How To Manage and Organize Your Digital Photos

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Chances are, you have too many digital photos on your computer, and the thought of managing, or even organizing them, seems daunting to impossible. At TechnologyGuide, we say “nonsense!” There are plenty of easy tips and tricks for managing, organizing, and even touching up your massive digital pic collection, which the experts here are willing to share.

Importing

Obviously, it is a good idea to take a few steps to organize your photos when you first import the digital files from your camera or smartphone onto your computer. During the initial import, take some time to ensure photos have tags, consistent naming conventions, and even ratings. Going a step further and taking a couple minutes to delete the junk will save on disk space. Yes, this can all be a minor hassle, but it will undoubtedly save headaches down the road when you are searching for specific pics.

Picasa ImportWhen naming files, try to keep naming conventions consistent and stick to naming folders and images in a way that will make sense years from now. For instance, if you import photos from a birthday party, include the date and event in the file names. It might make sense at the time of import to label an album “Brian’s 15th Birthday”, but years later the year and date will probably make more sense. Save the specifics for tags, for example, Brian, Birthday, 2013, and September will make far better search terms than filenames.

Tags come in handy when categorizing photos by specific holidays, vacation spots, people, events, seasons, months, and years. When naming folders or files with dates, starting with the year first can help keep files organized when sorting. For instance, try using “2013-9-30″ instead of “9-30-2013″. Later when you want to make a photo board to display at Brian’s high school graduation party, you can quickly search through each year to find a photo of him from every birthday.

When naming files, it’s important to remember that filenames on Windows and Mac have to be less than 260 characters, which includes file extensions that are automatically applied to files such as JPG and RAW. There are also certain rules as far as naming conventions go. Periods and dashes work best for dates, because Windows and Mac will not accept the following characters in a file name: : ” |

You can usually apply filters, tags, and naming conventions in batch. When you import the photos, normally you will be prompted to choose the photos you want to upload, along with other options. This is a great place to apply tags, name each folder, and choose a naming convention for files. Usually the program will sort photos by date to make it easier to name the photos. Here, you can also choose not to upload certain photos as well as whether or not you wish to delete the photos from your device after importing.

iOS 7 iTunes RadioWhen it comes to organizing smartphone photos, it gets a bit trickier. Most of us use smartphones to capture moments as we go throughout the day, and chances are you don’t sit down to upload and catalog images daily. But most smartphones will geo-tag every photo, unless the feature is disabled. This can come in handy for at bringing up photos from a certain location, and especially helpful for dealing with vacation or photos of a night out on the town.  Unless you don’t want anyone knowing where you are out enjoying life (and if that’s the case, why take photos?), make sure the geo-tag feature is enabled before heading out.

Tagging smartphone photos can also be helpful if you don’t find that organizing them by date makes much sense. Try tagging smartphone images by the subject of the photo, since you may not want to create an entire event for just one or two shots you took that day.

Just keep in mind that when you save smartphone photos, they should make sense within your entire photo collection. For example, the date might not say much about a photo you took of your dog playing in the park, but it will ensure that the shots fall into chronological order at a glance.

Photo Programs

Where should you import your photos? The good news is that your computer, whether Mac or Windows, probably already has a useful program built in to keep your photo collections organized. If you aren’t a professional photographer and you don’t do much to your photos besides boost the color and fix red-eye, then you really won’t need more than the following basic programs.

iPhoto

iPhoto is the native Mac OSX application for managing photo files and every Apple notebook comes with it pre-installed. iPhoto is part of the iLife suite of software that Apple offers, which also includes iMovie and GarageBand. It is also available as an app for iOS devices, which allows users to edit and sync photos to the desktop application.

iPhoto Editing

When importing photos into iPhoto, the program will automatically organize each shot with geo-tags, facial recognition, dates, events, and more. You can alter the import settings so that only the categories you choose will be applied to photos. iPhoto also includes basic editing features to remove red eye and enhance colors; users can also create greeting cards, calendars, photo books, and more.

iPhoto will also use facial recognition to organize photos by individuals, so it is easy to pull up all the photos of a specific person. This feature is useful but it can bog older machines down while the program works to catalog all the faces. Users can also automatically upload photos to Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, as well share photos with other computers on the same network. If you connect your Facebook account, you can manage all of your albums on the social networking site, even if they were uploaded outside of iPhoto.

For iOS users, iPhoto can be purchased for $4.99 in the App Store and it will work across all iOS devices; the desktop based program is $14.99 as a stand-alone download for compatible Macs. Recently, Apple also announced they will be offering the entire iLife suite for free to any users that purchase a new iOS device moving forward.

Microsoft Windows Photo Gallery

Microsoft’s native photo program is Windows Photo Gallery, which lets users automatically import and organize their photos. The software also includes editing features such as red-eye reduction, crop, straighten, retouch, color balance, exposure, and more. There are preset buttons that users can opt for if they don’t want to manually toggle the color temperature, tint, and saturation.

Microsoft Windows Photo Gallery

Windows Photo Gallery also features Photo Fuse, which lets users take multiple shots in quick succession and combine them so that everyone looks their best. For example, it can swap a head from one photo into another if the subject happened to be blinking while the rest were at their smiling best.

