New Year’s resolution: How to sort through digital images on your computer

It’s that time of year again when people vow to exercise more, spend less and do something about their photos.

I’ve heard and seen a number of different photo-related resolutions this year. Scrapbookers are committing to using up the supplies they’ve already invested in before buying more. Cell phone users are promising to streamline all the images on their camera roll. Digital image fans are thinking about making some physical prints.

Yup, me too. I’m a photo organizer, and even photo organizers sometimes let their collection of photos get away from them. I committed to sorting through every folder on my computer hard drive to get rid of the junk. A lot of my folders are filled with boring Word docs and PDF files, but there’s that one folder that means the most and needs a little love: My Pictures file. I began my purge-and-backup project there.

I’m one of those unique cell phone camera users who doesn’t use her phone for storage. I move all the pictures I take off my phone to my desktop computer every week or two. I don’t just copy them, I move them over and delete the ones on my phone. First of all, I hate showing people pictures on my tiny screen. The truth is, people will take your phone and look at your pictures politely, but they don’t really get anything out of the exercise other than to acknowledge how much you care about the pictures. And second of all, I hate paying for iCloud storage for a bunch of pictures I don’t particularly care about, and the truth about your phone pictures is that about 90 percent of them are junk.

Protest if you must, but I’m just being honest here. If you’re truly a good photographer, you’re not using your cell phone to take pictures. And even a good photographer needs a good editor.

In any case, as consistent as I am about moving my photos off my phone to my computer, I’m not so good about consistent folder naming practices or sorting through the photos I want to save. If you’re trying to clean up a mess of photos on your computer hard drive this year, too, here are a few tips:

Be methodical

I started at the top level, and I’m looking at every photo in one folder before moving on to the next. I’m committed to doing one folder a day so I don’t get overwhelmed (I’ve already gone through 20 folders in four days, so I’m ahead of the game!). Keep notes so you remember where to begin again when you get back to sorting.

Look at every image

I look at most of the photos in “Extra Large Icons” size, but sometimes I open up a photo to screen size and page through them that way. If you just move folders around, you’re not doing yourself any favors. You need to look at the pictures to determine if they’re worth keeping.

Use a combination of sorting by years (or months) and topic

With digital images, it’s fairly simple to sort photos in chronological order. Just list by “details” and move blocks of photos to folders listed by year or month (if you use months, name them with the year first so they list chronologically, i.e. 2018.01 for January 2018). Think about how you might look for photos later.

photo folders

For example, in my Family Photos folder, I have folders of photos for 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. I also have folders for each of my stepchildren, my new granddaughter and my dog (and a couple of others). Where to put photos of my stepson’s graduation, for example? I decided to leave them in the appropriate year’s folder inside another folder named “Caswell’s High School Graduation.” That way, if I forget which folder they’re in, I could do a search for “Caswell” or “graduation” and find them again.

Adopt an attitude to delete

I’ve already saved at least three gigabytes of space on my hard drive by deleting more than 1,000 images in four days. To be sure, I’ve saved probably 3,000 images, but my point is, I got rid of a lot of pictures. This is important for saving memory space, sure, but it also makes it much easier to find pictures later in your smaller inventory of images. Here’s what I dumped:

  • Pictures of food (for some reason, I take a lot of pictures of food; there’s probably a psychological reason for this, but I’ll save that for a therapist). You might be obsessed with something else that no longer holds meaning to you like bouquets of flowers, birthday cakes or interesting cars you see on the street.
  • Blurry images.
  • Pictures of people with their eyes closed (especially me).
  • I encourage people to get rid of at least some of the pictures of sunsets (we tend to take a lot of these), but I gave myself a pass on this.
  • I got rid of at least two folders of photos that were exact duplicates. I never would have noticed this without looking at every image.

Consider a second or third pass

Take advantage of your intuition as you sort. Right away, I could see I had a lot of pictures of food that I no longer needed or cared about. I deleted without inspecting them. You might feel that way about 10-year-old vacation pictures or landscape pictures or pictures of a finished work project. Dump them.

But for some other photos might need more care and attention (we took an epic trip to Croatia three years ago–I’m not ready to delete any of these yet and they probably should be turned into an album at some point). Give yourself permission to go back through those at a later date, when you’re done with the initial sort. At that point, you will have seen your entire collection of photos and you’ll be better informed to prioritize your next steps.

