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My System for Organizing Digital Photos

This is my system for organizing digital photos. It might not work for everyone but it works for me. I use an iPhone and a MacBook so if you are not using Apple products your system will need to be different. For those of you who are not Mac users, I have included in this blog information about Google Drive photos (see below). So at the request of some of my friends, I have put together this blog that lays out my system for organizing digital photos. I hope it can be helpful to you.

Photo Library
Me with my first iphone

What Kind Are You?

I read an interesting article once that placed digital photo people into three different categories; casual, moderate or enthusiastic. My photo library has 59,000 photos and nearly 400 videos. I’m pretty sure I fall into the “enthusiastic” category. Or crazy. I think my husband would label my photo taking as crazy.

I was a Mac user before I was an iPhone user and the day I realized my two devices were going to be talking to each other was the day my life changed. I mean really. It didn’t take me long to give up my SLR camera altogether and use my iPhone as my sole camera. I currently have an iPhone 11x and it takes beautiful images. Even though I have a few complaints about the iPhone 11, photos are not one of them. So I take lots of photos every day and I need a good system for organizing my digital photos.

Photography
Photo I took in 1980 on my first film SLR when I was learning photography in college. That’s my husband…before he was my husband.

Editing

Before I get into storage let me talk briefly about editing. On the iPhone you can adjust the light level before you take a photo by tapping lightly on the screen and adjusting the up and down toggle for brightness. But often I don’t have time to do that if I need to capture a fleeting moment. And so I do it in edit mode after. The iPhone editor has a wide variety of options for lightening, brightening and adding color to your images. Sometimes I will turn a color photo into a black and white photo for dramatic effect. You can warm up a photo or cool it down. It’s all very user friendly.

Photo drama
I added color and drama to this image taken from a moving car.

Sometimes I use the bounce or loop feature on the iPhone and I really enjoy the long exposure feature. When traveling I find I love it for any water image, storms or even traffic.

Iguazu Falls before editing
Long exposure photography
Iguazu Falls in Brazil, long exposure image

Another cool feature with the iPhone is the live camera. I keep live on all the time. If I capture an image where the subject may have moved unexpectedly or a car moved into the frame, often you can go back to the live edit and skip back a frame or two to easily make your photo perfect. Super easy without needing to be a techno whiz.

Old Route 66 gas station before editing
Filters on photos
Using Snapseed I made this old Route 66 gas station look very vintage

The only other edit program I use is a very rudimentary app called Snapseed. In Snapseed I can add lots of dramatic color to a stormy photo. Or I can make an old vintage truck look even more old and vintage. I can make my photos look like they were taken on a Polaroid camera 40 years ago – or a number of other very simple edit options. I use Snapseed often and don’t find I need any other complicated editing software for the purposes I use my photos for.

Before editing too dark
Lightening a photo
In this image I was in the shadow with bright light behind. I used Snapseed to lighten up the forefront of the image. This image also is in portrait mode, one of the features on the iPhone 11

Types of Storage Options

Not so long ago all my photos were printed and put into photos albums. I still have all those photo albums and one long term project goal is to eventually transfer those to digital.

Photo Albums
All my old photos albums from 1970-2006

Not so long ago I was storing photos on CDRom and thumb drive. I hated this system because I didn’t seem to be able to keep these organized or find them easily, needing to pop the CD or thumb drive in and out of the computer.

Then came the wonderful cloud.

Today there are a variety of photo storage options available and everyone has their favorites. My photos are in iCloud, while other people prefer options like DropBox, Shutterfly, or Picasso. Amazon Prime has a photo storage program, but I haven’t been able to find anyone who uses it. From my experience the two most popular are Apple iCloud and Google Drive. Since I don’t use Google Drive I asked a fellow blogger, Slavka, to share a little about Google Drive:

Do you have a Gmail email address? If you do, Google offers other convenient services that you can access via your Gmail email account. Google Drive is one of them and it’s great cloud storage for your photos and other files.

Google Drive Photo Storage
Google Drive Photo Storage is popular and reliable

So how to use it? First of all, you need to have or open a new Gmail email account. With this email account, you have 15 GB of free space. You can use this free space for any of the connected services such as Google Drive, Google Docs, or Google Sheets. You can access these by clicking on the 9 dots icon that appears in the top right corner next to your login icon. Click on the triangle icon of Google Drive. This is a space where you can store photos, videos, audio files, documents files, etc. You can group then into separate files and share them with others via a sharable link.

Google Drive storage is convenient for the temporary storage of recent photos or the ones you want to share. Older images and files should be downloaded to an external storage drive for archiving. Or, if you want to keep them available online, you might need to pay for additional cloud storage after you run out of free space. Currently, Google charges approx. $28 per year for 100GB of cloud space.

Link to my blog:  https://on2continents.com

Thanks Slavka. Be sure to check out Slavka’s wonderful travel blog on the link above.

