How to Organize Digital Photos (the easy way)

I know if you’re like me, you probably have a gazillion digital photos on your computer. Maybe they’re in different folders. Maybe you even took the time to name some of them (or maybe they’re all still named DSCN_9739503).

For whatever place you’re at, I promise I won’t tell you to print them out and arrange them into scrapbooks.  That would require too much effort, and this is about organizing digital photos the easy way.

*  First of all, choose software to help you. There are a lot of nice choices. Picasa is a good free option, and I like to use iPhoto. Both let you do basic editing and organizing all in one.

*  Decide how you want to sort your photos. I prefer chronological order, so I group the photos into months. If there is a special event with a lot of photos, I make a group for that too.

*  Give each photo a descriptive label, and use the same format each time. Both Picasa and iPhoto will let you rename several photos at the same time.

I use the date and then the name of the person or event, followed by the sequence number. When I type the date I use the format YYYYMMDD, because even when the computer sorts the photos alphabetically, they will stay in chronological order. This is the 11th photo of Lane taken on May 10, 2008, so it is named 20080510 – Lane 11.

* Now this is a very important part: The best tool for organizing your digital photos is the delete button.

Yes people, I said it, you need to delete some photos. When I’m taking pictures I usually take a few shots to make sure I get it right, because whenever you take pictures of a running kid with a point-and-shoot camera, you’re really just hoping for the best. So I take a few with the idea that some of them will be clear and some won’t be, and possibly a few will turn out to be pretty good. Go through your photos really quickly and delete the obvious ones — the ones that are too blurry to see, or the practice shots, or the ones that you just don’t like.

If you have photos that look similar, pick your favorites–the ones that make you smile or stir your heart–and feel free to delete the others. It’s not about conserving memory on your computer, it’s about creating a nice collection to look at later. Even if all of them turned out pretty good, it is more enjoyable to look at your favorite 25 photos of an event rather than 100 photos that look the same.

Just like when you declutter your stuff, if you get rid of the extras photos, the ones you keep become more special. Once you have done this, you’ll enjoy looking through the pictures as a slideshow on your computer, and you won’t feel as guilty about not printing them out or putting them into albums.

* Back them up! If you have a lot of photos, get a backup drive so you can copy all of them to the drive easily, or you can copy them to discs. Set a reminder on your calendar so you’ll remember to do it.

Your photos are special! Don’t let them get lost in a mystery folder on your computer. Invest a little time to organize them so you can enjoy them more.
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Thank you for not guilting us into printing photos. I have so much old photo clutter from the days I used film. ;)

    I’ve been trying to label/name my photos when I download them, so I don’t have to remember to go back and do it.

    In addition to an external drive for backup, I also use an online backup service for my several years of photos. (I don’t backup sensitive things like finances this way.) It’s automatic every day and I don’t have to remember to do it.

  2. Love this:

    “It’s not about conserving memory on your computer, it’s about creating a nice collection to look at later. Even if all of them turned out pretty good, it is more enjoyable to look at your favorite 25 photos of an event, rather than 100 photos that look the same.”

    I’m very much in agreement with you. Now if you just had some tips on how to convince my husband that it’s not a cardinal sin to delete the blurry ones, I’d be set! He’s a hoarder, I’m a tosser.

  3. Excellent idea… she says as she goes off to organise and rename her photo’s :)

  4. Just got done with a big 2007 backup and was thinking about this. Love your system. It took me, like, 10 years to realize that doing it by years backward would keep them in order:-) Mine is basically the same. You hit on the exact reason deleting is important, and, for me, best to do on the initial download as a “just do it” task. I don’t re-label the photos themselves for a next step, however, but put them into chronological folders by month and by year. A folder might be “2007 05 29 kids playing in Oklahoma,” etc. And then organize those within year folders.

    And for this year before new additions go to “final” storage, I’m going to try a new idea: to fill up a “bucket” folder with photos that haven’t been backed up to disk. When the bucket folder reaches DVD storage size, I’ll back them up as 2008 progresses, instead of my usual procrastinating “yearly DVD back up.” (I immediately back them up on a exterior drive when downloading them from the camera, of course — another “just do it” task.)

  5. Great post! I just downloaded Picasa a couple of weeks ago. I still haven’t gotten around to organizing all of my pictures on it yet. Baby steps, I suppose.

  6. smallnotebook says:

    Great suggestions everyone. I really have to take it in baby steps when I organize my photos, and just try to focus on a month or week at a time. Ideally, I’d like to do it when I download the photos from my camera, but sometimes life gets in the way. I try to do it quickly and not think too hard, because it’s easy to get caught up in looking at the photos, but not actually doing anything.

  7. I love, love, love Picasa…I also use the web album for easy transferring from one pc to another. I can upload from my album at home and then log in at my mom’s house and download them for her. Faster than sending 40-50 photos via email.

    Your way of labeling is brilliant. How do I go back and figure that out on all my old pics, though? :)

  8. smallnotebook says:

    Picasa lets you rename groups of photos right? I’ve gone back to rename old photos, and in that case it’s best to just keep it simple. Do a month at a time, and just name them something like 200805 – May ##. Or even easier, don’t worry about it and just do future photos.

