Keeping thousands of digital photos organized doesn’t have to be difficult or require complicated software. In fact, even the most non-techie person can start getting her pictures in order today.
The secret is developing a simple and clear filing system that’s easy to remember and use, so that every photo has a home. Here’s how to create a system that’s effective:
A hierarchy of folders is the core.
Virtual folders are the base organizational structure of every computer. It’s linear and logical, making it easy to grasp.
A single folder for photos would quickly get overwhelming. So instead, you can create nested folders to store your individual files.
The preview pane is a great help.
While folders work great on their own to create order, navigating your images is much easier if you can get a bird’s eye view of the situation.
Along with a folder structure, every computer operating system has a viewing option that shows you a preview of the image. A preview pane next to your list of files is ideal, but even large thumbnails will work well.
Tip: The up and down arrows on your keyboard make it faster to flip through images.
Chronological makes the most sense.
We live life in order. So while there is a time and place for use of thematic organization, the easiest approach to structuring your digital photos is chronological.
What this looks like is folders for years or year spans, followed by sub-folders for months. Optionally, you can add in event-specific folders, but I don’t like to nest these. Instead they would be labeled by the month and then the subject.
For example, folders within a single year might look like one of these:
01 – January
02 – February
03 – March
– OR –
01 – Birthdays
02 – Super Bowl
02 – New Office
03 – St. Louis
Use naming conventions for sanity.
Did you see how I used numbers above to label my folders? Generally folders will auto-alphabetize themselves. So if you want to organize folders chronologically you need to add numeric titles in addition to the names.
This is called a naming convention, because it creates consistency so that the folders sort “like with like”. (Notice how the two February folders – Super Bowl and New Office – are together.)
It’s helpful to use naming conventions, down to the number of spaces and uses of hyphen or underscores, for both photos and individual photo files. The more consistency you add, the easier it will be to find what you need.
Make sure any additions are portable.
This approach might sound simplistic and that’s because it is. Many scrapbookers don’t need anything more complicated than well-organized folders to successfully manage thousands of images.
However, it can be helpful to add further structure to your system with the use of flags, star ratings, color labels, or tags. While any of these help you highlight certain images and cross-reference files beyond the folder structure, there is a caveat.
In some cases, but not all, these additions are unique to your computer’s operating system and are not embedded within the file itself. This can cause frustration if you want to try a different approach later.
My advice is to not spend hours upon hours on extra layers of organization without knowing if your work could be imported elsewhere. The best news is that folders alone are universal and can serve as the perfect foundation for adding software later.
And finally, there’s one last critical step: you must actually use the system you create.
Every time you transfer photos from a device to your computer, those images should be moved (not copied) into this folder structure you created. Consistency will ensure that limit duplicate copies of photos and that you can always find what you need.