So, the iCloud photo storage works basically the same way. It’s free for the first 5G and then you pay monthly for additional storage. For a long time I paid $4 a month for 200GB but now I pay $10 a month for 500GB. My photos are automatically uploaded regularly to the cloud.

iCloud photo storage
Using iCloud photo storage works for me and millions of other people.

No matter which storage system you chose, keeping your photos organized is the challenge. For me it’s a big committment given the number of photos I have and my constant need to access them. Here is how I do it.

Organizing my Images

When you open the iCloud photo library, you can go to File in the top left hand corner. Click on File and you will get an option to create an album. In my photo library I have dozens of albums. I have albums for family, friends, house and garden, genealogy, cycling, hiking and camping, and of course cats. (LOL). Then I have an album for every country we have visited. Sometimes I will combine a couple of countries to save a little space. Additionally I have separate albums where I store art work for my blog, birthday funny memes, or things I might want for holidays on social media. I have one whole albums for Seahawks and Cougar football memes.

digital photos
My photo library

Creating the albums is the easy part. The hard part is continually moving your new images into the files. Here is how I do that:

Every few weeks I sit down and delete images. Ideally you should be doing this daily or minute to minute on your phone, but that doesn’t seem to happen for me. So I go through and delete duplicate images, poor quality images or other images I don’t want in one go.

Photo organization
Albums for all the things I love and want to keep organized

I check the date I last moved images to albums and after deleting I start with that date and begin moving the images (click and drag) into the albums. Sometimes an image might end up in multiple albums (for example family album and hiking album). This way I can find it easily for future use.

Photo storage
Working on deleting hundreds of images

The Big Delete

Since I’ve had A LOT of free time on my hands these past few covid months, I began a new delete project. Going to the overarching file called Photos, where all images are from all albums, I started with the oldest images and slowly am going through and deleting. I have found there are photos I don’t even remember taking or where I took them. Some photos that seemed important at the time, no longer have meaning for me (the first time I saw a wild baboon it seemed impressive…now so many thousands of baboons later who cares). And so I delete. This is very time consuming but will eventually help my overall storage issue. I am committing a few hours a week to accomplish this task by the end of the summer – it’s about ten years worth of photos, but an important goal for organizing digital photos.

So What About External Hard Drives?

For a couple of years before I went all Mac I used to have an external hard drive I would plug in to my PC and back up my photos regularly. But I haven’t done that since I went to 500 GB in the cloud, as I feel confident in the system I am using. However, I recently purchased a new external hard drive called Photo Stick that stores 128GB of data. I haven’t started using it yet, but I decided it was worth it to have it since it is very small (like a thumb drive), has a huge amount of storage, works continually and will help me clean up duplicates. It also will offer me even more peace of mind. Hopefully it actually does all those things. I paid $79 for it.

So What is Best for You?

Remember in the beginning when I asked what kind of photo person you are? Determining the answer to that question is your first step in getting your images organized and safe. As an “enthusiastic” photographer, as well as a blogger, travel writer and very active social media user, my photos are incredibly important to me in my day-to-day life. I consider myself a good photographer, after years of practice and a small amount of training, and photography is an important hobby in my life. So I spend both time and money making sure my images are protected, accessible, and good quality.

No matter what kind of photographer you are, you can start organizing your digital photos with a little knowledge and commitment. Good luck!

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6 Comments

  • Reply Grace Fredericks

    These are all great resources. I thought I take a lot of photographs, but your collection is very impressive.

    May 29, 2020 at 8:21 am
    • Reply Laureen

      Haha. Impressive or obsessive!

      May 29, 2020 at 8:40 am
  • Reply Jen Towkaniuk

    I am so bad about this! I know I need to take the time to organize and delete photos, but I’m looking at over 10 years worth like you and it seems overwhelming. I love your idea of using albums. I may make this my Sunday night project and commit to an hour per week. I’d love to be able to find the photos I want without spending hours scrolling through them all!

    May 29, 2020 at 8:25 am
    • Reply Laureen

      Yes! Doing a little each week and once you see them organized it will
      Motivate you to keep going!

      May 29, 2020 at 8:40 am
  • Reply Carol Nelson

    Hi, Laureen! Thanks for the info! I am also an avid photographer ! I love my photo memories! I use the iCloud storage and am very grateful for it. I have looked into the photo stick but wasn’t sure, so when you figure out whether it’s a good storage system, I look forward to hearing about it.

    May 31, 2020 at 10:42 am
  • Reply KIM LOGAN

    You are fabulous! The information you’ve provided will help me get the organization in my multiple photo files, soon to be albums, that I so desperately need. If I would have started when the COVID-19 Stay Home Order started I’d be done! Better late than never, right?!

    June 4, 2020 at 9:23 am
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