Essential Tool to Organize Your Digital Photos

There is a special tool you need when you start organizing your digital photos.

  • It’s simple.
  • It’s free.
  • You already have it.

It’s your delete button.

“Oh, foo!” my grandmother would say. She keeps every single photo including ones so overexposed you can’t see who’s in them. She values all of them, especially after losing some in a flood forty years ago.

But while her photos taken with film total in the hundreds, digital photo collections easily add up to thousands. I can add a thousand new photos to my computer in just a few months. Right now I have fifteen thousand photos taken in the last few years.

When you take a digital photo, don’t you often take more than one, just to make sure you got the shot? And do you sometimes take a few test shots first?

I do, I take quite a few, and I end up with three of four photos that are really good, some that are kind of nice or look mostly the same, and then a few that clearly need to be deleted fast.

So I delete the ones that need it. It’s a lot more fun to look at photos on a computer once you’ve weeded out the bad ones, and it’s also nicer when you’ve deleted the ones that look identical.

While we enjoy photo albums and books, most photos remain solely on the computer. It’s just not realistic to consider printing them all. The delete button keeps our collection manageable and enjoyable.

For several months I’ve had a goal to delete 40 photos every day. Some weeks I do this, and some weeks I’ve let it go, but it usually takes me no more than ten minutes. It’s been an easy way to keep my photos more or less organized when I don’t have time to do anything more. I can focus on a small, measurable goal for the day, instead of the overall big project of “organizing the photos.” I can work on any set of pictures without feeling like I’m two years or ten years behind.

Another advantage is that it makes me look like a much better photographer when I delete the evidence of the bad photos, and that keeps me motivated to take more.

How do you feel about it? Is deleting photos hard for you to do?
About Rachel

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



    Just yesterday on facebook, my one friend posted that she had 4000 pics of her babies’ first year. Another said she had more than that. I said “don’t you delete?” :)

    All three of us have twins and I average 100 – 150 a month, and still that’s too many for me :)

    Marcia Francois, Organising Queen´s last post…How to become 50 more productive


    I have a terrible habit of uploading photos to my computer and leaving them exactly as they’re uploaded – sometimes blurry, sometimes duplicated and always unsorted, until such time as I decide that I need one for printing or scrapbooking or both!

    Great idea to delete 40 pics per day – that’s a rate that I reckon even I could manage!

    Thanks Rachel :)

    Sarah Klass´s last post…The wait is over!

  3. my son set up our screen saver so that it runs through our pictures. I love it. and yes, I delete LOTS!

  4. Thank you Rachel for the idea of deleting 40 photos a day. That seems like a reasonable goal and I plan to implement it tonight! Thanks again for the motivation.

  5. I’ve started using evening TV watching as “photo delete” time. On a trip to Colorado, my son took over 500 pictures of buffalos. Trust me, once you’ve seen the first hundred, it’s hard to tell the difference in the pictures. I’ve deleted hundreds (not just roaming animals!) and started deleting them on the camera before I even download them.
    I’m beginning to get a handle on my photo collection through the power of the “delete” key!!

    deb´s last post…Making Peace with Fall

  6. Completely agree! It’s even crazier when you have more than one person with a camera (like on family vacations or special events) and you try to combine your files. It is not even fun to look through that many redundant shots.

    I try to keep my photo files pared down, but it’s a chore that’s easy to forget about for a while, and then it feels overwhelming when I do get around to it. Thanks for the reminder!

    Lindsey´s last post…Normal Green People

  7. I do the same thing. In fact, lots of photos I take never even make it to the computer–I clear off the blurry or bad ones as soon as I take them. I can’t stand clutter, be it in my house, on my computer, or on my camera. :)

    I’ve even found myself looking back over photo albums from the last few years and wondering, “Why did I print THAT photo?” or “Why do I have 4 photos of pretty much the exact same pose?” I would much rather distill our photos down to a select few that truly express the essence of a vacation, of a school year, or of a special time with friends than wade through pages and pages of not-so-special photos.