Back up

I use Carbonite to back up the files on my computer automatically. Once I’m finished sorting, I’ll be moving the oldest photos to both an external hard drive and thumb drives.

Be kind to yourself

chloe smaller

The late Chloe

If you lost someone recently, don’t start with those photos. It’s just too hard to delete those images and it might even be difficult just to look at them. My dog died last February, and it’s taken until now for me to be able to look at those pictures without crying. And even now, I could hardly delete any of them, even the blurry ones. But every image I have of my dog is now in one single folder. I’m pondering my next move. I want to print some of the pictures. I may create a storybook for my granddaughter using the images, but I’m also thinking about creating some sort of framed picture or pictures. Whatever I decide, I share it here.

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Do you have more tips? Share them in the comments. Good luck achieving your photo resolutions in 2019!

If it’s the photos on your phone, instead of on your computer, that are making your twitchy, check out this post I wrote two years ago about “Good cell phone photo hygiene.”



Is it possible to have too many backups to your digital images?

Long, long ago in a galaxy that feels far, far away, negatives were the only backup to most photos.

If the history of photography were “Star Wars” weaponry, film would be the slow-moving four-legged All Terrain Armoured Transport vehicles used by the Evil Empire in the Battle for Hoth, the remote ice world in “The Empire Strikes Back.” And digital film would be the fast moving, agile X Wing fighters that Luke Skywalker maneuvered to take down the Death Star.

Digital images are wonderful things, but they present a big challenge: Backing them up. If you don’t back up your digital images, you risk losing them in the ether. Nowadays, many digital images live precariously on the edge of going viral and being lost forever in a system crash.

The Association of Personal Photo Organizers recommends photos be backed up three or four times. This might seem like a lot if you’ve never moved your photos from the original camera card, but ironically, I think some people go overboard on backing up their photos. And that’s not good if volume contributes to paralysis.

Too many backups are possible, particularly if you’re not entirely sure where your digital images are and how they got there.

Here are some examples of backups of digital images:

  • A print is a backup of a digital image. This is the best backup because no matter what happens with technology in the next 40-80 years (a lifetime), you’ll probably be able to enjoy that print.
  • Copies of prints are backups to the backup. Did you print 50 extra images of your Christmas card photo? That’s 50 copies floating around out there with your relatives and friends, and 50 copies in a drawer.
  • Do you take 20 shots of one event “just to make sure”? Digital is free! Why not? Unless you actually change the settings on your camera (flash, etc.), all the images are probably very much the same. That’s 19 backups.
  • Your Photo Stream is a backup of your camera roll on an iPhone. Your Photo Stream only keeps your latest 1,000 photos, but it is considered a temporary backup.
  • Shared photos are copies. If you send photos to Mom by email, share images on Facebook or post images on a blog, those are backups. In many cases, they may be low resolution images, but they’re better than no backup.
  • thumbdrivesMoving images from your camera or camera phone to your computer creates a backup (unless you also delete the original image from your camera or phone).
  • Images stored in a memory vault (such a Memory Manager or Panstoria Historian) are copies.
  • Photo editing software many times creates copies of the original image. Sometimes the edited version replaces the original one, but usually you get two: The original with the unintelligible name and edited version with the name you assign.
  • If you use Carbonite, Mozy or another cloud backup program, your photos are probably backed up.
  • Copies of photos moved either automatically or manually to an external hard drive are backups.
  • Copies of photos moved to a thumbdrive or other portable memory device are backups.

Creating at least one backup of your digital images is crucial. Having three or four backups is smart. But having 10 or 50 backups is overkill.

Backups require valuable computer memory, but they also require valuable brain space. Without a good system and knowledge of how your computer works, you’ll end up asking yourself, “Did I already save this?” “Did I save this with a different name?” “Did I save this in my unedited folder or the one called ‘family’?” “What is a C: Drive anyway?” “Has my cloud backup run yet?” “Which thumbdrive did I transfer those images to?”

Know where your images are, label them, and know where your backups are. May the force be with you.