    That is a great way to share photos, Karen.

  9. Oh, love Karen’s idea, too!

    This is so helpful, Rachel. I had never thought of labeling them with the date in that format. PERFECT. Love it.

  10. Backing up to an external drive is good, but you really need online storage too. I use JungleDisk. It’s fairly easy to set up and I have it scheduled to automatically back up every night (you can specify precisely what to back up).

    It’s no fun to think about, but something like a fire or theft at home would destroy all the hard drives you have which is why the online backup is so important.

  11. Big gulps!! I am so not good at deleting but after reading your and Simplemom’s photo storing tips, I know it has to be done. Now I just have to do it. That’s definitely the hard part for me.

  12. These are great tips. I’m also a big fan of Picassa.

    I’m in the process of working my way through our old printed photos. I had them scanned by sending them to scan my The send them back on a disk which is easy to upload into Picassa. I deleted the duplicates and the ones that weren’t good. I’m really happy with the results.

  13. Midwest Mainer says:

    I’ve never deleted a photo.

    Duplicates, yes. But anything other than a copy, no. I save blurry, sideways, backwards, everything.

    I can appreciate what you are saying; and I know this works for many people. I suppose if I did delete photos I’d only lose a small percentage but I choose to save them all.

    I have used Picasa since it was $24.95! Then Google bought it and it became free. When I got a Mac this year it was the main PCish thing I missed. Luckily, Picasa for Mac was just released (beta). I’ve already been working on it.

    I, too, use the date system to organize and was awestruck when I realized it was so effective. Duh. Why didn’t I do this earlier?

    As far as back up, I have two additional hard drives and gold 300 yr. discs. One hard drive is for photos and movies, the other for everything else. I back up automatically.

    Due to hard drive crash and/or virus- I’ve lost hundreds, thousands of photos, documents, scans (that’s the real work!), and songs. It’s miserable to come back from that- and that’s if you backed up.

    Thanks again for helpful info.

  14. richard says:

    i have used Picasso for 4 years and now have over 9000 photos. Many are on picassa free WEB service for friends viewing. After a day shooting I load them in and delete and edit. I organize into folders, yyyy mmdd description name. ie. 2009 0704 Fireworks SV park. I work at renaming all photos in folder with folder name+ pic number. First pic = 0, second pic=1,… Reason is because Picassa or any program can get a corrupt inxex and the pictures lose their order, home. solution is to delete program, restart, install program and it will find all your photos and build new index. Having your photo named into events, etc. insures that you can get them reorganized.

  15. Billie Jean says:

    Great ideas everyone!

    About a year ago, I took my old photos from all of the albums I had collected throughout the years and had them scanned through I now have them organized by subject. I can easily find old pictures and share them electronically with friends and family. I keep two back-up copies.

    For those extra special events and vacations, I have made bound photo books through This has saved so much space & I feel like my pictures are better organized & preserved.

  16. You inspired me, just now, to go sort out my pictures. It’s amazing! I got all my pictures down to roughly 15 different categories and then stuck them into folders named for each category.

    Thank you!

    Asterid´s last post…Working…

  17. I’ve always made a seperate folder for each year and then inside of that, made another folder using the name of the set or event.

    I’ve recently had trouble with that, because it makes searching for photos of an individual person more work.

    I’m not sure what I’ll be doing from now on.

  18. Recently, I have found that it is easier to review digital photos immediately after the event than to wait. At that time, I can more objectively decide which photos my children (or grandchildren) will find interesting in 5, 10 or 15 years! I don’t wish to burden them as my parents did (although I welcomed it at 16 years of age) handing me the precious box of family Kodak slides (maybe there were 400 slides..) and asking me to sort them. It seemd such a formidable tast at the time. Oh, for the simple days. :)

  19. I personally use nerxy file organizer from , its the only software i found that can organize my photos and music physically into folders on my hard drive according to a set of rules that I can create.

  20. Matt Crysdale says:

    Okay, I might be the only guy on this site, but I’m a little OCD and I was looking for a better way to oraginize the thousands of digital photos. the year idea is great! i am going to continue to research a way of better oganizing them. Here is one thing that works for me. I got tired of loosing data when my hard drive would blow up or transfering when i got a new computer, so I
    1) went to an external system that I can move to new computers.
    2) Bought 2 drives and wrote a simple little program (don’t get scared, is very simple)”xcopy /d /s /y f: g:” that copies the files from one drive to another as a back up.
    3)Made that program a scheduled task my computer run as often as i like and my photos are automatically backed up.

    Hope some of this helps:)

  21. thank you! I’m a teen and i have a computer full of pictures from places I’ve been to friends i love and i was like oh my gosh! over flowing on my photos need organizing so then i looked up on Google ” computer photos organizing” (short termed) and then this popped up and you helped me so much amazing really thank you so much!

  22. thank you for your sugesstions. they are extremely helpful tips!

  23. Irek Janek says:

    I like the picManager 3.0 to organize and throw them on my PC (