    Morgan´s last post…A couple of handy acronyms

  8. I like your piecemeal approach to organizing photography. While I need to use it for deleting the poor pictures, I almost need it more for tagging our photos. We use Picassa which we like very much and have found it so useful when the question comes up, “Where is the picture of our son at the zoo with So and So?” But tagging is boring and I have gotten behind. 40 a day or a folder a day might be more the ticket. Thanks!

  9. Love this tip! It also reminds me of some friends with kids (none for me yet) who would always edit the video they took of them down. So rather than having an hour-long video of a birthday party that no one is ever going to want to watch, the father would edit it down to a 5 minute video with titles and sometimes music that everyone had time and was glad to watch! I think he might have also edited a second version, just cutting out the obviously bad parts, to keep in the archives – but even that step is often overlooked!

    • Exactly, no one ever wants to watch an hour-long movie of an event, but five minutes of the highlights is fun.

      • Amen! I find that I can use my regular digital cameras “short movie” feature and don’t even need a real video camera anymore.

        Know one is going to EVER want to watch hours of a soccer game, sledding, etc. The highlights of who we were, how we spoke, moved and what we did at that time are more than enough.

  10. I love using the delete button and use it often! In fact, I might even delete more than I take.

    Because I am a some-what amateur photographer I deal with photos on an almost daily basis. My other tip is this: keyword/tag them right away. Before editing, before deleting. That way, at least you can always find what you’re looking for.

    Like Denise, my screensaver is our family photos. I love it. And so do the kids. It’s like the new version of photo albums.

  11. Amen! It seems like it becomes easier to delete after some time has passed. So I’ll often revisit my photo files when I can be a little more ruthless with the delete button.

  12. This is something I have been thinking about working on the past week! I love the 40 photos/day goal- that way I don’t feel like I have to do it all in one day! Thanks for the encouragement :)

  13. You’re so right! I’ve trained myself to do all deleting and edits (crop, red eye reduce, photoshop out that zit on my chin…) right when I upload the photos. Then I put anything I need for my blog straight onto flickr. If I don’t do this all at once it just never gets done.

    Also, don’t forget that if you use iphoto you have to also delete the photos from the deleted file in iphoto, otherwise they’re still lurking there.

    I also delete my mother in law’s photos from her camera (with her permission). She is the worst about leaving terrible photos on there! (This way I also get to see how I look in the photos, too ;)

    liz´s last post…10 years of blogging No- really

  14. For me, the key to using the delete key liberally is to load my photos to my computer frequently and delete right away. If I wait, for months (or years) then I become like your grandmother and every photo becomes precious in some way — especially if the pictures are of my daughter who will never be that age again.

  15. I have a huge box of printed pictures from years ago that I’m not sure what to do with. What did you do with yours? Did you scan them all in or keep the prints (and if so, how do you store them?)

    • I have a shoebox-size archival box of photos and I just left them in the box. Maybe one day I will scan them. Most of my childhood photos are at my parents’ house.

  16. the cottage child says:

    YES! I’m better now about deleting photos as I take them, even, when I know they’re not good. More difficult: emails.
    Next to impossible: print photos.

    I did,however, manage to part with all but a couple of albums worth of photos from childhood to marriage. Including 38 of the 40 copies of my senior photo, which was undeniably the worst picture I’ve ever taken. I only kept the ones I did because my kids insisted. I have other pictures from the same week that are much more representative of me and more flattering. Why do we do that to ourselves?

  17. Jackie@Lilolu says:

    Delete is my favorite tool. ;)

  18. I totally agree! The more liberally you use your delete key, imo, the better you will like the photos you do keep.

    Like others, I upload my photos frequently. I generally put them in a folder specifically for pictures I haven’t gone through yet. Once a week or so I go through the pictures, deleting, moving to different folders and uploading them. It works pretty well for me.

    The two biggest problems I have are decided which photo I want to save when I have a bunch that look the same. What a silly problem, right? Also, I have trouble throwing away printed photos.