Tips to organize, store and preserve photo slides

Today’s post is from a guest blogger: Julie Ann Morris is president of the photo scanning service FotoBridge and chief memory preservation evangelist (I love that title!). I know you’ll find her information about slides helpful. ~ Monica

Now that so many people are used to digitized images, it’s easy to forget about slides and printed photos stored away in dark corners, whether at home or in storage units. Although slides may not be common now, they’re still important, having captured memories and therefore deserving the same attention and care as digital images. Therefore, there’s no good excuse for not taking the steps to preserve photo slides.

Tips for Storing Slides

#1: One slide storage method is via display, whether in photo albums or in frames. When you store slides in photo albums, place them in acid-free albums that aren’t magnetic or adhesive.

You can use albums with acid-free paper that you can put your slides in using corner brackets for each image, similar to “old-fashioned” albums. Ideally though, opt for photo albums with plastic sleeves that you can slip slides into.

#2: Some people display slides in frames, but be careful because sunlight, humidity, heat, or fluorescent lighting are plentiful in all households and can quickly damage or ruin slides even when behind glass. When framing slides, get frames with acrylic or glass covers that filter UV light, which are usually made of Plexiglas.

#3: If your slides aren’t on display, they’re likely in boxes and environments that may damage slides. If slides aren’t safe behind glass, imagine their vulnerability in areas we’ve become accustomed to storing photographs. The threats of heat, lighting and humidity ruining slides are greatly increased when stored this way. The ideal temperature is about 72 degrees and humidity of 45-50%.

Dramatic changes are never good, but if you’re unable to constantly monitor temperature and humidity, use yourself as a guide – when you’re comfortable, often slides are, too. Remember, the human body can withstand much more than slides.

#4: Store slides in folders or envelopes constructed of acid-free paper and/or a durable plastic film. Slides should be put only in acid free boxes, and don’t pack them tightly – they need air, too.

Tips for Organizing Slides

Organizing slides can be difficult. Finding the organization method that works for you can be frustrating, time consuming and exhausting. If you don’t think you have the time to organize your slides, you may want to hire a professional photo organizer.

Fortunately, many slides have dates written on the back, but here are some additional organizing tips:

#1: Start by creating a sorting scheme. Organize by date, subject, event, family, or other sorting categories.

#2: Try not to overwhelm yourself with the task of organizing; start by spending 15 minutes a day organizing your collection.

#3: Set aside slides you would like to send to a photo scanning service to convert to digital.

#4: Store your slides in a protective, temperature-controlled environment, like the methods listed above.

Additional Tips

Another part of preserving slides is the way you handle them. Handle them with care: Slides are sensitive when image surfaces are touched, so hold them like CDs (on the edge). For extra caution, wear cotton gloves so oils or other chemicals on your hands don’t come into contact with the slide image. Additionally, never use cleaners, anything adhesive including tape, or paperclips on your slides.

Slide Scanning

One of the best ways to preserve photo slides is utilizing a photo scanning service. By doing so, you get more than digitized image files: you usually receive a DVD/CD of your photo slides, automatic online storage, optimized and quality digital versions, and other options. You’re getting the peace of mind that no matter what happens to slides physically, they’re permanently digitized and thus won’t be lost.

We may have memories ourselves, but knowing the photos capturing those memories are intact is priceless.

JulieAnnMorrisFotoBridgeAbout the Author: Julie Ann Morris is President of the photo scanning service FotoBridge and chief memory preservation evangelist. She is a highly energized presence and knows how to spark the trust it takes for clients to hand over their precious memories for digitizing. A New York native, Julie Ann lives in New Jersey with her husband Ed, son Jackson and dog Maggie.

Confessions of a photo organizer

“The cobbler’s children have no shoes.”

Since I am a photo organizer, you’d expect I’d have my photos perfectly organized.

But you’d be wrong.

What I discovered about a photo organizer’s collection is this: It’s not the photos but the accrutrements to organize the photos that is the problem.

As part of a home office redecorating project recently, I undertook the onerous task of organizing my scrapbooking supplies.

For years, scrapbooks were my primary method for organizing my photos, and I have 28 finished scrapbooks in my collection. Part of my obsession stemmed from my corporate stint with Creative Memories, widely known as the world’s biggest scrapbook manufacturer.