Users can automatically upload photos from Windows Photo Gallery to social networking sites such as Facebook or YouTube, and other services can be added with available plug-ins. Photo Gallery does not use facial recognition, but you manually tag photos with a “people tag”, so they can be sorted by person. It also allows for descriptive tags, captions, geo-tags, ratings, flags, and more. It’s a simple and easy to use program that is free for Windows users, and it also features integration with Microsoft Sky Drive.

Picasa

Google purchased Picasa back in 2004 and began offering the program for free, and it is compatible with both Windows and Mac. Windows users will get the most out of Picasa, but it’s a great choice for those who work on both platforms, since it features integration with iPhoto on OSX.

Google Picasa

Picasa includes most of the same features offered by iPhoto and Photo Gallery, such as importing, tagging, geo-tagging, facial recognition, and the ability to create collections or albums. Users are also able to edit photos with basic enhancement features such as cropping, red-eye reduction, and color adjustment. It accepts JPG and RAW file formats, as well as Google’s WebP image format.

Users can also set up Picasa Web Albums, a feature that allows users to create and share albums with family and friends.

Anyone with a Google account can share and store up to 1GB of photos in Picasa for free. Those with a Google+ account can store unlimited photos, similar to Facebook, as long as they are around 4.2-megapixels or less. Google also allows users to store videos that are 15 minutes or less without counting them against the 1GB of free storage, and anything longer than 15 minutes will take up storage space.

Back Up Photos

Backing up photos is crucial, since there won’t be film to work from if files get destroyed. An external hard drive will work, of course, but even those can become corrupt or destroyed. A safe bet is backing up digital photos to CDs and DVDs by burning images to the discs and labeling them with as much information as possible to ensure memories stay intact, even if your hard drive does not.

Another option is cloud storage, which is less likely to get corrupted than an external drive. However, when storing large RAW files or 1080p videos, users will find they quickly run out of allotted storage, since most services only offer a limited amount of gigabytes for free. This means storing photos in the cloud could come at a price, but it does give users access to photos across devices while on the go.

iCloud

iOS users are probably familiar with iCloud, a cloud storage service that comes standard on all iOS devices and allows users to automatically save and retrieve content from the cloud across devices or through a web browser.  Users can turn on iCloud storage for photos in their device settings, where users will also see an option to automatically upload new photos to My Photo Stream.

iCloud Photo Stream

Photo Stream only stores the most recent 1,000 photos taken across a user’s iOS devices, and while it is compatible with RAW files, it will not work with videos. Photo Stream is a good way to ensure photos from your iOS device are backed up, as long as you remember to save the photos in a more permanent way before you max out the 1,000 photo limit. Once a photo is kicked out of the Photo Stream, it will still be available on the device as long as you haven’t deleted the photo.

As a backup to Photo Stream, users can set iPhoto to sync and save every photo uploaded to My Photo Stream. This can serve as backup if you don’t remember to manually save photos before it’s too late, and you can rest easy knowing your pictures will be automatically backed up to your computer.

Google Drive

Android and iOS users alike can opt to use Google Drive to store and automatically back up smartphone photos. Users get 15 GB of free space, and files will sync between the mobile apps as well as the desktop application. iOS users will have to manually upload files to Google Drive, but Android users can set their photos to automatically upload, similar to iCloud.

Google DriveUnder settings, users can opt to have the full size photos upload or have photos upload as standard size, which means they are resized to a smaller and more web-friendly format. Full resolution photos will count against your Google Drive storage limits, but the standard sized photos can be uploaded to a Google+ account without any limitations on storage. If Google Drive runs out of space, then it will automatically revert to saving photos in standard size to your Google+ account.

Storing photos on a Google+ account is similar to storing photos on Facebook, which also allows for unlimited storage. The caveat is that the loss in image quality will be apparent if you go to save or print out these web-friendly images.

Google Drive is a good option for Android users and anyone who wants to ensure their mobile photos are backed up. Saving photos in full size means that you will have to remember to empty your Drive account and move the photos to a more permanent location. This is easy to do with the Google Drive desktop application, since users can go in and quickly drag photos out and store them on their hard drive. Another option would be to increase your amount of Drive storage, which comes at a yearly fee.

These are just some of the basic ways casual photographers can make sure their photos are organized and secure. You won’t have to invest much in protecting your images as long as you stay organized and rely on a combination of cloud storage and external backup methods for all of your digital photos. Just remember to create a system where you take time to organize photos when importing and then back those images up in a reliable format in case of a hard drive crash.

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  1. ssheldo

    I was disappointed to see that most of the advice concerns things to do when one first downloads photos. (what is a ‘tag’ BTW?) If I had already done that, I wouldn’t need advice! What do I do NOW to ‘Manage and Organize” my photos.?

  2. mrrichard

    If you are interested in organising photos and videos by date into subfolders I suggest you to use “Beautiful Backup” app in Mac.
    Handles duplicates and resizing easily.

    http://beautifulbackup.mozkan.com