    • sometimes I do a fun thing with printed photos that other people may enjoy. If they are scenic or nice pictures and I just don’t need them, they may become notecards to give to that person. For example, my brother lived near Seattle many years ago, after a nice visit and way too many scenic pictures I have copies I don’t need, so they became the front of some notecards I gifted to him one birthday, or the girl I babysat for over 5 years as a highschooler, I took nice portraits of her, and scenic ones around where she lived, including her dog who has now passed on. I made notecards for her and gave them as graduation presents. Just a thought if they are anything worthy of doing that with.

  19. Don’t forget to back up all these photos!! A lot of auto back up services (Mozy, Dropbox – both good, dropbox you can also access your files away from home) will back up a certain amount for free and then more for a small fee.

    My dad’s a computer consultant for small businesses, and I can’t tell you how often they’ll come to him asking if he can rescue their personal computers, with all their photos, music, videos, etc.

  20. Thank you! This is such helpful advice—40 photos a day. I’m going to do it. And I AM NOT going to let my photos overwhelm me. I repeat…

  21. Thank you soooo very much for this helpful reminder! Not only do I have a gazillion of my photos, my teenage daughter’s pix are on there as well. It makes me crazy because I have to scroll thru allll of the pictures to find anything. Going to take your 40 pictures/day goal to heart!

    Paula@Simply Sandwich´s last post…Simplifying is Not Always Simple

  22. Thanks for the great post. You’ve inspired me to clean up my photos as well, I’m not sure I can do 40 a day but hey… I might surprise myself! By looking at your iPhoto you’ve also inspired me to organize the photos I keep. I like the way you’ve named your events and it looks like an easier way to keep things in order. Thanks!

  23. I used to be a Creative Memories consultant years ago, and people would come in with BALES of photos–blurry, all-black, in duplicate and triplicate–and they’d take one look at the price of CM’s products and just about fall over. “I can’t afford albums for all of these pictures!!” Well, no, and you shouldn’t! First you need to pare down to the really good photos, then those are the ones that deserve to be preserved in a really good album. Even working on commission, I didn’t want to see anyone spend their money buying high-quality scrapbooks for 35 nearly identical pictures of a sunset.

    One woman was trying to scrapbook the candids from her wedding–you know, from the disposable cameras on every table? Oh my goodness. She started with a stack of prints at least six inches tall, and didn’t even know where to start. First we agreed on some qualities she wanted from the photos. What was the point of having the cameras on the table? To see people the photographer might have missed. Okay, so if a photo doesn’t have a clear view of anyone’s face, can it be discarded? That nearly halved the stack right there! Then we talked about the arrangement of the photos in the album: did she want to keep it chronological? She did, so we figured out how to divide the stack into each roll of film. Then she could look at the piles, see which had the “earliest” photo on top, and by that, collate them all together into one timeline. Now we have groups: 2-3 cake-cutting photos from each camera, 2-3 photos of the bouquet toss from each camera, etc. From those groups, she decided how much space to allocate in the album, and pared down to fit. This continued for an afternoon, and by the end, she had all the best photos, telling the story of her reception from the guests’ point of view. And most importantly, there wasn’t anything “missing.” The hundreds and hundreds of photos that didn’t make the cut…well, they wouldn’t have added anything to the story.

    Junior’s first haircut? Three photos, tops: before, during, and after. Progress on the room addition? One a day, absolute maximum. And if all you did on day 23 was put a second coat of the same paint you put on in day 22? No photo. Eiffel Tower? From a distance, up close with you in it, panoramic from the top, maybe–maybe–some architectural shots. Think about how you would describe or caption the photos: if at any point the description becomes “and here’s another shot of the Eiffel Tower,” I hate to break it to you, but it has ceased to be interesting. You can MAKE it interesting with good storytelling, if you’re actually making a scrapbook, but if your screensaver or digital frame is just scrolling through fifteen different views of what is, after all, scaffolding, you may find yourself explaining “well, you had to be there” an awful lot.

