How to Organize Digital Photos on Your Computer or Cloud: 7 Steps

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Having photos in digital form is a great way to protect them for years to come. When your photos are on your computer or device, they’re easy to access and use whenever you need them, even more so if you learn how to organize our digital photos on your Mac, PC, or cloud.

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However, with so much file storage available on your computer and cloud platforms, how do you keep things organized? Getting overwhelmed is a common experience if you have endless photos and no way to clearly organize them. 

Whether you choose to store your photos on your phone, your computer, or online, they’re a part of your digital legacy. These photos tell a story, so make sure yours is organized and clear.

If you’ve ever tried to search for a photo only to come up lost in confusing file names, it’s time for a change. Here’s how to organize digital photos on your computer or cloud. 

Tip: Ensure that your digital assets are taken care of according to your wishes by making a will. You can easily create one from home with an online will maker like Trust & Will.

1. Decide How to Store Your Photos

The first step is to decide how you’re going to store your photos. You have a lot of different options, but make sure you’ve given a lot of thought to how you plan to use these photos. These are the most common options:

  • Local computer storage - When you store photos (or other files) locally on your computer’s hard drive, they’re available only on this device. This is a great start to photo organization. However, if anything happens to your computer, these photos could be lost forever. 
  • External hard drive - Another option is to store your photos on an external hard drive. These are devices similar to a flash drive, but with a lot more storage space. Having a physical hard drive is a great backup for keeping photos on your computer. 
  • Cloud storage - Finally, a secure way to keep your pictures is in the cloud. Cloud storage platforms are free (up to a certain amount of storage), so they’re a great choice for anyone looking to have a backup of their favorite images. Storage in the cloud isn’t based in any one server location, so there’s no single point of failure. They’re also accessible from anywhere and any device. 

Tip: There’s no single right choice for how you store your photos, but make sure you have a backup. Choosing two of the above options is recommended. 

2. Take Inventory of Your Photos

Now that you’ve decided how to best store your images, it’s time to take inventory. Most of us don’t look through our full stock of photos regularly.

You might not even know what pictures you have. It’s also time to add any new photos you might not already have in your collection. You could download Instagram photos or look on social media to make sure you have a copy of all your favorite images.  Having them in one place is a lifesaver. 

Taking inventory allows you to identify some clear similarities. This is essential when it’s time to create new folders. There are a lot of ways to organize your photos, but some key identifiers might be:

  • Date (month or year)
  • Person 
  • Event or holiday
  • Location
  • Family
  • Vacations

Write down a few thoughts as you’re looking through your images. Do you see any different trends? These form the foundation of your folders in the next step. 

Tip: Take notes as you’re searching through your photos. Check the dates, locations, and more to find your folder names. Think about what you’re likely to search for in the future. 

3. Rename Your Files

It’s time to start organizing. Think about your digital organization the same way you would think of organizing physical objects. When you’re moving homes, you label your boxes, right? Digital organization is no different. It’s all about creating a system, so it’s easy to find things in the future. 

To start, we need to rename our files. Most photos on your computer don’t import with clear file names. They import with a name like “IMG002” or something of that nature. That code might mean something to your camera, but it likely doesn’t mean anything to you.

Since you want your photos to be searchable, rename your files something easy to identify. For example, if you have photos from your last Christmas, name every photo in this set “Christmas breakfast,” “Christmas family,” and so on. 

Tip: Be consistent with your naming. If you label one vacation photo “Malibu 2019,” you should label other vacation photos similarly. For example, “Malibu 2019,” “Orlando 2018,” and so on. These are easy to search. 

4. Create Clear Folders

Now it’s time to make your files. Because your photos are now labeled properly, this is a much easier process. There are a lot of different ways to create file folders, and there’s no “right” option. Just make sure your method makes sense to you. It’s helpful to make it as easy as possible. Imagine giving a family member access to these photos. Could they find what they’re looking for?

You might choose to put all important folders in one big folder. You could also break this down further, such as having one folder for each year and having several photos within that year. If you had a folder for 2019, for example, it might include the following folders:

  • Holidays
  • Family photos
  • Vacations
  • Birthdays

This type of method is chronological and easy to sort through, but you might choose a different system that makes more sense. Depending on the number of photos you have, you might need to break your folders down even further. 

