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How to Organise Photos (Digital And Physical) – Step By Step

WRITTEN by CHRISSY, LAST UPDATED ON April 20, 2024

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Organising your photos can be a daunting task, especially when you’ve accumulated hundreds or even thousands of memories through the years. But fear not! With a systematic approach, you can sort your photos, digital and physical, and create an efficient system for years to come.

How To Organise Photos (Digital And Printed) Step By Step Guide

Photos are one of those things that can build up on us without even realising it.

Over the years it’s become easier and easier to accumulate so many – especially with the dawn of phones on our cameras.

Long gone are the days of only getting photos when we get them developed at the local store.

And it’s a great thing to have all these memories, until they become more ‘clutter’ than ‘keepsake’.

If you can’t find the special moments that you’ve snapped – why are you keeping them at all?

Photos need to be enjoyed – and having a good system in place for organising them is key to making this possible.

As with most things, there are various methods to sort and organise your photos. These include by date, event, or even people in the photographs.

Regardless of the method you choose, maintaining consistency for the long term (and not just doing one day of sorting out) will play a crucial role in how well it works for you.

And in addition, having a solid backup system in place is equally important to ensure their safety – whatever may happen.

So – let’s get started shall we – so you can find out exactly how to best sort out your photos – and keep them sorted out!

Photo Sorting Methods

The first thing to think about when it comes to organising photos (digital AND physical) is how you want them sorted.

There isn’t a right or wrong way really – it’s more based on how your mind works and how you prefer to file things for easy access.

Let’s look at the best 5 ways to consider:

Sort Photos By Date

This is my favourite – because I find that I can recall what age roughly my daughter was when things happened, and therefore what year/month to look at.

All you need to do is create folders for each year, and within those folders, have sub-folders for each month.

TIP: We make this easy by moving all photos taken each month straight into a folder in Dropbox. That way they take space away from camera storage, we have a backup, and there isn’t a huge backlog waiting at any one point.

PROS – Easy to look back, you don’t have to worry about who or where you were at any time, just focus on the time. Most photos are dated digitally which makes it easy to sort.

CONS – Can feel hard to find things when you’re looking for a specific persons photo, for example.

Sort Photos By Location

If you travel a lot, or your life is based around different places, then sorting by location may well work well. Create folders for each country, city or specific places you’ve visited.

PROS – Great if you holiday a lot!

CONS – You’ll probably end up with a huge folder of all your photos based at home – which can become unwieldy to sort through.

Sort Photos By Event

Organising your photos by event can help you relive specific memories easily. Create folders for events such as birthdays, weddings, holidays, or other special occasions.

Make sure to name folders descriptively and include the date of the event for better organisation.

PROS – A lot of photos don’t fit into specific events and so may get lost in the filing.

CONS – What do you call each event? This may be different for different people and so can make it harder to find what you’re looking for.

Sort Photos By People

If you have a large collection of photos featuring friends and family members, you can organise them by people.

Create folders for each person and add their photos.

PROS – Usually when you look for photos, you want to find photos of specific people – this makes it easy!

CONS – What about landscapes and animals etc…?! And what happens when you have a group photo? Do you end up copying the same photo into lots of folders?

Sort Photos By A Mix Of The Above

I think the overall ‘best’ way is to use a mix of a couple of the above ideas.

Firstly – sort by year and month – but them within those months you can have folders for specific events or people. For instance – you know your daughters birthday is in May, so you can quickly find her birthdays over the years and even folders with her partys in. Or what about that fantastic holiday you had in Barcelona a few years back? It will be there in it’s own folder in August 2008.

TIP: Always remember to stay consistent with your chosen organising method, whichever you pick, and you’ll have an easy time finding your cherished memories.

Now you’ve decided on the method of sorting / filing your photos – you can start to work through the process.

In the next couple of sections let’s look at what to do for Physical photos, and then Digital…

Photo Organisation 101

Step #1 – Gather All Your Photos Together

Having them all in one place means you can sort through them more clearly (if you know you have several of the same photo, you may want to only keep on, for example.

PHYSICAL PHOTOS

Go through your whole house with a large box, and grab all the photos you can find.

DIGITAL PHOTOS

Look at anywhere you have digital photos, such as your laptop, phone and camera. Get them all downloaded into one folder on your computer for easy sorting out.

Step #2 – Sort Into Categories

Once altogether it’s time to sort through them and put them in some sort of order.

This can be based on the sorting method you picked at the start (by date, location etc…).

PHYSICAL PHOTOS

Use a box and have some sort of paper tabs to separate everything. You can label the tabs with whatever you prefer to sort things out by.

DIGITAL PHOTOS

Create folders for each date / event / person – or whatever you’re going to be storing them as.

Step #3 – Declutter Your Photos

When you’ve got everything in some sort of order you’ll be able to more clearly see where there are photos you can start to let go of.

For both digital and physical photos – go through each folder / tab and simply get rid of any obvious duds (duplicates, blurred, faded etc…).