    • Yes! Photo albums should tell a story.

    • Karen (Scotland) says:

      Thanks, this is a great comment. I still have the photos from the disposable cameras at my wedding so this has been like a mini tutorial for me.

    • Love the post and this comment! Sarah just helped me out in such a big way! I have bins and bins of photos in my storage room. My husband keeps telling me to put them in nice albums for everyone to enjoy once and awhile, and the thought of putting every photo in an album is just daunting. I never really thought about the album telling a story. LOVE THIS! I think I might get started on those bins tonight! :) I can only imagine how many will be going in the trash. Probably 75% of them!

      • My aunt had a hall closet absolutely stuffed with stuff, mostly photos, that she felt obligated to put in albums for her adult children. We made five piles: before kids, kid 1, kid 2, kid 3, and other. BUT to get to those piles, she had to pass the recycling bin. As she went through the closet, it got easier and easier to discard things.

        Later, one of the kids came over. She was expecting to hear “how could you throw out…?” but what she got was “I’m SO GLAD you’re finally getting rid of…”

  24. For some reason I require permission to do simple things, like not finishing a book, or this deleting of photos. Thanks for signing my permission slip – off to start my picture field trip.

    Melanie´s last post…Review- Strangers at the Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes

  25. Your timing on this is great. This is on my Todo list for tonight. I have taken thousands of pictures over the past year and I had been in the habit of deleting and naming files and somehow along the way I stopped doing this. So I am getting back into the habit of keeping up with my photos.

    Rana´s last post…Monday! Monday!

  26. what program do you use to view your pictures? that seems such much more simplified than my view of my pictures. i’ve spent this year deleting years of digital prints. i agree it’s sooooo much better. i’d love to use the same program you do.

    • It’s iPhoto from Apple. I highly recommend it. I don’t know what the best programs are if you’re using Windows.

    • the cottage child says:

      We use PhotoScape, also free, just download. It’s simple, which was mandatory.

    • I use Windows Live Photo Gallery. It is free, you just have to download and install. It has some basic editing functions, red-eye, straightening, cropping, and basic color editing.

      It makes it pretty easy to sort pictures and view, by folder, by date, by face, by keyword/tag. Faster finding means faster deleting!

    • picasa works well for windows also.

  27. Ooooh its SO hard for me to delete! I just started going through pics from my college years and trying to weed out the excessive ones or the ones that didn’t compliment ANYONE!

    With my computer and hard drive filling up fast, I’m now trying to delete as soon as I download them.

    I try to think of my (nonexistent) kids looking back on them in 50 years and if they would really want to see 250 pictures of our dog they never knew…and keep the 5 or 6 of the bunch that are the best.

    Kait Palmer´s last post…Travels to Canada- Return to Whistler

  28. My husband is the photographer in our family. I however will see all the photos on his computer (I’m the one who will email them out to family), & ones that are horrible (especially of me) go bye-bye. He has never noticed them missing. Whew! :)

  29. I’ve learned to delete right from the camera before it ever gets to the PC. I don’t download more than once a week, which gives me time to go over the photos and say to myself, “What on earth was I thinking??” I also go through photos I did download to a 4G jump drive/sick/thumb drive (call it whatever) quarterly. The same question usually applies. :-)

  30. And to add to that… don’t forget to empty your recycling bin when you’re done. I just did, and freed up a gig and a half of memory!

    Amy´s last post…Reunions

  31. A critical tool, indeed!

    Tracey´s last post…Candy Corn Wreath

  32. This is soooooo one of my weak spots! I tried to get organized with my thousands of pics and actually print them. I went year by year and stopped in 2005! I’m so behind, it’s ridiculous. But I hardly delete ANY. Not sure why. I probably think I might need it for something, but you’ve brought up some excellent points. I’m going to start deleting them as soon as I upload, and then try to get caught up over the next decade or so!

