Simple Strategies for Organizing and Maintaining Your Photo Collection

This is Part Three 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 Two (The 3-Step Process for Finding and Eliminating Your Duplicate Photos) here.

We all know that feeling of relief when our house is cleaned and organized, and excess clutter is thrown away. There is freedom in knowing exactly where to find what you’re looking for, and motivation to keep things organized.

Cleaning up a cluttered photo collection provides that same sense of satisfaction. It can feel like a weight is lifted when you remove duplicate and unwanted images.   

Perhaps you already keep all of your digital photos in one central location, or you’ve been organizing photos using the steps from our previous posts in this series. In either case, now is a good time to take another look at your photo collection and name your file folders, set up a backup system, and then learn how to maintain your hub moving forward. 

STEP ONE: Organize a Custom Folder System that Makes Sense to You.

Right now, your digital photo hub folders are organized by source (i.e. “Julie’s_iPhone_date” or “Nikon_SD1_date range”). The first task in this step is to create new themed folders based on a system that makes sense to you.

Some of my clients prefer to organize their folder system by date, while others organize by events or subjects (i.e. Vacations, Weddings, Family Heritage, Pets, Child’s Name, etc.).

As you open your source folders, move individual photo files into your newly titled date or theme folders. If a source folder happens to contain image files that all fit into the same theme, then you can simplify this step and just rename the folder.

STEP TWO: Decide Where Your Digital Photo Hub Will Live.

Once you have all of your photos moved into your newly named folders, it’s time to give your digital photo hub a home. You can choose where your photo collection lives — either your computer’s local drive, or on an external hard drive.

There are pros and cons to each, but one important consideration is available space to expand your collection. Use a hard drive if your computer is low on storage space, or if it’s older and/or having “technical issues.” It’s perfectly fine to use your computer’s local drive as your hub if there is plenty of storage available.

Local Drive
In this scenario, you would set up a hub in the Pictures/My Pictures folder on your computer and use your external hard drive as a backup. Create a main folder and name it something like “Julie_Master_Photos.” Then move all of your newly named date or theme folders into the main folder.

External Hard drive
If you want your hub to live on your external hard drive, then create and name a main folder on your drive and move all of your newly named folders there instead. Going forward, upload all new photos taken with cameras, phones, or other devices directly onto your external hard drive.

In either case, an important part of this step is removing any disorganized original image files from your computer’s local drive that were there from the beginning of the process. This ensures you don’t duplicate or move any obsolete images into your photo hub.

STEP THREE: Protect Your Photos with a Backup System.

Backing up your photos will protect them from any catastrophic damage or loss. Don’t skip this important step!

If your hub lives on your local drive, you can choose to back up your photos (either manually or automatically) to an external hard drive.

To manually backup your files, create a backup folder on your hard drive and name it with the date of the backup (i.e. Pictures Backup 06-01-18). Then open the folder with the files you want to back up and copy them to the backup folder. Create a new backup folder each time you run a backup. Remove the oldest and keep the two most current backups.

If you have a Mac, you can automatically back up to your external hard drive using Time Machine, built-in software that backs up your entire hard drive for you. If you want to keep your hard drive plugged in to your computer, follow these Time Machine instructions to set automatic backup. Otherwise, manually back up anytime by plugging in your hard drive and choosing “Back Up Now” from the Time Machine menu.

Keep in mind that Time Machine automatically excludes external hard drives from backup. To ensure that your external drives are backed up, follow these steps.

If your hub lives on an external hard drive, be sure to add any new images on your computer to your hard drive by copying the My Pictures/Pictures folder to your hard drive. Back up your hard drive using Time Machine.

Almost all of our clients at Picture This Organized are Mac users. I’m not a PC expert, but my industry colleagues suggest the following options for Windows automatic backups:

Additional Cloud Backup
Regardless of your digital photo hub’s location, I also highly recommend setting up a cloud backup. I recommend BackBlaze and use it for my own photo backups. This solution works with both Macs and PCs at a cost of $5 per month.

STEP FOUR: Maintain Your Digital Photo Hub Going Forward.

When your digital photo hub is organized and backed up, it might be tempting to celebrate your victory, then forget about the whole process and just go back to living your life. Don’t be tempted to do this!  

Instead, we recommend scheduling times during the year to perform quick maintenance on your digital photo hub. This will allow you to stay on top of your collection and eliminate future stress as you work in shorter time increments at each interval.

Daily or Any Day You Take Photos
Review your photos on your camera or phone, right after you take them. Remove any blurry or dark photos, then select the best images and delete the rest.

Review photos that were shared with you in texts, email, or sharing sites. You can find tips on retrieving those images here. Check for any duplicates, then select the best photos you’ve taken. Save the best photos to your hub, delete the rest.

Import your photos from your cameras, phones, and tablets. Then organize by creating new subfolders for events, or add new photos to other themed folders you already set up. Move any new subfolders to your date/theme folders.

Spend some time running your duplicate cleaning program to remove duplicates. You’ll be less likely to get duplicates if you are stay on top of your photos weekly and monthly.

Do one more check for duplicates. Create a new folder or album with a name like “2018 Year in Review,” and move all of your organized folders into that main folder. Then, create a new main folder for the new year.

At each maintenance interval, it’s a good idea to run a manual backup unless you have set automatic backups.

We hope this series has provided some tools to help you master the organization of your digital photos. Life is busy, but if you can build time into your schedule to keep your photos filed and maintained, you’ll enjoy a rich legacy of memories.

Let us know how the process goes for you, or if you run into any questions along the way.

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