The Organized Life

Photo Storage and Organization Tips

If every picture is worth a thousand words, we all must have plenty of nouns, adjectives and verbs stored in the photo folders of our computers and smart phones. After all, with the portability of a good camera these days, many of us are never without some way to snap a selfie or food photo. Add in the clutter of old printed photographs in boxes and albums and we all need to find the best way to store photos.

We spoke with Standolyn Robertson, a personal photo organizer who helps clients through her company Things in Place, for her tips on sharing and archiving a lifetime of photos and the stories that they tell.

Set Up a Photo Storage System

The first step to getting all of your photos organized is setting up a system, said Standolyn, who suggests first gathering all images in one place.

If you have photos scattered across cyberspace, first consider listing all of the devices and websites where you have images you want to keep. Then start downloading from phones, external drives and online site such as Facebook (here’s how) and Instagram (here's how) onto the same computer. You can use a flash drive to gather digital photos from different locations such as laptops, desktops and external hard drives.

 For printed photos, pull out those old boxes, envelopes and photo albums and clear a table where you can lay them out.

Then it’s time to start sorting! You can start with either printed photos or digital ones, but both can be sorted using a simple “ABC Method” Standolyn learned from the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO):

“A” is for album – these are the album-worthy photos. The ones that tell your story, the important ones, that look good. These will be the ones you properly archive and make sure they are backed up.

 “B” is for box – these are secondary photos that are important enough to keep but may not be the best of the best. You’ll want to put them in archive-quality boxes if they are prints and in a dedicated photo file on one computer or drive.

“C” is for the trash can – you can throw these out, delete them.  Consider ditching photos of landscapes and sunsets and meals that you don’t remember or that are unflattering. Standolyn says some people have a really hard time with C.

“Younger people are really good at deleting bad photos, but older generations have a hard time putting a photo in the trash,” says Standolyn.  “They’ll say, ‘That’s a horrible photo of me!’ and I’ll say, ‘Let’s toss it!’ But they still have difficulty letting it go.”

Once you have your keepers, it’s time to start organizing them. Standolyn suggests that it can be beneficial to group images not by date—which may be hard to determine for older photos and could slow down the process —but by theme: Birthdays, Anniversaries, Vacations, Friends, etc. You can then organize each theme group by date as much as possible. You can probably roughly figure out the dates by focusing on the hair styles, clothes and the people in the shots.

Of course if most of your photos were taken with a digital camera and uploaded to a computer, you likely will have a much easier time of it. Be sure the time setting on your camera is accurate to make things easier going forward. 

You may also want to take this opportunity to set up a naming convention for your photos, such as “Vacation_PalmSprings_2014_1.” That way you can easily search for photos in that grouping. Other identifying markers, if you are tech-savvy enough to know how to use them, include keyword tagging, geo-tags, star ratings and facial recognition (if your photo management application has these features).

Scan Print Photos

Scan the printed photos in your “A” pile so they can be added in to your existing digital folders created in the previous step. You may also want to scan the secondary photos in the “B” group if you have the time.

Invest in a good quality, high-speed scanner that connects to your home computer and can scan photos at 300 dpi to 600 dpi resolution for the best quality.

If scanning is beyond your techie know-how or you just have too many printed photos and not enough time, this is when a paid service can come in and help.

There are companies where you can ship your photos to be scanned and mailed back to you – but you want to make sure it is a reputable company before releasing those precious photos of your great-great-grandmother. Or you can find a professional digital organizer like Standolyn who will come to your home with a high-speed scanner and will do it for you.  You can search for one in your area on the APPO website.

Once your prints are scanned, it doesn’t mean you should throw them away. Store them back in boxes and photos albums, just make sure they are archival quality, and acid free. Get rid of any old shoeboxes or sticky paper albums you’ve been using so your photos remain in good shape.

Back Up Electronic Photo Files

With your photos digitized and organized, it’s time to back them up. There are several options from a cloud service such as Google Drive, Dropbox or Amazon Cloud, or an external hard drive or flash drive, depending on your space needs. Standolyn likes the Picture Keeper, a smart flash drive that finds and downloads all of the photos on your computer when you plug it in and maintains the organized system you set up. With repeat use, it will grab only new images. She recommends setting a monthly recurring photo backup appointment on your calendar for downloading all the images from your devices, putting them in your organized file system and adding them to your backup.

Like anything else, you have to create the habit, but it’s a lot easier once you have system set up,” says Standolyn.

Share Your Photos

Then comes the fun part – sharing! Standolyn says people are more likely to use their photos once they know what they have and can find it easily. There are a number of ways to share photos:

Scrapbooks – create them digitally through online sites such as Shutterfly or Snapfish and you can have them printed.

Frame it - order prints of digital photos and have them put into picture frames or use a digital photo frame and create a dynamic slideshow.

Social media – Instagram, Facebook etc. but Standolyn cautions to be aware that these outlets are public. Do not mistake them as a way to store your photos because companies and services change all the time. Make sure images are backed up in a system you control.

Novelties – look for services that can make household décor with your photos such as blankets, coasters, mugs. Standolyn also loves the Jigsaw Puzzle App, which will turn photos into a digital puzzle game that can also be shared with friends and family!

In the end, Standolyn reminds us all that photo are what tell our life stories. “They are important to keep.”

How do you store and backup your photos? What projects have you made with them? Tell us in the comments below.