10 Steps to Digital Photo Management

showing frustration

You probably realise that the need to scan old prints and slides is only ONE HALF of our photo problem. The other half is all the digital photo files we have. 

The problem is our digital pics are everywhere! 

Across multiple computers, on USB sticks, on CDs, on memory cards, on your phone, on backup drives. Potentially you have tens of thousands of files ending in jpg!! If you tried to find a particular picture it would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. 

You have a big task ahead of you – but do not despair it can be sorted!

The goal?

The goal is simply to have ALL your digital pics and digital videos stored in a single location AND then all backed up in another location. Every picture will be in easy-to-recognise folders and easy to find.

So, where do you start?? Follow these 10 steps and you can’t go wrong.

  1. Buy a brand new external hard drive

$100 will buy you a 2 Terabyte drive from Harvey Norman or Officeworks. Get one with USB 3 connection speed. Most are compatible with both PC and Mac. If you plan on using the external drive with both PC and Mac then you will need to ‘format’ it. (Normally, FAT32 using the Disk Utility on your computer. Don’t use FAT32 if you are backing up very large video files.). If I’ve lost you there, and you are only using it on one operating system, then you should just be able to plug it in and follow the prompts. When you plug it in it might try to back up your whole computer. My suggestion is to have a different drive to do this. This new drive you have bought is only for photos.

At this stage, don’t worry about whether you want to keep the photos or not. You will cull and sort out duplicates later. 

2. Move all picture files from external devices (except your phone) onto external drive.

With your brand new external drive connected to the computer you can now begin to copy picture files across to it. I like to start with all peripheral media like CDs, memory cards, USB sticks and other external backup drives. This is simply a case of opening up the media, selecting the folder and files and dragging them into the external drive. If you do not feel confident doing this get someone to show you. Depending on how many sources you have this could take a very long time, but it’s worth persevering. Don’t do your phone just yet. 

Now, get a box and throw all these bits of media: memory cards, USB, CDs etc etc into it. Later you are going to throw all this out! 

When you are done, check to see that everything was copied correctly across.

3. Move all picture files from your computer onto the same external drive.

If you like you can first create a folder on the external drive called, ‘Computer Pictures’. At this stage don’t worry about duplicates. There’s a good chance that you have the same photos in more than one location. We will get to that soon. At this stage you simply want to move everything to one place.

The challenge can be to find all your photos on the computer. Obviously directories such as “Pictures” have pictures. You should also look in the ‘downloads’ folder. You may have created other folders that also have pictures. Often there are pictures on the desktop. Then, there are “libraries” of photos locked away in programs such as iPhoto or Photos. The way “libraries” work is that they create a lower resolution image of an original and when you click on the lower resolution thumbnail it opens the source file. Typically “libraries” can create issues. You either have to export the whole library as a single file (often many gigabytes), or you have to locate the source files, often in a folder called “originals” or “masters”.

There are software apps that you can install that can find all your pictures. One such app is ‘Photostick’ which is an app that comes on a USB. You put the USB into your computer and the app will find all your pics and copy them to the USB. From there, you can copy the files across to your external drive. There are other inexpensive programs that do a similar thing. The other option is you hunt down all the locations where your pics live and manually transfer them across. You can use the spotlight search feature on a Mac to assist, or use the File Explorer search function on a PC. You are looking for all extensions such as jpg, jpeg, tif, tiff, png, heic. 

4. Free up Disk Space

Once you have verified that the picture files and any libraries have been copied across, you can clean up your desktop or laptop computer by deleting all picture files. They are probably taking tens of gigabytes and your computer will thank you for giving it some much needed brain space. Before you do this you can disconnect your external drive so there is no chance of getting mixed up and deleting files that you have just backed up.

5. Eliminate Duplicates

Now all of your pictures are on the external drive, however there are 2, 3 or 4 copies of the same files in some instances. You will need a duplicate removal tool to sort this out. These are fairly inexpensive, but well worth the investment. Hunt around, you should get one for less than $50. Read the reviews on it. Check that it is from a reputable supplier. 

The way these tools work is that they scan the entire disk, tell you which pictures are duplicates and give you the option to delete automatically, or check every duplicate prior to deletion. It will only detect the picture as a duplicate if it is a duplicate in every respect. That is, the file name, the size, the date the picture was taken etc. If you have saved a picture under another name it will not detect this as a duplicate. If you have two versions of the same picture, one high res, one low res, it will not detect these as duplicates. This is a good thing by the way 🙂

6. Cull

Even after eliminating the duplicates you still probably have thousands of photos. Maybe even tens of thousands. This is fairly hard to manage and successfully access and enjoy. So, you are now going to go through and delete the ones you don’t want. After they are deleted remember to empty your recycle bin and free up the disk space.

