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How to Organize Digital Photos

During the four-plus years of owning a digital camera, we’ve accumulated about nine gigabytes of pictures. That’s not an excessive amount of space (we don’t take too many pictures and our cameras were only two and three mega pixels), but it is a lot of individual pictures. If they were all in one large folder, it would be very hard to manage.

While there are numerous applications for organizing and viewing digital pictures including Picasa from Google and the proprietary variety that ships with your digital camera, I find that being able to quickly find pictures on my hard drive (by date) is extremely helpful. If you want to upload, print, or e-mail your digital photos, chronological organization makes sense, even (or especially) with such digital photo organizing software. Do you want to be forever tied to one program? Personally, I’d rather have a nice system to which any photo organizing software adds value.

It makes life a lot easier if I take an extra minute — when pulling the photos off my camera — to organize the pictures in nicely-named folders. Within the My Pictures directory I created two folders for each year:

    1. 2006 Jan-Jun
    2. 2006 Jul-Dec

That breaks the year in half, keeping the subdirectories down to a manageable number and not creating unnecessary levels which just require extra clicks. Within those directories in the list above, I create subdirectories based on one of the following (whichever makes sense):

    • Each day that I took pictures
    • A small date range (e.g., if I was on a trip and didn’t want to distinguish between the days)
    • Each distinct set of pictures I took on a given day (e.g., soccer game, pictures of kids at the park, birthday party) – in this case the date would be the same for each distinct set of pictures and only the description would vary

The folder naming format that I use is this:

YYYY-MM(Mon)DD – Description of the pictures

As an example, I have the following directory structure for some of my pictures:

Small screen cap of example directory structure



Be sure to:

    • Remember the zero (“0″) as a placeholder for days or months with only a single digit
    • Maintain the folder naming convention because the sorting won’t function properly otherwise

This naming convention also has several nice results beyond simple organization:

    • In Windows Explorer, if you sort by folder name, your directories (and subdirectories) will be automatically listed the directories in chronological order
    • The descriptions make them easier to find a given set of photos while browsing, searching, or using other photo organizing applications
    • Backing up your photos will be easier because they’re all nicely organized in one place
    • You’ll be able to prevent inadvertently having multiple copies of the same photos, thereby maximizing your use of disk space

Growing up we enjoyed watching (literal) slide shows of the family. The format has changed a little, but friends and family still want an organized tour through successive holiday seasons, birthdays, and vacations!

UPDATE: The latest version of Picasa from Google came out a little over a week ago and allows you to make full use of the folder organization method outlined in this post. To use that Picasa view simply click on the button highlighted below:

Small screen cap of example directory structure

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