Laptop with digital photos on the screen and a camera and a cup of coffee nearby.
Laptop with digital photos on the screen and a camera and a cup of coffee nearby.
Home /DIY / Complete Guide to Organizing Digital Photos

Complete Guide to Organizing Digital Photos

By Kellie Hillis

Nothing compares to the simple joy of a photo-browsing session. Whether this involves digital images or classic photo albums, it is always delightful to see your memories preserved.


Unfortunately, important images can often be difficult to find, even when they have been digitized and stored online. Some of this stems from the sheer volume of photos we take these days. Yes, it's amazing to preserve so many memories — but the more pictures we take, the more difficult it becomes to sort through them or retrieve important images when they're needed.


The solution? A systematic approach to photo management. Below, we've explained why digital organization is so important — and how this process can be streamlined so you can start making the most of your sizable photo collection.


How to Organize Digital Photos

You are tired of searching endlessly for your favorite photos and ready to finally get them in order. The digital photo organizing process can be surprisingly straightforward, but you will want to implement a strategic system to ensure that every important image is accounted for — and that they are as easy as possible to retrieve in the future.


Not sure how to organize digital photos? Follow these simple steps to get started:


Step 1: Digitize Old Photo Prints

What if the majority of your photo prints currently exist in a physical form? Your digital collection will remain incomplete until all important images can be accessed electronically. While a significant portion of your photos may already be available in a digital format, it's worth your while to tackle your full collection.


Digitization provides much-needed peace of mind, as digital photos are less likely to suffer damage from the elements. You may also find that everyday browsing or DIY projects are easier if you have the full spectrum of photos — recent and vintage — immediately available. Imagine how nice it would be to promptly access a photo you love rather than spending hours digging through old albums or scrolling through social media?


There are many ways to develop a comprehensive digital photo collection. Your strategy will largely depend on how many photos you want or need to digitize. Some solutions you can tackle entirely on your own: capturing photos with smartphone apps like PhotoScan or Microsoft Lens, for example — or using a dedicated photo scanning device for streamlined digitization.


Another option worth considering? Professional photo scanning services, which are incredibly convenient: simply place physical photos in a kit and let the experts handle the digitization process. Bulk scanning services are worth considering if you're dealing with a sizable collection of physical photos. This is one of the most trusted and appreciated solutions for scanning a lot of photos, as it expedites an otherwise time-consuming process.


Step 2: Store Photos in One Place

Are your photos scattered across the digital landscape? This is only natural, given how many social media and cloud platforms we rely on these days — but with so many potential photo locations, it can be difficult to remember which images are situated where. This frustration is best avoided by keeping all of your photos in one central and easy-to-access location.


Thankfully, there are many excellent photo library options that will provide valuable oversight for your entire image collection. Don’t be intimidated; at this point, you should already have made significant progress in your digitization journey, simply by completing step 1 and digitizing your photos. So, you can take comfort in knowing that your pictures are no longer siloed across numerous online and physical locations.


Your photo storage decisions will ultimately depend on which devices and platforms you gravitate towards — and which system you can actually expect to use on a regular basis. Look for something that integrates easily into the digital devices and solutions you already rely on for other functions.


For example, Apple and iPhone enthusiasts will no doubt gravitate towards iCloud Photos and My Photo Stream, which provide easy access to recent photos but can also streamline the process of finding and arranging vast image collections. Meanwhile, Google Photos remains one of the most popular options for storing and arranging images. This is also a natural fit for anybody who uses Gmail or the G Suite.


Beyond these two favorites, there are many other photo storage options worth considering. Some incorporate advanced editing and other useful tools that will be of interest to photographers. Favorites include:

  • Adobe Creative Cloud
  • Dropbox
  • Flickr
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • Amazon Photos

As you explore these online services and solutions, think carefully about the amount of storage space you really need (or might require in the future), plus the potential for subscription costs and other fees. Remember: your overarching goal involves easy and secure access to your full photo collection — and you want a strategy that will meet all your needs, so you don't need to divide your effort or attention if you accidentally copy entire photos between multiple platforms.


Step 3: Declutter Photos

You've digitized your photos and selected an excellent platform that allows you to keep lots of files in one central location. Next up, decluttering. The digital version of this process is just as important as real-world efforts to ditch clutter. Think about how you feel when your house is bursting with unneeded items. Extra digital files function similarly: they feel downright overwhelming at times. Even if, technically speaking, you have practically unlimited digital storage space, too many files, folders, and platforms will make it confusing to browse your images.


This problem can be avoided, to some degree, by tackling common issues such as low-quality photos and duplicate images. Why dedicate precious mental stamina to photos that you don't like or need? Just because you have the ability to keep images safe online doesn't mean you need to continue dealing with them. If you streamline your photo collection and focus on the best and most meaningful images, you may be surprised to discover that you find a lot more value in them.