7. Organise

If you’ve got this far you are ready to organise your pics. Most photo managers suggest organising by year, then by event within the year eg, 2005/Christmas/. Hopefully you are already semi-organised and you can simply fine tune things having added new photos.

If you are super keen you can even go through and ‘tag’ photos. This will allow you to search your entire photo collection by the tag or tags you have nominated. Google Photos and Apple Photos can also organise your photos by face recognition, which is very helpful.

8. Backup

Now that you have meaningful, organised collection of photos you need to back it all up. The contents of your entire external hard drive can be backed up to another external hard drive and kept at another physical location. They could be stored on a local NAS ‘home cloud’ (check google if I’ve lost you), or you can back up to an external cloud service: google photos, dropbox, apple cloud, onedrive and more. Keep in mind, some cloud services, such as Google Pictures, will only save a compressed version of the photo, depending on which plan you choose. This is great for sharing with others, but is not a good ‘backup’ solution. Your backup needs to save the original file in all its glory. 

For more info on cloud storage options check Storing your photos in the Cloud.

Do what works for you. But do something! Do not rely on your one and only external hard drive to keep your photos.

9. Synchronise

Going forward, you want to have a system where a photo added to your computer is backed up automatically. Apple achieves this in the Photos app on their computers by syncing your photos to the cloud if thats what you want to do. Other cloud services also provide the means to sync files. The alternative is to manually backup to your storage solution once a month or so. Often people prefer to do it manually to keep control of their cloud storage.

10. A word about phones 

Phones have a habit of accumulating thousands of pics and filling up the storage. Make it a habit to delete files off your phone regularly. Don’t allow phone storage to be your only storage. Android (easy) and Apple (more difficult) handle photo storage differently. Be careful not to pay for expensive storage solutions you do not need by personally managing your phone storage: deleting unwanted pics, downloading pics onto your computer, then moving them onto your external hard drive. Your phone will thank you when it has all this new room to take even more pics!


The whole point of doing steps 1 though to 10 is so you can enjoy your photos! Ideas: select one or two hundred from various folders and create a themed photobook. Create some movie slideshows. Get some of your “best of” and create laminated table mats! Have a “slide night” once a month and put a folder up on the TV to watch and laugh. You get the idea….don’t have your pics locked away. Eliminate duplicates, cull, organise, enjoy! 


If you have ideas about photo management or a question, please comment below. 

If you are using ‘Photos’ on an Apple Mac I am including some extra tips below to assist in your photo management



  1. Use the Photos app to import all NEW photos from your camera and phone
  2. Use the export feature of Photos app to periodically export your photos to your external hard drive. Make a copy on the second external hard drive.
  3. Delete all photos in the cloud. Then change your plan within icloud to go back to the free 5gb storage allocation (if you have been on the paid plan)
  4. Bring the photos from your phone into the Photos app. Then export these to the external hard drive
  5. Sort your photos into manageable and recognisable folders. 
  6. If you want to share any particular photos or albums with others, upload them to Google Photos and simply send them the link by clicking ‘share’ within Google Photos. Remember: this is NOT where your photos should be archived, unless the cloud service you are using is saving your files in the original size. Also consider producing photobooks or scrapbooks of selected photos – special holidays, events etc. It’s good to have a hard copy record of memories.
  7. Use iTunes to keep regular backups of all your phone data. Backup to your computer rather than ‘to the cloud’. When you get a new phone “restore” from the backup of the old phone that is on your computer. Everything should come across, including photos you have on your phone.

Extra notes on exporting from within the Photos App

  1. Connect your external hard drive ready for action. Create a folder on this drive called Photo backup. Then create a subfolder under that with todays date. Subsequent exports will have their own subfolder with the date as the name
  2. Click the ‘Moments’ tab
  3. Click on the first photo you want to export, then holding the shift button down, click on the last photo you want to export
  4. Click ‘File > Export’. If the photos have been edited with the Photo app and you want those edits to remain with the photo, then do not select ‘unmodified original’. 
  5. In the window that then appears make sure all these are selected: jpeg / maximum / most compatible / full size. Tick the two boxes related to “info”. Then ‘use file name’ and for subfolder name choose ‘moment name’
  6. Hit export
  7. Choose the drive where they are to go. Select the folder, and subfolder where they are to go, as per point (a) above.
  8. Hit export. Bingo, all the pics will go across
  9. When you see that all the pics are safely there, you should delete those pics from the Photo app. They will stay in your app in the Deleted section for 30 days, but if you need the room on your computer you can delete them from within the Deleted. Open up ‘Deleted’ and select ‘delete all’.

So, I hope all that helps. Comment and let me know.

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