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Photo Organizing Basics - Getting Started

Updated: Feb 24, 2020

If you are like most people who breathe in and out, you have pictures. You have pictures of your family, friends, pets, house, events, and vacations. You also might have pictures of food, clothing you liked at a store, and something funny you saw on a street sign two years ago in New York. You also have these little gems EVERYWHERE. They are on your computer, on your phone, on those tiny little camera cards (that are the size of a quarter) and on CD’s and in shoe boxes. They are in old albums, new albums, and in frames. I understand. And it’s normal!

However, if you are feeling overwhelmed, and you want to get them in order, here are my best tips for getting started.

Gather them all together in ONE place. A dining room is a great place, since it has a large surface.

  • Get some 4 x 6 index cards and a pen or a Sharpie. Write each relevant decade at the top of each card. (1950s, 1960s, etc.)

  • Spread these cards horizontally on the longest side of your table.

  • Now take a stack of photos or albums (or slides - I know, it will be ok) and place them in the corresponding decade.

Do this until each of your loose photos are in decades. Once you have gotten your photos in their correct decade, take some shoe boxes and place each decade in a box. If it doesn’t fill the box, it’s alright. We just want to keep it separate for now. These boxes are great to store memorabilia along with the photos, by the way - so just add as much as you want! If you need two boxes per year, that is ok too.

  • When you get to the CDs, DVSs and flash drives, if they have labels, place them right next to those loose photos in the corresponding decade. If they are not labeled, place them in a container or basket next to your computer for further investigation.

NOTE: As you are going through those photos, if they are blurry, or if there are 20 pictures of the same sunset, it’s ok to throw them out (it’s ok!!!)

  • Once everything is in a box, pull the most recent box of printed photos out and begin there. Get out more of those index cards and write each relevant year in that decade at the top (i.e. 1991, 1992, etc.). Take your best guess and place each group of pictures in the best year that matches what is happening. Use context clues like location, hairstyle, and clothing to help you. Do this for each box.

  • Then try to narrow it down by season, month, or event. “Easter”, “Jill’s Birthday”, “Trip to Hawaii”, etc.

  • Set up folders in your computer just like you did with the index cards, and remember to be consistent with your folder labels. Once you open those flash drives or look in your hard drive, you can start dragging those pictures into the right decade, then the right year.

  • How do you name your photos in the computer so that you find them again? Use a standard file naming system, like:

2019_10_Halloween_001 (YEAR_Month_Event_Number*)

*The number keeps your sequence of events in order of occurrence. For a wedding or a cruise, this may be more important than a birthday party. It is optional.

Now that you are all (mostly) organized, decide if you want to scan your favorite pictures into Google Photos or other cloud based backup systems, or if you want to just keep them where they are. You can share them a lot more easily if they are scanned and accessible to you quickly, but do what you are comfortable doing. Either way, you are now ready to have fun with your memories!

For more photo organizing tips, there is a great article in Conde Nast Magazine about the A-B-C Method and helpful techniques!

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