Digital Photo Organization 101

Digital Photo Organization 101

These days, photographers are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of images they have strewn across multiple devices and platforms. It's a challenge to organize and store large quantities of images in an easily navigable way. Most of us can relate to that hopeless feeling of searching for a specific photo amongst a gigantic pile of inconsistently named and poorly filed photos. And don’t get me started on that time your computer crashed and you lost everything because you were too lazy to back everything up. So it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince you that it’s crucial that you adopt and consistently follow a photo organization process.

To help you get started, here are our 5 top tips for keeping your digital photos organized!


Don’t put it off. Categorize and tag your photos the moment that you upload them. Create a workflow for how you will process the photos and stick to it. Not sure where to start? Try this: Initially keep your photos in a folder on your desktop as a sort of holding place (photo purgatory, if you will). From there, you can sort, toss, and edit photos, and then move them to their permanent locations on your local hard drive, on an external hard drive, and on the cloud. Whatever you decide, upload and organize swiftly. If you let your disorganized and unlabeled photos pile up, it will be even more of a pain to sort through later.


Don’t be afraid to delete photos. Be ruthless. Some people like to use a rating system to determine which photos to prioritize for editing and which to just trash from the start. Perhaps 4s and 5s get edited first, 3s get saved but not edited unless necessary, and 1s and 2s hit the bucket without a second thought. A lot of cameras and photo library applications allow you to rate the photos within the metadata, which will make your process easier.


This will look different depending on the photographer, but your photos should be uniquely named in an easy to interpret way. Random strings of numbers and letters won’t cut it. Almost all photographers include the date of the photo taken. From there, you may want to include some sort of category (i.e. weddings, portraits, branded content), the client’s name, and then a photo number. Or perhaps you keep the image names simpler with just the date, the name of the shoot, and a photo number. 

As for filing, you can go a few different routes for folder structure depending on how granular you’d like to be. One method is to start with broad categories for the folders, and then within each of these, organize the subfolders chronologically. Alternatively, you can begin your folder hierarchy with chronology (years, then months), and then from there break it down by category, and then by sub-category (perhaps something like shoot location). If you have ongoing client partnerships then it would be wise to categorize by client higher up in the hierarchy for ease of folder navigation. There’s no single correct way, but what’s important is that you stick to one single naming and filing system.


Within your photo organization application, or simply within OS for Mac users, tag your photos and folders with keywords for easy searching. You can tag anything you want, but you may want to think about tagging locations, people, seasons, colors, type of photo, type of camera, or other themes. This way, you can search across your library for all of the photos of your brother Bob, or all of the photos you’ve taken at a beach, or even all of the photos that feature a lot of the color red. 


You don’t need me to tell you that your photos should live in more than one place. You should be backing up everything that you care about in at least one non-local location. Take your pick between an external hard drive, the cloud, flash drives, and photo sharing applications like Flickr. Or, back them up in all of those places. Better safe than sorry.


If all else fails, and you just cannot bear to tackle your flaming pile of disorganized photos, you can hire a photo organizer. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a professional photo organizer. So if you’re feeling helpless, check out the Association of Personal Photo Organizers to find an organizer. 

Creative Community Developer at Snapfluence

I'm the Oxford comma's biggest fan.