see similar images. You don’t have to know the details about each image at this time, and you won’t delete any unwanted duplicates until later.

Check for blurry and dark photos
In blurry photos or dark photos, the shot just didn’t work, so these probably aren’t images you want to keep. They are the easiest to remove and should be moved to the Trash when you’re doing your review.

Step Two: Install a Duplicate Cleaning Software Program.

Once you have completed your review, it’s time to dig in to the photo details. In order to weed out duplicate photos, you need to find the images that contain matching information, or metadata.

Thankfully, you do not have to search for this information yourself! Much of the work can be done for you by one of these user-friendly, duplicate-cleaning software programs:

For Windows, we suggest a program called Duplicate Cleaner. The free trial version limits the number of duplicates you can delete. The Pro version costs about $30.

For Mac users, we recommend PhotoSweeper. It’s available on the Mac App store for $10.

These programs work by comparing images from folders of photos that you drag and drop into a browser window. The program finds duplicates and prompts you to decide which one to keep.

Once you download your software, look for the online instruction manual to assist with basic set-up, comparison settings, and duplicate removal.

Consider these helpful tips as you begin this process:

Most duplicate checking software programs have settings that allow you to flag exact duplicates (based on file size, name, and date) or similar files (where items are close, but not exactly the same). You can control how exact or loose you want those comparisons to be.

In the software settings, you can create a folder where flagged duplicates are moved. We recommend naming this folder “Duplicates Removed.”

Keep in mind that while two images visually look the same, duplicate checking software is looking at the metadata (file size, date taken, name) to compare photos.

While files may appear to be the same, if the photo information is very different, the software may not flag them as duplicates. If that’s the case, you can check the image, file size, and file name to confirm. We recommend you drag and drop the duplicate photo to the “Duplicates Removed” folder so you can see it has been moved.

Step Three: Choose Which Photos to Keep.

As your file cleaning software moves through the images, you will make choices for saving and deleting photos. Our rule of thumb at Picture This Organized is to always try to find the original. This is usually the best version of a photo.

The way to identify an original photo versus a copy can be tricky, and may take some investigation of things like file name, file size, and source location to know for certain. Here are a few tips to help you with this process:

  • Duplicated files often have a number added to the end of the file name (i.e. Img_256.jpg vs. Img_256(1).jpg, or IMG_256 copy.jpg). When the image looks the same and the file name matches except for that added number at the end, you know the second one is the copy. That’s the one to discard.
  • If the files look the same but the file names and file sizes are different, it’s usually best to keep the larger file. The file name isn’t as important, unless it includes identifying information (ex. Hawaii_vacation.jpg vs. Img_300.jpg). However, if the customized file is the smaller of the two, we suggest keeping the larger version and notating the identifying information of the generic-named file.  
  • If you open a folder of images and see files with long file names, it’s likely those photos are not originals. Take a close look at the file size listed inside the file information (Get Info on Mac and Properties on PC). A file size ending in “KB” is small, and not likely the original.

Looking Through Duplicate Downloaded Photos
If you downloaded a photo from an online site like Dropbox or Facebook, the file name was likely edited when uploaded. As you review the files from these sites, and you find a duplicate version, it’s likely that the one from the computer or the camera is the better version.

Duplicate Image Samples
Notice the different file names of this duplicate image, some re-named after being uploaded to external sites.

Looking Through Duplicate Photos That Have Been Edited
You might prefer to keep edited photos because they look better than the original. We suggest making a separate folder for edited photos, or adding “edited” to the file name of images that you’ve altered.

Keep originals in an “Originals” folder. If the original is poor quality and you’ll never use it again, feel free to delete it.

Congrats! You’ve Taken a Huge Step Toward Organizing Your Photos

This process of reviewing and eliminating your duplicates gives you control over your photos while technology does the heavy lifting. It may take several passes through your photos with your duplicate cleaning software, but eventually your collection will be free of all duplicate images.

Now that you have extracted duplicates and poor quality photos, and your source folders are pared down, you are ready to move on to the next steps in the photo organizing process.

Part Three of this series will help you create a filing system that works for you, give you a clear plan for securing your photos using a reputable backup system, and suggest options for ongoing maintenance of your system as you add photos in the future.

If you have specific questions about this part of the organizing process, let us know how we can help.

10 thoughts on “The 3-Step Process for Finding and Eliminating Your Duplicate Photos

  1. Where is part three of “The 3-Step Process for Finding and Eliminating Your Duplicate Photos”? I don’t see a link. Thank you

      1. Second to last paragraph says “Part Three of this series will help you create a filing system”….so where is part three?

  2. Hello again, I left a comment on your Part 1, but it seems your partner Akismet thinks it’s pam and it wouldn’t accept it. I read Part 1 and found it very useful. I’ll try to get to your subsequent articles. But I had asked a specific question in Part 1.

    1. Hi Adela,
      Sorry you had trouble leaving another comment. I did reply to your comment on the post called “How to Corral Your Photos so You can Share and Secure Them”.

  3. Hi – just found this posting. What I need is a way to find duplicates of a single photo, rather than duplicates of all photos in selected folder. Can you advise?

    1. Hi Burt:

      Most duplicate removal programs will search for a whole folder. If the photo name is the same, you can search by file name to find all occurrences of that file name. However, that method can be problematic if you have images that came from camera cards. Those can have duplicate file names but actually be different images.

      The best of luck to you!

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