Emotionally speaking, the easiest aspect of decluttering will involve duplicates. These commonly appear when photos are uploaded on multiple occasions or via multiple platforms — and they are especially likely if you take a DIY approach to scanning. While this can often be prevented simply by letting professionals handle digitization, they are still possible if you accidentally copy entire photos or another family member gets in on the photo editing action.


While it is common practice to manually search for duplicates, this can quickly get tiring. As such, many people rely on targeted software, which reveals whether duplicate files exist within the same folders or across multiple locations. Favorites include PhotoSweeper for Mac users and AllDup for Windows. Keep in mind that deduplication can be challenging when photo storage services are involved, so you may want to tackle this with photos stored locally — or before they are uploaded to your preferred platform in the first place.


Low-Quality or Unnecessary Images

Deleting duplicate photos might not cause you a lot of angst, but the same might not be true of other images that require culling. Trickiest of all? Knowing when to bid farewell to less-than-pristine images. These may feature unwanted blinking, red eyes, or poor resolution. No matter the issue, these images are absolutely worth ditching if you have better-quality photos available. A lot depends on the context. Are there any preferable photos from the event or occasion in question? Or were the only images taken at that time of subpar quality?


Take a moment to assess which situations call for deletion or which photos could be rescued with editing. In a digital age, you almost certainly have dozens of photos detailing each important occasion, so you can almost certainly afford to let a few go. Don't forget to delete old memes or screenshots, which add unnecessary clutter to your image collection.


Step 4: Create a Folder Structure

How do you determine where to keep specific photos or how to arrange them? These are almost certainly divided into folders, but have you given any thought as to why, exactly, certain types of photos end up in one folder over another?


A solid folder structure sets the tone for the remainder of your photo storage and organization efforts. If you know what to expect and which folders (and subfolders) contain which types of photos, you will naturally know which to select when you’re on the hunt for a specific image.


There is no one 'correct' way to handle this — whatever makes sense to you is preferable. In general, however, most people opt for the following, easy-to-navigate approach:


Year -> Event or Year -> Month -> Event. 


Some people, however, prefer to start with topics, locations, or other categories. Consider what will help you most when you need pictures for future projects or slideshows. Keep in mind that some platforms will allow for more flexibility in this regard; Lightroom, for example, makes it easy to organize your photos as you see fit.

Once you’ve selected your preferred structure, it’s important that you stick to it while following the organizational steps outlined below. As such, you'll want to create a simplified structure that will be easy to maintain.


Step 5: Create a Photo Naming System

How you name your photos will ultimately determine whether you are able to retrieve them easily in the future. Yes, a quality folder structure should provide an excellent start, but the specific photos contained within these folders should still be named to help you more easily recognize them. This doesn't have to be complicated and chances are your approach will be heavily informed by your previously developed folder structure.


There are multiple ways to name photos and, again, no single approach is correct. That being said, it's common practice to incorporate these details:

  • Year
  • Month
  • Date
  • Event
  • Sequence number

The photo sequence number is often neglected, but it's an important component of your organizational strategy. This references the sequence in which you prefer to display your images. This is an important add-on for events that are documented with dozens (or hundreds) of pictures.


Once you've selected an approach for naming your images, be prepared to put a decent amount of time into renaming hundreds (perhaps thousands) of files. Yes, this feels tedious in the short term, but it will save you a lot of effort down the road. Manually changing file names isn't always essential, however, and you might be able to save time if you use software to name images in batches.


Step 6: Tag Your Photos

Even if your files are perfectly organized, you may find it difficult to locate specific images when you need them most. Don't worry about keeping so many dates or locations straight: if your photos are tagged, you can simply type a name or click on a relevant image thumbnail — and all pictures of the person in question will instantly appear. Many platforms use facial recognition and metadata scraping to optimize this process, although you can certainly tackle it manually.


Resist the urge to go all-out with tagging. Remember: the goal is to make it easier and more efficient to navigate your photo collection. Excessive tags will accomplish the opposite by adding a new form of digital clutter to your life — especially if you have a lot of casual acquaintances featured in photos but do not anticipate searching for them later on. Instead, focus on tagging the people who matter most and are featured the most.


Step 7: Backup Photos

You have developed the perfect photo storage and organization system, but what happens if disaster strikes? It's always possible for your external drive to fail or even for your preferred storage platform to cease offering the very services you currently rely on. Therein lies the value of photo backups, which ensure that, in the worst-case scenario, you can maintain full access to your most precious images. Keep in mind that photo scanning can provide thorough peace of mind, as some cloud services incorporate backups.


More good news? Many trusted cloud storage services offer automatic backups. If you're worried about these working as intended, make a point of testing them regularly, perhaps by restoring past photos. An external hard drive may also be worth adding to your backup plans. A blend of cloud and hard drive strategies will provide robust protection and will also ensure that you maintain offline access.


