Organizing Your Digital Files

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How you organize your files will ultimately depend on how well you organize in your mind. Some people are great at organization, and others, well not so well. As you contemplate your way of organizing, talk with family as well. They will ultimately inherit your system of photo organization down the road. Will they understand your file organization?

Over the years of working with folks on this, I have seen so much disorganization of their scanned files. Files have been seen inside of Windows System folders, in the "root directory", Program Files folder, and so on. These files essentially become "lost" when they become so scattered. Scattered files are also very hard to back up when they can not be easily located.

Strategy Tips:

  1. Put all your images under ONE folder. Typically "operating systems" like Windows or Macintosh will have a "My Pictures" folder. Use this folder for your images. There is one caveat to this. If you are using a "cloud drive" like OneDrive, Dropbox, iCloud Drive, etc, create an image folder for your family photos.
  2. Create "SubFolders" to further organize the images. Again, this will depend on how you have "lived your life". Various organizational strategies to organize your subfolders are reviewed to the right.
  3. Learn about "Metadata". Digital files have the ability to contain "metadata" within its file structure. What this means is that you can put searchable tags, names, dates, descriptive comments, and more into the file's metadata fields. These are "invisible" except if you open the file's "Properties" values. Right click on any file and you can view associated metadata. This data will travel with the photo, such as if you share the photo with others. There are programs that can help you more easily modify this data, and are well worth looking at. In more simple terms, let's say that you want to find all the images that have been tagged as "Camping Trips" between 2006 to 2010. Using simple search parameters, your computer will search through your 1000's of photos and only show those images that met that criteria.

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Organize Your Digital Photos

Option One - Organizing Your Photos


The following is only one of many different ways to organize your family photos. The most important thing is that they ARE organized so that they are not strewn across multiple flash drives, hard drives, or even across your "C" drive.

#1) I created a digital "File Cabinet" or folder called "Photos". It could be named as "My Family Photos", etc. Put this folder under your "My Pictures" system folder. This is important so that ALL your family photos are in ONE CENTRAL PLACE.

#2) Because we moved around quite a bit through our married years due to education and Navy pursuits, we chose to organize our photos based on where we lived. These different locations are the "File Drawers".

I did place a number before the location so that the computer would automatically sort the locations into a time sequence.

You may not have lived anywhere but in Idaho Falls, and so your folders may only reflect the different years.

#3) In each "Cabinet Drawer" are "Hanging File Folders" to organize the photos by YEARS. I would suggest that this type of subfolder is created.

#4) Each "Hanging File Folder" contains multiple "Manila Folders" that contain the different events for that year. The events start with a NUMBER because the computer will then sort those folders into the proper order. That number represents the MONTH of the year.

#5) The scanned photos are then placed into their "Manila Folder". This keeps them organized into these folders according to the activity or event they represent.

You will want to label the photos with the names of the people in them. If there are more than 2 or 3, then add additional space to the bottom of the photograph so that you can type those names, and possibly the place or other comments below the photo. Click to learn how to do this. You could type over the photo at the bottom, but then your photo will be forever "scarred" with the text, should you wish to only use the photo in a book.

There are additional organizational steps that you can take to make your files more easily searchable through the use of "Metadata". This is the ability to put additional descriptive information inside the actual image file. You don't see this information, except if you look at the "Properties" of the image. If you right click on the image, then click on"Properties", then the "Details" tab, you can find numerous data fields that can be used for additional information.

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Option Two - Organizing Your Photos


Another option some have chosen, is to simply begin labelling your photos with a sorting date such as "198609" for September 1986 followed by a description of the photo. You may choose to subcategorize the description by adding the "event name", like the example below. "Boise Trip", "Yellowstone Camp Trip", etc.

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The photos could be in a single folder and would sort by year, month, event type, and then the file description.

The principal disadvantage in creating these LONG filenames being able to view the whole filename in a browser. "Clipping" of the filename as seen above begins to occur and so looking for a file you may need becomes more difficult.

Again, this is just another of many different types of organizational strategies that could be used.

Option Three - Organizing Your Photos


Another option that some may choose, is to use special software called "Digital Asset Managers". These programs can help you organize your photographs, applying digital tags that can quickly allow you to sort through thousands of photographs, alter the "metadata", and do a host of of other things.

Among these types of asset managers are darkTable (a free open source application), Adobe Bridge (also free), Luminar 3, ACDSee, Adobe PhotoShop Elements, Adobe LightRoom, and many others. The image below is from ACDSee.

Pro: These apps can really help organize a lot of photos quickly.
Con: There is a learning curve to using them and what happens in the future if the software is no longer supported? (Typically, the organizational structure and metadata you set up while using it are preserved)

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Learn About Metadata

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Unless we actively take steps to save our heritage, both that of our ancestors and our own, it will be quickly lost to subsequent generations!

Site Maintained by:
Stephen A Meyers
Idaho Falls, Idaho

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