Thursday, December 16, 2010

How I keep my photos organized

We have a snow day here in Raleigh so I'm publishing a post I've had in draft status for months. Back to the kiddos!


I take a lot of pictures. We're talking thousands of pictures this year, people.

Marcia made a list of 36 things she'd like to accomplish this year similar to my 36 wishes list and one of them included getting a photo system in place. I thought I'd document my photo system and open it up for feedback, suggestions, and comments.

Laura's Monthly Photo Plan

1. At the end of every month, I gather up all the cameras in the house and download all the photos and videos from them. How do I remember to do this? I have a list of chores I do at every month end! These include backing up my blog, changing my contacts, filling out medical flex spend reimbursements, and cleaning out my car.

2. I create one folder for that month and put all files in that folder. My folder naming structure is "Year, Month Number, Month Case Family Photos." This month's folder will be "2010 12 December Case Family Photos". I include the month number so they sort in month order.

3. I review every photo and video and delete like crazy. Every month I have anywhere from 300 to 1000 photos. The more you delete, the more delete happy you will be in the future. Ask yourself:
  • Is this a picture I will care about in 10 years? If no, DELETE.
  • Is it out of focus, not flattering, too similar to something else... DELETE.
  • Does that video suck? DELETE.
(Advanced move: I review my RAW files in Bridge, rejecting along the way. When I get to the end, I delete all rejected files.)

This is the hardest part. We all love pictures of our kids. Do you need 30 pictures of your kids doing the same thing? No. Do you need one great photo? Yes.

4. Now that I have a more manageable number of pictures, I review the entire set again and DELETE AGAIN. This will generally bring me down to 20-50 photos for a month.

5. Now that I have my pile of keepers, I batch rename the files via Photoshop to "2010 December 01", "2010 December 02", etc. This is also when I edit, and by edit, I mean I calibrate my monitor and make changes in Photoshop to improve the photos. Often during the editing process, I realize I don't want a particular shot so I delete again.


6. When all the photos are edited the way I want them, BEFORE I delete anything off my memory cards, I back them up to a DVD.

7. Then I back them up to my external hard drive. Only when am I comfortable they are backed up in two places do I delete them off my cameras. (My eventual plan is to move to an online backup service.)

8. I upload the pictures to, order 4x6 print copies, and wait for them to arrive. I get the back of them printed with the Month and Year. (This is five months of photos):


9. When they arrive, I put them in chronologically ordered photo boxes then pat myself on the back for being so organized. (This is five YEARS of photos):


So... I know the first questions you are going to ask.


Q: Do you really print ALL of your photos?

A: YES. Why keep the digital file forever if you don't want a print? I'm all for online media but in my lifetime, we have gone from 3.5 inch floppies to disk drives to CDs to DVDs. Are you going to transfer those images to the latest media FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?

And do you really think you are going to review them on the computer forever?

Q: Why do you print them all?
A: By printing them, I am assured of only keeping the photos that mean something. I also like to display pictures and make physical albums.

Q: Don't you think two backups is crazy?
A: No. ZERO BACKUP IS CRAZY. It is setting you up for losing ALL OF YOUR PICTURES. And even if both my backups fail, I still have the printed pictures. The ultimate backup!

I've worked in software for 13 years... I can tell some very sad stories about people not backing things up. Here is one sad story.

Q: How can you delete pictures of your precious boys?
A: Deleting photos is like any other skill. The more you delete, the better you will be at deleting. It costs me money to print my photos so it better be an awesome picture if I'm spending money to keep it.

So... this was a lot of information. Any questions? Any suggestions to improve my process?


Megan said...

Laura, I cannot even imagine adding any 'suggestions' on how to be more organized. You rock! So here is my question- how do you do a back up? I have a similar take, delete, organize, print process but I don't back up the pictures because I really don't know what I need to buy to do this. And it bugs the hell out of me. Do i buy an external drive? Like how much do I buy? please let us know. thanks!

Joanna said...

You engineers crack me up.

Here is my question. If you have been taking pictures for 4.5 years on a number of cameras and you have dumped the photos, often with the repeated naming schemes, all over a bunch of different hard drives, how the hell do you fix that enough to be able to institute this wonderful plan?

Beth said...

I'm still stuck on the "end of the month to-do list." Brilliant! (Did I ever tell you I'm not a list person? LOL) Anyway, how long does this process take? Is this something you do over a week? In one night? In steps? And do you print matte or glossy pics? Is one better than the other? Or personal preference?

thellfamily said...

Laura, this is awesome. I'm happy to report I do a lot of these things (similar naming system, monthly download and blog back up, back up in 2 additional places before deleting). You are WAY better at deleting than me, though, which puts me to shame because you take better pictures. And I don't do the printing all shots, though I do try to make shutterfly albums of at least the important months(birthday month, Hanukah/Christmas, etc.)

thellfamily said...