Tip: Don’t be afraid to use a lot of folders. More folders are better than having too many files disorganized together in one massive folder. 

5. Tag Your Photos

Tags are a type of metadata added to your photo that adds searchability. If you want to ensure your photos are super easy to search, consider adding your own tags. You can easily do this in any operating system, and you don’t need to worry about getting an additional program. You can also tag photos and add metadata within cloud storage solutions. 

While this is time-consuming, it’s the ultimate form of organization. Here’s how to add tags depending on your device or platform:

Windows

  • Within your file explorer, go to the photo you want to tag.
  • Right-click on the photo (or photos) and select Properties. 
  • Click the Details tag. 
  • Under Description, look for the category marked Tags. 
  • Click to the left of Tabs to bring up a text box. 
  • Add any tags you want and click OK to save. 

Mac

  • In your file finder, select the photo (or photos). 
  • Choose a color below the Tags icon in the file information section. 
  • Enter a new Tag to add your own, or use an existing one. 

Dropbox

  • Dropbox syncs with your computer’s tags if you use the Desktop sync function.

Tip: When tagging your photos, be consistent. Tagging all vacation photos with a vacation tag makes it simple to bring up these photos all at once, for example. Don’t go overboard with tagging things since it gets confusing quickly. 

6. Use Facial Recognition

Many modern photo tools today have facial recognition capabilities. This is especially true for iPhoto on a Mac, but many Windows programs also have this ability with a few extra steps. Go through your current photo storage option to see if face recognition is enabled. If so, confirm or deny that faces belong to friends or family. 

Typically, this creates albums for each individual, doing a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Still, it’s worth taking a look yourself to make sure everything ended up where it should. Facial recognition is a great tool, but it’s far from perfect. 

Tip: Enable facial recognition on your smartphone to make this process easier. Your phone is smart for a reason! 

7. Save a Backup

We touched briefly on the importance of creating a backup storage system, but it’s worth talking about in more detail. Even if you have a ton of space available, you should still back up your photos online or on a physical hard drive. These photos are part of your family tree. Protect them so they’re a part of your story for years to come. 

Why backup your photos if you already trust your first storage choice? Simply put:

  • Security - You want to be sure your files are safe. That means safe from getting into the wrong hands as well as safe from being erased or damaged. 
  • Accessibility - While a hard drive is great for storage, it’s not easy to share with others. There are a lot of benefits to storing photos online. Not only can you easily print from Google Photos, but you can also share with others in a few clicks. 
  • No single point of failure - While you might think your computer is in top shape, you don’t know for sure that it will always work. Things sometimes happen that are out of your control. The same goes for cloud storage. While it’s a great tool, the company could disappear tomorrow, leaving you unable to get your photos back. 

Tip: You can never be too careful—backup your photos regularly to at least one other storage solution.

Popular Free Programs or Software to Organize Your Digital Photos

While you can organize digital photos yourself, it's always helpful to use the many programs available at your disposal. You don't have to be tech-savvy or have a complex computer system to organize your digital photos in a program or software. Most of these programs are created to be easy to use, even for new users.

If you have a large variety of digital photos, a digital organization tool is a great idea. Luckily, much of the most popular software is available for free. You might even have some of these tools already. Here are our top picks for organizing your digital photos with ease:

