8 Steps to Organising Photo files

Messy room and digital photo management

Does the inside of your computer and your digital photo management system look a bit like this??

Digital photo management is not very creative or sexy, but very necessary. We wouldn’t leave our clothes all over the house, in different rooms, in random drawers and cupboards. And imagine if we had “duplicate” clothes in different rooms and in different drawers! Chaos!! And yet, if we could crawl inside our computers, external hard drives, CD Rooms, USB sticks, SD cards, iCloud, phones etc etc – that’s what many of us would find – digital picture files strewn everywhere!! And, if we ever want to find a particular photo, OR if we want to free up room on our devices, it can be a digital nightmare. Worse – we run the risk of losing many photos in the next phone upgrade, or computer upgrade, or our technology fails and we don’t have backup.

The GOAL in digital photo management is to have ONE place where ALL your photos LIVE…..AND a backup of everything that is in this ONE place. In this “ONE PLACE”, everything is in clear folders and files can be searched and found within seconds.

So….there a number of strategies to achieve that goal. And personal preference definitely comes into it. I am going to share one way, which is not the only way to achieving the above goal.


Purchase 2 external hard drives (Disk A, and Disk B) that are completely dedicated to your photos (and videos if you like). Disk B is a complete backup of Disk A. For most people a 2 terabyte drive will be ample and you can buy them for around $80. For me, this is my “one place”. There are two other options which I’ll quickly mention. One, use a cloud based solution like iCloud (personally, I can’t stand iCloud – if it works for your needs, Great!). Two, use a NAS system and create your own cloud. This gives you all the advantages of a cloud service, but its YOUR cloud and you have complete control.


Get ALL your photos, from EVERYWHERE, onto that ONE device. Now, admittedly, depending on how far and wide your pics are scattered, this might end up being a BIG JOB. But believe me, it is worth it!! There are THREE PARTS to this process.

>>FIRST, is your external media: CDs, USBs, existing external drives etc. Here, you will open up those files and copy their entire contents to your external hard drive (Disk A). At this point do not worry that it all seems a bit of a mess (we will get to that). And don’t worry if you want to keep the photos or not – just grab everything. When you have completed steps 1 through to 8, you are ready to toss out all those bits of paraphernalia that you will never need again, eg CDs.

>>The SECOND part of the process is to get your “internal” media, out of your computer and onto your external hard drive. You will need to know where photos are stored. There might be photos on your desktop, photos in your documents folder, photos in the download folder, but most of your photos will be stored in your photos application. So we need to get most of them from there. Not too hard on a PC because photos are stored as individual files and can be simply copied across. For Macs it’s a bit more complicated. Why?? Because Apple is driving you to use (paid) iCloud as the solution. Mac computers use ‘Photos’. You will need to “select all” and then “file export”, “original photos”, using “sub folder format”, “moment name”. And export them all to your external drive. Check they are all there.

>>The THIRD part of the getting-photos-from-everywhere process, may, or may not relate to you, but it involves downloading any iCloud photos onto your computer. [If you don’t use a cloud service, SKIP this step as described below].

If using a MAC, while in ‘Photos’, go to ‘preferences’, ‘iCloud’. Check, “iCloud photos” and “download originals to this Mac”. Now, BEFORE you do this, you may need to DELETE the photos that are currently there in ‘Photos’, because you may not have room for them on your computer. But ONLY do this, if the 15492 photos that are in ‘Photos’ are all showing up as having all been copied to your external drive (in their original quality). After deleting, what you have exported to your external drive, then delete your deleted items. Now download from iCloud. This process can literally take hours, possibly longer. When they are all downloaded in all their original quality glory, copy these across to your external drive. Put them in their own folder called iCloud photos. AFTER THIS, you “may” want to delete all pictures in iCloud. For example, if you don’t want to pay apple storage costs any more. But don’t do this if you want to access iCloud photos on your phone.

By the end of Step Two, you should have all your photos on the external drive, but they are still a mess, and you’ve probably got many duplicates, which brings us to…


Delete duplicates on Disk A. You can install a software tool on your computer for around $50 that will search all these files, alert you to duplicates and give you the option of deleting the duplicates. Or you can go through manually and work out which are exact duplicates of others and delete them.


Organise your files. Many choose to organise their photos in folders of “Year” and subfolders by “Event”. If you like, you can get extra clever and introduce tags and metadata info, which is a fancy way of being able to find various photos across various folders, eg, all photos of mum. This might be easier than trying to rename file names. If you are familiar with a programme such as Adobe Bridge you can really get it looking organised and searchable


Go through and delete unwanted files


Copy the entire contents of Disk A to Disk B.


Maintenance. Remove photos from devices regularly by copying them to Disk A, and then to Disk B, and then deleting them from the device.


Only use your desktop or laptop for the current batch of photos you are working on, eg your last holiday. Keep your computer free of this clutter. You won’t run out of room and it will run better.

If you follow these eight steps you will achieve the goal of having all your photos IN ONE PLACE. But as I said, this is not the ONLY way. Many people use iCloud with great success

Digital photos are both a blessing and a curse. We love being able to take photos and share them around, but the real risk is, that in 5 years time we won’t be able to find anything and the gems that are hiding amidst the 82,000 photos we have will simply disappear into the ether, never to be seen again. Whatever system you use make sure: your photos are all in one place, your photos are organised and can be searched, and finally your photos are all backed up.

For further tips on decluttering strategies for photos visit, ‘Decluttering Types – which one are you?’

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