One more thing: for 3 years I made all the grandparents shutterfly calendars. Then in year 4 it finally dawned on me, I want pictures of my family every month, too. So now I have one at work and one at home for me, and new photos to look at monthly.

JenFen said...

Awesome. I have something similar in place, although I am almost a year behind at actually PRINTING the pictures, which makes it overwhelming AND I would love a follow up post on what you do after you have them printed and stored as in which ones you put in photo albums, what kind, etc. etc.

Karen said...

Impressive. I want to be like you. And I want it to work retroactively, so suddenly my pictures all the way back 2.5 years to my ultrasounds (stuffed in a book somewhere)are magically organized. Sigh.

Ginger said... I will add this to my list of goals for 2011! I don't delete...anything...ever and it is taking over my life. I just love looking back at all those pictures, even the blurry ones and remembering the moment. But, I have to delete because one day I will have no space. Thanks for sharing your method!

Marcia (123 blog) said...

Re the back-up - I once lost 2.5 hours of a book I was writing - that was hard enough and I said "never again" and now I'm a crazy backing up lady.

Thanks for the link and I must say I love your system.

I do have questions -

1) how long does this process take you?
2) you do nothing on a weekly basis?
3) what about blogging? Do you make copies of those pictures as they happen and then still do your big monthly organising thing?
4) do you only take pics of the kids or other things too (like I LOVE skies and really random things which I take pics of daily), and do those ALL fall into the 50 pics max that are left?

My system (the new one) is similar but I am nowhere near as good as deleting as you are. I thought I was good at keeping about 100 - 120 a month.

P.S. Beth must be a P :)

Irene said...

I wish I didn't have to upload the same photos multiple times to 3 different sites - Picasa, FB, and Shutterfly. I love Picasa and it does interface with Shutterfly, but doesn't have all the capabilities of working within Shutterfly.

Although I occasionally print individual photos for frames or to give to family, for the last few years I have been making year-end photo books. The layouts and ease of making them have improved so much and it's easier now to tell a story and encapsulate a year's worth of pictures into a permanent book. Kids are not allowed to touch them though.

And yes, how much time does this monthly effort take you?

erinlaughs said...

Love this. I'll be taking a heavy delete hand through my photos this weekend.

I file my photos into months like you do, but I delete after I've backed them up to my hard drive. I'm only taking maybe a few hundred a month though? But you're right, there's no reason to keep 10 of the same thing when only one or two of those are decent. I'm kind of excited to go through and cull! And maybe even print some out!

Melissa said...

My question: What do you grab in a fire? Are you going for the albums? The boxes? The external hard drive? Your DVDs? I know that's what the online backup is for...just curious what you'd do right now.

This has been a MAJOR kick in the pants for me. I'm working on it during naptimes for the next few weeks until I'm caught up!

cathy said...

You have a wonderful system Laura! Where do you order your photo boxes from?

I would suggest leaving an external drive (another back up) with another family member, or friends house. That way, you have a third back up. Just incase you lose everything in your house.

My goal of 2011 Jan, is to move all of the family photos to photo boxes. Print, and sort and file all of my photos away. And back up. With 8 of us, I am scared.

My business photos are ordered, backed up. Organized. My home stuff. Not a chance. I am three years behind. I have a mess to get through. It will feel good to do it finally! :D

Thanks for posting!!

Nicola Jayne said...
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Nicola Jayne said...
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Angel and Jonathan said...

Wow, you are so organized! I used to be more lax about uploading photos to the computer until I lost a batch. I think the dog chewed up the memory card. Oops. Now I try to upload photos whenever I take them. I'm also bad about making prints - there's a 5 year backlog now!

Julie said...

O.M.G. I think my head just exploded.

I dream of being this organized!

claudia said...

You got me at cleaning out the car. Oops I better go do that - now where did I park the car.

mel @ the larson lingo said...

You are my hero....I LOVE your process. I am TERRIBLE at ordering prints....I love the idea of ordering every month. Such a good idea. And, I back up on 2 external hard drives also. I am so glad I do, my laptop crashed this summer but everything was backed up..I only lost a week of stuff (but those photos were still on my camera). Question: How do you back up your blog? I need to do this. Do you use a company? Or do it yourself? Details, please :)

Joanna said...

I just have to say: I love this post for so many reasons.

Jenn from WA said...

I realize this is an old blog post, but my friend Anandi told me about it as we were chatting at lunch today about managing photos. A lot of what you do I do (two back ups for one), and I do print, but I'm also a scrapbooker so mine eventually end up in a scrapbook. What I hadn't thought of is the naming convention. Especially adding the month number so they are chronilogical. Do you put them all in a Year folder then?

Larry Karnowski said...

Even over two years later... I think of this post a lot. One of my all-time favorites. Thanks, Laura!