Organize Your Digital Photos

How do you find a photo on your computer?  Do you confidently do a search for IMG_8473?  Do you open and close a dozen file folders skimming the thumbnails?

Think of your computer files like an actual physical file cabinet.  If you were looking for your proof of ownership of your car, you would open the drawer, look for the hanging file with your car on the tab, and find the file for ownership papers.  You apply the same principle to naming your photos.

Whether you organize photos by date or by subject, you start with a larger file, have a subfolder, and then find individual files (photos) within that folder.  For example: to find a picture of my nephew from his last birthday party, I would go to the 2016 folder, then the September folder, then the Birthday_Branden folder.

The folder structure is useful, but your individual photos should also have this information.  If you use the photo (share it, save it to an external drive, etc.), that information will all stay with the photo.  If someone e-mailed a picture named 2016_09_30_Birthday_Branden_11.jpg to you, there would be little doubt about what kind of picture you were about to open.  It is also going to retrieve this picture if you do a search of all of your photos for the word “birthday” since it is part of the name of the photo.

Create a system that works for you, then stick with it.  These are your pictures, so create a naming structure that makes sense to you!  You might find that same picture by going to the Birthday folder, then Branden, then 2016.  Set it up the way you think you’ll want to find the pictures next month, next year, or in ten years.

Here are some tips for naming conventions:

  • Watch out for special characters.  Computers don’t always handle spaces and symbols well.  I like to use capitalization (09SeptemberBirthdayBranden) or underscore (09September_Birthday_Branden) in file names.
  • Year should always be a four-digit number.  You don’t want a historical photo from 1920 next to a modern photo from 2020.
  • Use the number of the month (followed by the month if you want to clarify).  Why?  The files and folders will sort alphabetically or numerically.  Using only the name results in an order of April, August, December, February, etc.  Using 01January, 02February, 03March keeps your months in order.
  • Abbreviate where it makes sense to shorten the length of the file name.  For example: 09Sept_Bday_Branden.  Again, be consistent and always use 09Sept for the month in this case.
  • Structure should go from general to specific.  This includes using last name before first name if you are using that level of detail.  It will help sort like with like.  Example:  YYYY_MM_DD_occasion_lastname_firstname
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