  • Google Drive: If you have a Google account, you can utilize the free Google Drive tool. Through Google Drive’s cloud storage, you can easily organize your photos into shareable folders. 
  • Dropbox: Similar to Google Drive, you can open a free account with Dropbox to share your photos digitally. 
  • Microsoft OneDrive: OneDrive is Microsoft’s online cloud tool, and it’s free to use with a Microsoft Online account. You can create shareable folders, add security measures, and download photos at any time. 
  • Apple Drive: If you have an iPhone or Apple device, Apple’s iCloud Drive is a great choice. The iCloud Drive is secure and accessible from any device, and is built into Apple software. 
  • Adobe Bridge: Adobe Bridge CC is a free photo organizing program that is especially great for professionals. Because you can easily store high-quality images and adjust image settings, this is a popular choice for photographers. 
  • Google Photos: If you’d prefer a dedicated photo tool, Google Photos helps you organize your photos using intuitive AI. One great option is to publicly share your photos through Google Photos, so it’s easy to share with family and friends. 
  • Amazon Photos: Though previously only available for Prime members, Amazon Photos is now free to all with a limited storage account. This app is available online and on your phone, and it automatically syncs across devices. 
  • JetPhoto Studio: Another professional-grade tool that’s free for anyone is JetPhoto Studio. With many high-level tools like photo geotagging, album management, and photo editing, you can make sure your photos are organized easily and effectively 
  • FastStone: If you have photos in a lot of different file formats, FastStone is an all-in-one solution. It’s useful for viewing and organizing images, and you can also leave comments and tags. 
  • Slidebox: For those who want an app to organize photos on their smartphone, Slidebox is the Tinder of photo organization. It helps you easily swipe through new photos to keep them organized on your device. 
  • StudioLine Photo Basic: Though the professional version of StudioLine is a paid program, the basic version is free. You can add tags, descriptions, and even edit your photos using this software. 
  • Phototheca: Though this tool doesn’t have as many editing options, it truly excels when it comes to organization. Easily sort photos by event, date, or tag, and view them in a comprehensive timeline. 
  • MyPics: Lastly, MyPics is another smart photo management app that’s available for your phone. Though it doesn’t have many extra features, it does have strong security tools. These help you secure certain photos or albums, making sure they’re for your eyes only.

Which of these tools is right for you? There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Luckily, all of these free photo organization tools above are powerful and easy to use. Consider the tools you’re already familiar with, whether you’d like your albums to be saved to the cloud, and assess your skill level before you make a decision.

Frequently Asked Questions: How to Organize Digital Photos

Organizing your digital photos can be a huge relief, especially if you’re hoping to pass down your photos as part of your digital legacy. With that being said, it can be an intimidating process when getting started. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about digital photo organization. 

How can you organize photos from multiple devices?

One of the biggest challenges if you’re organizing photos is how to sync them to multiple devices. While there are many ways to do this, the best option is to use cloud software. When you use cloud software, your digital files (or photos) are saved amongst many different servers instead of one (or your local computer drive). 

What does this mean? Not only is it more secure, but it’s also accessible from any device. You can upload to any cloud software and access your photos from any device, as well as share access with friends and family. Some popular cloud photo organizers are Google Drive, Dropbox, Google Photos, and OneDrive. Using cloud software is the easiest way to organize photos from multiple devices at once, and they can also sync automatically in the future. 

Should you store your photos in a cloud or external hard drive?

While there are many different ways to organize digital photos, there is no single best way. As you can see from the answer above, a cloud storage solution is highly reliable and secure. Having access to your photos from anywhere is a major perk, and it’s why this is becoming the more popular choice. 

On the other hand, an external hard drive is something you can keep private and secure within your home. While it’s more secure than only saving your photos on your computer, it’s not the perfect solution. If you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to save your files on both a cloud drive and an external hard drive. You can never have too much protection, so most people choose a combination of options. 

Are there any other tips for organizing thousands of digital photos at once?

When you’re organizing thousands of digital photos at once, it’s a good idea to use a tool equipped to handle multiple file formats and sizes. If your photos are from various sources, they’re likely in different formats and sizes. An all-in-one solution can handle this with ease, and it will save you a lot of time. 

Additionally, don’t be afraid to use a program or software with AI integration. These smart tools can help you organize automatically, often identifying people, places, and events. When you use these tools to your advantage, you can organize your photos without the hassle.

Are Your Photos Organized?

Taking a trip down memory lane is much easier when you have a simple, cohesive organizational system. Luckily, most digital tools make organization a breeze.

With just a bit of planning and some time, you could have an easily searchable, organized digital photo system up and running quickly. Whether you want to use your photos for a memorial collage or a social media post, having access to your photos is a must. 

Going through your photos can also help you continue a loved one's digital legacy — you can use them for a virtual memorial with a service like GatheringUs. They even have specialists who can guide and support you through the planning process.

Taking a closer look at your past might get you thinking about your future. Start end-of-life planning to make sure your future is as organized as your photos. 

If you're looking for more organization inspiration, read our guide on the best books on organization for beginners.

Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, handling unfinished business like finding old photos can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.

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