Scatter Creek InfoNet
Back to Basics:

No Time Like the Present to Organize Photos from the Past

Are you finally ready to create one place for all your cherished memories?

Does this scenario sound familiar? You've got photos on your camera that upload to three different backup sites, more on a hard drive that you tried to use as a central repository three years ago, and still more in paper format in shoeboxes in the back of your closet. If so, we encourage you to keep reading.

Photo Organization Saves Time
Let's say you want to put together a scrapbook for your sister's milestone birthday and have no idea where to start. You especially want to find that one photo of your sister that everyone remembers of her at age three, standing innocently in the room she just "decorated" with her new paint set. But where is it? You have no idea.

In an ideal world, you would have one location that serves as the hub for all your photos, both digital and paper, from all eras of your life. You might even want to include family images from previous generations. In this world, each photo is accurately labeled and nestled within an efficient folder system that allows you to find shots of certain subjects quickly and easily every time.

Believe it or not, you can create this world! When you're done, you'll never again spend hours hunting down shots for sharing, displaying, or including in special projects. Keep in mind it took years to accumulate all your photos and organizing them will take considerable time, too. Plan to spend a couple of hours each weekend until you're done.

Step 1: Gather Your Photos
Chances are your photos aren't already conveniently on one computer hard drive. You probably have them on various mobile devices, external storage drives, thumb drives, and cloud-based storage sites — not to mention the ubiquitous shoeboxes full of prints.

Before you do anything else, gather all these photos together into one place. Don't try to categorize them yet. You'll do that later. Just make sure you have all your digital images together and all your paper prints together.

Step 2: Convert Paper Photos
You can't have an efficient online system unless all your photos are online. You have several options for digitizing your paper photos:

  1. Scan them at home. You can use a photo scanner to convert photos yourself. This method is affordable and easy.
  2. Use a scanning app. You can download a photo scanning app, such as Google Photoscan (, on your phone.
  3. Scan them at a store. You can use a photo scanning machine at retailers like FedEx and Costco. Try this method if you don't want to invest in special equipment or use an app.
  4. Hire a scanning service. There are services, like GoPhoto ( that will scan your photos for you. You must be willing to ship your treasures to them and trust that they will be sent back. This method is more expensive but less time consuming than the others mentioned here.

Step 3: Create a Folder Structure
The next step is to create a folder structure into which you will place all your photos. First, make a high-level folder and name it something obvious like Photos. Next, create sub-folders in a system that makes sense to you. You'll use it to place your photos into moving forward, so give some thought to what categories you want before committing.

One possibility is to use dates. Under the Photos folder, create sub-folders for each year going back as far as you like. Later, you'll simply put photos from each year into the appropriate folder. If you want to be more granular, you can include additional subfolders under each year for quarters, months, or events. For example, one of the "branches" of your folder system might be Photos > 1995 > Sue's HS Graduation.

Step 4: Name and Tag Your Photos
This part of the process is somewhat tedious, but it will help you find specific photos more quickly. For paper photos converted to digital photos, create file names that describe what's shown. For example, you could name a photo "Jen and Dave Water Fight." You'll also want to tag photos to make them easy to find in searches. Tags for the same photo might include "Jen," "Dave," "Summer," and "City Pool."

With digital photos, replace the numbers and letters each photo automatically gets named when you take it. Again, use meaningful file names and add tags.

Use this opportunity of naming and tagging each photo to delete duplicates, shots that didn't turn out well, or those you just don't like. Then, move your photos into the central repository.

Step 5: Back Up and Maintain
Now that you've gone to all the trouble of building a photo storage system, keep it secure by backing it up. Ideally you should have a physical backup as well as a cloud-based one. For example, you could manually back up to an external hard drive and use a cloud backup service like Carbonite (

Finally, commit to a regular photo maintenance session each month (or more frequently, depending on how many photos you take). Move photos you've taken recently from your phone to your storage system, using the same naming and tagging technique to ensure successful searches later.


Use Your Favorite Photos in Fun Projects

Now that your photos are easily searchable, use selected ones to create gifts for others or items for your home. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

You get to enjoy your photos once when you choose them and again every time you see the finished project.


Delegate Photo Organization to One of These Applications

If you're not sure about creating your own photo organizing system, you might like to try one of the following software applications designed for that purpose:

Each of these applications has unique advantages. Choose the one that seems best for how you want to work with your photos.