  33. Oh funny post!!! I am loving the comments!!! I have to delete so many bazillion photographs… I have always been a little “ahem” trigger happy!!! And 300 photographs a day is really not that uncommon!!! Talk about true confessions!!! I load them up at the end of the day, I also use iphoto, so they straight away go into relevant events… I label them as I load them up… I select the ones I need for that day or that weeks blogpost and send them up to flickr. I don’t spend hours deleting everyday I just can’t delete them straight away. I do have delete weeks, when every time I sit at my computer during a particular week I delete 100 photographs… easily 500 a day, many more on weekends!!! Oh it is liberating!!! Great chunks – gone!!! Otherwise… not only do I store my faves on flickr but I have a back-up drive just for photographs every friday night it gets a fresh load…

    se7en´s last post…Sunday Snippet- Esther and God’s Invisible Hand… A GiveAway…

  34. Great timing – I’m just trying my hand at digital scrapbooking & it is seriously overwhelming!! I, too, did this wish my actual photos – now they are all organized & ready to scrap in one box. I love it. A lot of them were tossed because I couldn’t remember specific names of people anymore! The suggestion of deleting a certain number of photos at a time is great!

    Vicki R.´s last post…Healthyer Habits- Breakfast- Part I

  35. I recently did this but with my old non-digital (film) photos! I was able to condense 5 boxes of photos and negatives to 3 and 1/2 boxes just by tossing out blurred photos, bad shots, duplicates, etc. I am also working on getting old photos out of the bad magnetic page photo albums. I was able to condense 3 old albums into one scrapbook album, because the 12×12 albums hold so many more photos per page.

  36. I find that I have a much easier time deleting photos if I do it right away. If I wait too long (even just a few weeks) my kids will have already changed and I find myself more attached to each and every photo of their younger selves.

    Lisa´s last post…Jackass Ginger Pool

    • Karen (Scotland) says:

      I agree with this. I have zillions of each of my kids first trying solids because their facial expression is truly different in each photo. Boring for others to look at in album but these albums are for me so I’m happy to browse them trying broccoli, melon, lemon yoghurt etc for the fist time (as well as every other minor event in their new little lives).

      • I love baby faces. I’ll keep forty pictures in a row as a series because each expression is so sweet and just a little bit different. I’ll scroll through the pictures like I’m watching a flip book.

  37. I can’t believe I had to be told this but I really don’t know if I have deleted any. It’s such a simple way to get control of my photo organization and yet I have such a hard time doing it. I hold on to each and every photo like its the last one I will ever take of my daughter even if its not a good one. The only ones I think I deleted in her entire first year of life are the ones that didn’t turn out at all. Wow I seriously never thought about it before!

    Thanks for the suggestion. Tomorrow I’m going to get started with that delete button!

  38. I’m pretty good with keeping my digital photos under control – I edit (crop, red-eye cleanup, etc) right when I upload them because I put them on a blog for my long distance family. I delete the duplicates and bad ones at the same time.

    My regular photos from pre-digital, on the other hand … I have literally 15 years worth of HUGE albums. I’ve been avoiding dealing with them, because I know I can cut those books substantially – get rid of shots of people I don’t even remember now, at the bare minimum. It’s just so overwhelming to even think about. 40 pictures a day is doable, and I can put them in a box for my 4-year-old to cut up and use in collages or something. Thanks for the bite-sized way to deal with it!

  39. Totally agree with you. I do a weekly check not a daily one since we don’t take that many photos anyways. I also organize them according to occasions/places/people and we only get the very best developed.

    Prerna´s last post…How to Care for Yourself When a Loved One is Unwell

  40. you post such interesting subjects! Thanks! Yes, I take too many photos that don’t get deleted. Perhaps I will work on that later today, at least a few of them anyway… We got a puppy in June and I realized the other day that already I had more pictures of her in her first 6 months than we have in a total 15 year life span of our previous dog! Yes, definately time to use DELETE…

    Susan being Snippy´s last post…Exploring the Neighbourhood and a bit beyond

  41. What a helpful (and obvious!) tip. I love my MacBook and IPhoto, too. . . it does make organizing the photos easier. I am years behind on actual photo albums, so you’ve made me feel better about that, too. What I try to do is upload each month’s best photos to a print service, like Snapfish, and then order them later. At least then I know the “keeper” photos will eventually come to me in touchable format. When I get around to ordering and organizing them!

