Sorting out photos requires a good system


Organising photos is a challenge. It’s easy to capture spontaneous moments that hang around in a phone or somewhere in a laptop folder to deal with another time.

Years later, you have pockets of squirrelled away memories on multiple devices and in boxes under the stairs. These are accompanied by a growing unease gently etching away in the back of your mind that sorting out these digital and print moments in time is a task that a) is going to be overwhelming or b) is likely to be insurmountable and won’t get done at all.

Maybe that was just me.

I smugly say ‘was’ because after years and months of procrastination, I finally got around to organising my hoarded past. It was about a year ago that I started the process, organising through 40 years of family memories after DBS died. Here are some thoughts on how to go about it if a similar project has been quietly nagging you.

Think through your process from the outset

A logical man once told me that when setting up something, a disorganised system is an oxymoron. The point here is that it’s best to think from the beginning about the entire process of how to back up and keep your photography updated and stored, both now and for the future.

For instance, before you start digitising old prints from your childhood think about the naming conventions for each file and the way in which you want to order your collection so that they are easily retrievable later. Have your filing system in place as you scan. It will save you a lot of time. Unfortunately, on one occasion I was so carried away by an unusual burst of motivation to digitise old photos and reminisce, I didn’t think a naming or filing process through from the outset, instead casually naming them on the go.

It later meant going through all the scanned files again and renaming them, a boring, time consuming task which took as long (or perhaps longer) than the initial process. It was during this palaver that the logical man irritatingly offered his words of wisdom. Later, I married him. Very romantic.

“We need a good system so that we can get on and enjoy the content,” says Beth Jennings, Photographer and Author of Memories at your Fingertips. “You need to push yourself to set one up so that over time, filing and storing new photos is an automatic process. Like driving a car.”

The basis of a good system

“It’s important to have one place and one place only where you keep photos,” Jennings says. “This is where you store all photos including those downloaded from a phone or laptop.”

Once you’ve set up this catalogue, this is where everything is centralised and regularly updated with photos, whether they be from a camera, phone or tablet.

“Then within the catalogue, have a few broad categories,” she adds. “Not too many folders at the beginning though. Too many options can make you forget where you store things as you are spreading photos too thinly. Start with five.”

Jennings suggested some categories that I’ve largely taken on board:

  • Destinations > Countries
  • Personal
  • Portrait > Family / People
  • Weddings
  • Work > Projects

Within those, file photos by year, name or event. So for instance, under ‘Portraits’ I might file DBS’ school photos by: Portrait – DBS – School – 5-10years.

Munir Kotadia, a Photographer and Videographer from Tech TV also suggests including spaces or hyphens when naming separate files with clear, easy to recall key words which will help you within the search function on the platform you are using. This means it’s more likely that you’ll be able to find the image you stored away if you remember an event but not the year you saved it in (for instance).

Other Words of Wisdom

I often take several photos at one time of a place or event, ‘just in case.’ Jennings suggests deleting photos before they get to the computer.

“You won’t miss bad or rubbish shots because you’ll have an edited selection in your system.” Taking her advice certainly makes the editing, filing and naming process quicker.

She also recommends backing up the photo catalogue with new uploads straight away so you’ve always got the latest library saved on another hard drive (or even more depending on their importance).


There’s something greatly satisfying about fronting and completing a task that has been in mind for a while. I’ve got a good system in place though there’s always room for improvement and keeping it updated is not yet an automatic behaviour. The doing is not an end in itself however. As Jennings says, “the planning bit is not the fun bit. The fun bit is commemorating lives. Once you’ve done the cataloguing, you can get on with the remembering.”

That does sound fun. There are a lot of reasonably priced photo displaying alternatives out there worth an investigation. Notepads, photo albums, posters…

Do you have any other recommendations or suggestions for storing and filing photos? What works for you?

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