PHYSICAL PHOTOS

Recycle anything you declutter, if possible

DIGITAL PHOTOS

Simply delete the photo from the file

Related: 17 Things To Declutter From Your Photos Right Now

Step #4 – Store The Photos You’re Keeping

The last step is to store the photos well. Your main aim is to keep them so that they’re easily accessible and safe.

Physical Photo STORAGE IDEAS

Old black and white photos on wooden floor

Physical photos are delicate, and you need to protect them from moisture, light, and any other damage.

Some of the best methods for Physical photo storage are as follows:

  • Photo Albums – Pick albums that fit on your bookcase or in a cupboard, that work with your decor if visible, and that are big enough to store the amount of photos you have, without being too bulky. You can label each photo album based on your sorting method (by location, date etc…), and create a new album each year or event.
  • Photo Boxes – A photo box is a great alternative to an album, especially for larger collections. Choose high-quality, acid-free photo boxes or plastic versions to ensure the longevity of your pictures. You can arrange each printed photo systematically within these boxes using dividers or envelopes for further categorisation. Store the photo boxes in a cool, dry place to avoid damage.
  • Digitise – Lastly it’s worth looking at digitising some of your printed photos. Specifically an old photo (or several!) that is fading or anything that you want an extra copy of. You can scan yourself or there are companies that can do this for you (search online for suitable ones for you). Once digitised (made into a digital image), you can sort them with the rest of your digital photos.
Labelling Techniques

Proper labelling techniques dramatically improve the ease of finding specific photos. You can label the photos directly, but using a pencil ensures ink won’t smudge or damage them.

Another option is to label the back of the photographs, with a date, description or event, taking care not to apply too much pressure that may damage the image.

For photo boxes, you can create labels for the dividers, envelopes or the boxes themselves. If you’re using albums, you can write captions under each image or add additional notes on the album pages.

Digital Photo STORAGE IDEAS

You’ll want to keep your photos in one central place so you always know where to find them.

Ideally this will be in the cloud – because cloud storage is more secure and safe and accessible by anyone who has the link.

Then simply set up your folder structures so you have places for everything.

An example folder structure for your digital photo library is:

File Directory For How I Format My Yearly Photos For A Photo Book
File Naming

Having consistent file naming conventions can further help you organise your photos and see what you have at a glance.

Consider including the date and a brief description of the event or location. For example, “2023-01-14-AnniversaryParty-1.jpg” or “2023-02-14-Valentines-Day.jpg.”

Tagging

Tagging your photos with relevant keywords can be incredibly helpful in organising and finding specific images. Most programs offer features to add keywords or tags to your photos.

For example, you can tag a photo with the names of the people in it, the location, and any noteworthy details. This will make it easier to locate specific photos using search functions – especially useful if you want to tag people in photos, or locations.

MAKE A PHOTO BOOK

Pile of photo books on white background

Another fantastic way to store photos is to create a photo book. We like doing these for special birthdays, and a yearly family photo book where we put loads of memories.

The beauty of a photo book is that you can get your digital photos printed out and visible instead of just stored on your google drive, computer, digital camera or phone.

TIP: You can also scan in old photos and digitise them to add to the photo books – a great idea to keep them safe and have a digital copy for future generations.

Step #5 – Maintaining Your Photo Organisation

So you’ve sorted everything out and have a place for it all. What now?

Well, you don’t want to sit back and relax just yet…

Maintaining a well-organised photo collection starts with consistency.

Whatever filling system you’ve chosen for your digital and physical photos – you simply need to stick to it firmly.

Regular MAINTENANCE

Camera and black and white photos on black background

Lastly, it’s important to clean up your photos every so often (once a year works well).

During these clean-up sessions you want to make sure everything has been moved into the right place (take everything from your camera roll, for example), then you’ll need to delete unwanted photos by keeping only the best shots and removing any duplicates or damaged images.

You also might want to take a specific photo or two and get them framed (change what’s on show in your home regularly as a way to see a few new pictures over the years).

You’ll also want to check your backups. If you backup regularly, just make sure everything is ticking along OK, and if you only backup occasionally – now is the time! You could backup to an external hard drive, the cloud (somewhere like Dropbox works well), or both (just to be really safe).

TIP: To ensure the safety of your photos while using online storage space, always choose a reputable provider and be mindful of the privacy settings you enable. Some popular options include Google Photos, Apple Photos and Amazon Photos.

How To Organise Photos (Digital And Printed) Step By Step Guide

Follow all the steps in this guide for how to organise photos – and you’ll be set for years to come!

Not only will you know where to look for everything, but you’ll be able to grab what you need really quickly.

You can actually enjoy the photos you take – and pass them on to family and friends so they have copies too.

Perfect!

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This article was written by Chrissy

Hi - I'm Chrissy... Having run my own business for 12 years as a Professional Organiser and Interior Designer, I know what works (and what doesn't!) when it comes to setting up a home that works both functionally and aesthetically. Now you can mostly find me in a coffee shop or at home, working full time on OrganiseMyHouse.com (which I setup back in 2011) sharing all my tips and ideas. My mission is to help you create a home that you love to live in every day...

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