    Courtney´s last post…Tally Time

  42. Can someone tell me how they best backup their iphotos? Do you export to somewhere or just copy the entire Iphoto file? I have Time Machine as back up and some photos go to dropbox, but I need a better system since I think I now have duplicated photos on my computer and I dont think everything is being back up.

    Dani´s last post…The Art of Laboring- Rescuing and Discovering

  43. Not discarding bad photos was always a weak spot for me. Especially once I had children. You know the ones where they are making the cutest/funniest face but the shot is not quite sharp enough or perhaps too dark.
    I am much better now, learning from my DH, who is a professional photographer. He is brutal with the delete key and I have learned to use it more often.
    I try to delete right from the camera so I am not downloading the really bad shots.
    If I let him at my photo files I am sure there would still be only about 1/4 left!

  44. Silly, silly, silly :-)

    I keep (almost) all pictures I take – but I do something similar: I move all but the top ten or so (depending on the number of pics of a given event) in the main folder for that event – the rest go in a subfolder clearly labeled “remainders”. If I want to look at pictures, I have just the small, quality subset; but if I need extra shots, for whatever purpose, they’re still just a click away.

    Similarly, after that operation, I also have a tool that resizes the whole lot to 800×600 into a different folder structure. Makes for much faster viewing with almost no loss of detail on-screen.

    Yes, I’m a data hamster :-p

  45. I just started deleting photos this afternoon and it feels great! I thought I would sit here and cry over what I might be losing, but not at all. In fact, I feel like I am GAINING something from all the photos that I take. By deleting extras it makes me realize how much I love certain photos.

    Thanks for this post! It was nice to have someone say it out loud and make me realize all that is to be gained.

  46. This is refreshing; deleting photos is something I have thought about for about year and just haven’t done it. I should start now so I don’t get completely overwhelmed in a few years! Thank you for the great ideas and I can definitely see how going through the photos after deleting will be much more fun.

  47. I use a small memory card. If my camera only holds 75 photos at once, it’s not hard to delete extras in order clear up that valuable space. This especially helps on vacations!

  48. I delete the really useless ones that are blurry or chaos the first time I go through them…but I can’t say the same about all the rest. I do sometimes remove some of the ones that just aren’t that good, but I always tell myself I might need them for something or other. I know that’s total BS so I just might have to start being more forceful with the deleting. Would certainly save me a lot of backing up time! :)
    Tiffany @ No Ordinary Homestead´s last post…Flat screens changed it all

  49. about 5 years ago we changed the way we edit. We select the keepers. Saves huge amounts of time. A huge difference in the way to think about editing.

  50. Seriously — brilliant! (I’m talking about the “delete 40 per day” idea, that is.) I have been too daunted to tackle the project of organizing digital photos for the exact reasons you mentioned, but 10 minutes a day? 40 shots a day? THAT I can do.

    Thank you again!

  51. Hey very nice post. I use Google’s Picasa to keep my photos organized. After I edit them in Picasa I export the photos and keep only the ones I have really liked. So when I want to print them , or show it to friends, I can only show the selected few instead of the whole bunch of it.

  52. I delete test pictures and poorly-shot digital pictures in camera because I know that once it’s on my computer I’ll have a difficult time deleting it.

  53. I take 10,000+ photos PER YEAR. If I didn’t delete them, I’d have probably over 80,000 photos, all in RAW format (10-20 Mb per image). Several times I’ve had to delete thousands just to free up disc space when my hard drive would fill up. Now, I delete monthly to avoid that. And yes, I even delete photos of my children! I keep the good ones making sure I have 2-3 for each for each month. I’ve never missed any of the photos I’ve deleted :)