How to Rapidly Organize Digital Photos (Without Losing Your Mind)

Let me guess; you have digital photos all over the place. Some are on your phone, others have made it to the computer, and don’t even get me started on Facebook! You have more photos than EVER and somehow you can’t seem to find the one you’re looking for.

There has to be another way right? I mean, you know you need to get organized, but it’s such a huge task, it’s something that can wait until you have more time.

What if I told you is a system to make it easier? You can take five simple steps to organize digital photos and once you’re done, have a beautifully organized system to help you find whatever photo you’re looking for.

You’re time is worth more than you think so make this change today and have a more productive tomorrow!

Why should you care so much? Have you ever lost a precious photo?

I work with computers day in and day out. I’ve seen things. I’ve seen hard drives fail during critical testing. I’ve seen viruses wipe out entire computers. I’ve seen friends with Apple Laptops lose everything (yes, you do need to back up your photos on an Apple computer).

Computers fail. Hardware fails. It’s just a way of life. We haven’t perfected computers yet and I don’t see that happening for a long time.

My husband lost his entire music collection a few years back. He had over 5,000 songs wiped out because he didn’t have a system like this in place.

While it was sad that he lost his music, I would have been even more devastated if I lost my precious family photos. I have photographs of people who are gone, pictures of my daughter at the hospital when she was born, and memories that are so special to me that I still look at the photographs.

Don’t let that happen to you. Let’s get organized today and make sure you never have to worry about losing your photos!

System for Organizing

First, we need a system for organizing digital photos. Essentially, we need a plan. We’re going to come up with a great system that will work for you.

We’re going to break it down into five simple steps. Each of these steps will help you move closer to the goal, having beautifully organized photos that will help you find the photo file you need.

I followed these steps with my own personal photos. I was completely overwhelmed with the task and broke it down into manageable chunks. Using these techniques helped me organize almost 9,000 personal photos!

Step 1: Gather all the photos

First, we need to pull together our photo library. I’m guessing you have photos everywhere.

I offer a free workbook that will help you find all of these photos. It includes places like your digital camera and your old memory card.

I had photos on old computers, a few external hard drives, an old memory card, a few CDs, and still on my camera. Being able to make a list of all the places to check helped me keep it all organized and straight in my head.

Once you find all of the photos, you are going to start importing the photos to your computer. Your computer is the best place for all of these files to live.

What about a photo app? Photo apps are great for quick organizing, but we want to take advantage of the power of our computer.

Plus, photo apps can change over time. You want your photos somewhere you own and always have access to.

Should you never use a photo app on your phone? Of course not! Just don’t use them as your main photo archive.

Step 2: Decide on a folder structure

Once we have all of our files put together, we’re going to need to move them into a folder structure. Think of your folders as a giant photo organizer. It’s just on your computer instead of in a closet somewhere.

We’re going to be breaking down the folder structure into monthly folders. This tends to work the best if you aren’t a professional photographer.

Once you have your monthly folders, you can break it down further into events, people, or themes. It’s up to you and should be based on the type of photos that you take!

My photographs dated back to 2006. I ended up with yearly folders to start, and then broke each down into months. Some months had only a few photos. But other months had over a hundred, so those were quickly broken down into more specific folders.

Step 3: Weed out the bad ones

Next, we have to go through and weed out the bad pictures. These pictures are blurry, uninspired, duplicates, or just bad photos.

I’m the worst at keeping all the photos. Deleting the bad ones is difficult for me. But then again, once I actually did it, I felt this entire weight lifted off my shoulders. If I can do it, so can you!

Before we start deleting left and right, make a copy of the original photo. All of these photos can go in a backup folder, just in case you make a mistake or feel like you need to start over.

For the good of our stress level, we’re going to delete. We’re going to be ruthless. We’re going to remember that we’re never going to show off the third best selfie in a group of five.

Keep the best selfie and delete the rest. Trust me, you won’t miss them.

I went from almost 9,000 to just under 8,000. That’s almost 1,000 pictures that I removed that were either duplicates or bad pictures. I haven’t missed a single one. And it’s 1,000 photos I didn’t have to do the next step for.

Step 4: Filter into the right folder

Now that we have a smaller list, we’re going to sort your photos. I’m guessing your photo collection is fairly large. The best thing we can do is move everything into the right folder.

This helps you find your photos in the future and can really help cut down on time spent looking for the perfect photo for that project you’re working on.

Using two windows, move everything over into the correct monthly folder. I find it’s easiest to sort by date. Trust me on this one!

Once you have your photos sorted, it’s time to add keywords and tags. Keywords and tags help you find photos another way.

Let’s say you want a picture of your son from his birthday party. You are creating a scrapbook with all of his party pictures.

You can go into each month folder and try to find them all that way, but if you have a large photo storage system, it might take a while.

However, if you add keywords and tags, like “Son’s birthday”, you can search your entire system for that tag and BOOM, you have all of your pictures.

Step 5: Future Proof It

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Now that we’ve spent all this time on organizing and arranging our family photos, it’s time to make sure things don’t go wrong in the future.

We’re going to want to back everything up to multiple places. Technology can and does go wrong sometimes. Do you really want to gamble with your family photos?

First, get an external hard drive (I use this external hard drive and love it). This is a drive that plugs into your computer and can then be removed and stored elsewhere.

I use two external drives. One is kept in a fireproof safe. I rotate them out periodically and make sure they both stay up to date.

Next, store your photos in cloud storage. This gets your photos out of your home. I use Google Photos for my storage.

Now that you have a few backups, you can be assured that all that hard work is kept somewhere safe. Looking for more information on backing up your photos? I have a full post about digital photo backup storage.

Now what?

To recap, you’ve gathered all of your photos. You combined them in one place, you sorted them, and you’ve backed them up. What next?

There are so many things you can do with these photos now that they are organized! Scrapbooks, shared photo albums, and more!

If you want a more in-depth guide, I offer a “Tame Your Digital Photos” masterclass. This class expands on these steps and walks you through step by step various free tools that make this process easy and painless. We also cover how to automate a lot of these tasks so everything goes a lot faster.

Tame Your Digital Photos Masterclass

  • Learn how to take these steps and apply them using free tools
  • With step by step tutorials, you can easily get your photos quickly organized and sorted faster than ever
  • Automate your future-proofing so your photos organize themselves on auto-pilot


​I'm a mom, wife, sister, daughter, and friend. After a successful career in software ​engineering, I started working part time as a project manager. I was overwhelmed with all of these new life changes and felt like I was drowning in my life. ​After trying so many different systems that didn't work for me, I looked into why they didn't work and came up with a system that worked for me. Today, I want to share what I've learned with you so you can stop feeling overwhelmed and start living an intentional life.

Blog Comments

Great post! I love organizing mine in monthly folders on Shutterfly and that makes it so much easier to put them into the annual family photo album I create every year. I also love the auto-backup option you mention. I use Dropbox. THanks for outlining all of this so clearly!

I honestly take thousands of pictures a year and if such a hard time organizing them. Thanks for these awesome tips

Organizing all my photos has been on my to do list. Thanks for sharing these tips.

I need to do this, but I know it will take hours. I have years worth of pictures!!

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