Step 8: Set Up a Photo Maintenance Routine (And Stick With It!)

The various steps outlined above should provide the basis of an excellent photo organization strategy — but this is definitely not a one-and-done effort. Rather, you will need to continue to fine-tune your process as you take and upload new photos. Continue to use the main platform you selected previously or, if you decide you prefer a different storage solution, migrate all your photos at once. Commit to glancing through your photos (or using services such as PhotoSweeper) once each month — or shortly after major occasions that produce lots of digital files.


Editing Your Photos

Your photos are now easy to find and view, but are they actually in good shape? By now, you will have gotten rid of the worst offenders, which have no hope for redemption — but there are probably quite a few images that are just okay and leave plenty to be desired. Edits worth making might include:

  • Cropping photos
  • Removing red eyes
  • Adjusting exposure
  • Changing saturation or vibrancy
  • Correcting lens distortions

A variety of programs help everyone — from novices to professionals — make changes. Photoshop is a perennial favorite, but some people favor Apple Photos for simple adjustments, particularly if this is accompanied by the everyday use of Apple devices and, of course, iCloud.


Fun DIY Photo Projects

Now that your photos are properly digitized and organized, it's time for the real fun to begin. Make the most of your favorite photos and incorporate them in gifts, keepsakes, or slideshows. An organized collection streamlines this process, so you can easily create special items or displays while still preserving important photos. We've compiled lots of fun ideas that will get you motivated to organize and maintain your digital photo collection.


Photo Gifts

Gift-giving is rarely easy, but often, the most impactful presents are also the most personal. Enter the photo gift — an amazing opportunity to add beloved faces and memories to everyday items.


Below, we've highlighted a few ideas of meaningful photo gifts that your friends or family members will adore, plus resources to help you make the most of these concepts or projects:

  • Custom photo gift ideas. From photo boxes to calendars and even ornaments, this far-reaching guide provides ideas you can draw on for almost any event or occasion imaginable.
  • Create a digital photo album. Keep it simple with a digital album that's just as enjoyable to page through as its physical counterparts — but takes up a lot less space. This guide will help you select the best themes and captions.
  • Photo gift ideas for friends. You love to snap pictures with your besties, but how often do you put them on display? Show off your favorites with cute ideas involving wine glasses, coffee mugs, and more.
  • Picture gift ideas for your boyfriend. Show your boyfriend how much you care with photo gifts that reveal just how special your relationship truly is. These ideas run the gamut from romantic to downright goofy.
  • Photo gift ideas for your mom on Mother's Day. Moms adore personalized, DIY gifts, so this resource will be incredibly helpful as Mother's Day approaches. Blankets, aprons, and keychains are just a few of the creative ideas included in this guide.
  • Photo gifts for your dad on Father's Day. Dads can be plenty sappy and many crave personalized Father's Day gifts. Let them know they matter with a photo-adorned bar or BBQ accessories they'll be excited to use.
  • Photo gift ideas for grandparents. Chances are, the grandparents in your life have huge photo collections and love to show off their favorite images. Add to their lineup with photo-based puzzles or lockets — or host a photo shoot or watch party so you can make new memories.
  • Making a graduation memory book. The little ones are no longer so little and now, they're ready to enter a new chapter in their lives. Preserve their memories so they can revisit special moments far into the future. This is a meaningful gift but can also be a great display for a grad party.


Some of the best gifts are not tangible. Rather, they convey love and appreciation while bringing genuine emotions to the recipient. This is easily accomplished with a special slideshow, which is as close to a time capsule as it gets. This can be shared digitally or enjoyed in person.


Photo slideshows can certainly include the digital pictures you've worked so hard to organize but may also feature special video clips and music you find meaningful. These resources should help you make slideshows that capture a variety of important memories:

  • How to make a wedding slideshow. Relive the most romantic moments from your big day with a slideshow that conveys every important moment: the walk down the aisle, the exchange of vows, the cutting of the cake, and, of course, the wedding dance.
  • How to make a Mother's Day slideshow. Share meaningful photos of the moms in your life, including pictures that capture the full journey of motherhood: pregnancy, newborn moments, and all kinds of cute and kooky images from childhood.

Other special events that might call for slideshows include:

  • Father's Day
  • Grandparents' Day
  • High school or college graduation
  • Sweet Sixteen or other important birthdays
  • Valentine's Day
  • Retirement

Start the Organizing Process Today

Ready to overhaul your digital photo collection? Legacybox can help you get your digital organization efforts off to a strong start. Our bulk photo scanning services save you a lot of time and effort, so you can focus on enjoying your images and reliving your favorite memories. Check out our scanning options today, or feel free to get in touch to learn more.

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