Well, it was when I was working there. Creative Memories fell on tough times after my departure (though I’m sure I wasn’t the only one keeping the plates spinning), and it declared bankruptcy twice since 2008. The company is attempting to re-emerge as Ahni & Zoe by Creative Memories with a line of memory preservation books, but they aren’t the traditional scrapbooks for which they were known in the ’90s and ’00s.

In any case but especially in light of changes at Creative Memories (which I have long believed manufactured the best quality stuff in the marketplace), I needed to inventory what I had accumulated over the years.

I like to scrapbook and the hobby requires, ahem, a lot of stuff: Paper, adhesives, scissors, paper cutters, decorative stickers, ABC/123 stickers, die-cut shapes, templates, punches, pens, refill pages, page protectors and oodles of bags, boxes, files and organizers to store everything. In recent years, I took up stamping, too, so I have stamps, stamp pads, card stock, envelopes, ribbons, lace, glitter, daubers, brads and buttons.

What a mess.

What a mess.

I rooted around in my home office, my closets, the basement, and put all the boxes, bags, files and containers in one place: The dining room table. For those of you with more photos than photo organizing supplies, I recommend this first step for a big collection of printed photos, too: Get it all in one place so you can see the volume you have.

In the process of collecting scrapbook supplies, I gathered up all my photos, negatives and memorabilia. With 32 albums (including four printed albums of digital images), fully 80% of my photo collection is safely organized in books. Even my loose photos from 2003-2007ish were mostly organized in rough chronological order in a photo box, but I found a lot loose negatives and stacks of greeting cards in all kinds of files and cubby holes in my office, the closet and the basement.

I started there: With the photos and negatives. After less than an hour of sorting, I now have one large box of printed photos, one file of memorabilia, two boxes of negatives (stored separate from the albums and photos) and a box full of pretty greeting cards and warm greetings with which I couldn’t bear to part — and I don’t have to because I’m using a cute linen box decorated with my own photos to store them. However, I threw away a large paper bag of Christmas cards and photos from the past five years. I used to scrapbook Christmas photos from friends and family, but I’ve decided the meaning of those greetings ends when the season does.

Step 2: Sort by item. I made piles on the dining room table of adhesives, cutting tools, paper, stickers, albums, pages, page protectors, etc. (If you’re organizing a bunch of photos, now’s the time to sort into themes.)

I learned three things:

unfinished albums

One, I have nearly a dozen unfinished 12×12 albums (which is plenty of potential for the photos I intend to scrapbook) and enough refill pages and page protectors to complete them.

organizers on table

Two, organized people hoard organizer products. I found several unused organizing containers, which I promptly filled with my piles of stuff. In fact, I didn’t invest in any new boxes or bags.

A whole document box fulls of pens.

A whole document box full of pens.

I must have a fetish for pens. I am a writer after all. I have entirely too many photo-safe writing utensils in every color of the rainbow. And I couldn’t bear to throw away any of them (what if I need them?!).

As with my decorative supplies, once you have your photos sorted into themes (including one “theme” for “trash can,”), now you stack them up and place into suitable organization devices.

Just like properly organizing one’s closet which requires three destination piles, I kept the best stuff, donated the things I won’t use (my mother and the local scouting organizations benefited) and I threw out a lot of useless junk. Whew! I felt so much lighter.

finished organization

In the end, the mess of boxes, bags and loose tchotchkes consolidated into a dining room table’s worth of stuff. It’s still a lot of materials with which to organize one’s memories, but it’s half what it was and now I can actually find and use all the fun supplies I’ve accumulated over the years. That’s empowerment. And I prescribe it for anyone in need of absolution.

Great big, beautiful box to store your photos

The tool for photo organization I’m loving lately is the LegacyBox™  from Linea.

LegacyBox™ by Linea holds 2,400 photos.

This box is beautiful, nice enough to leave on a bookshelf in the family room if you want easy access to your photos, big enough to hold up to 2,400 photos of up to 5-by-7 inches. Everything about it is heavy-duty. I weighed it without photos, and it’s 5 pounds — no risk of being crushed here. Even the dividers are heavy-weight — and there are 54 of them to cover every photo theme.

Nine pouches, including the oversize one in back.

Accordion envelope.

It’s flexible, too. See that back pouch? It holds strange items like panoramic prints and ribbons up to 14.75 inches wide and 5 inches tall. All of the pouches are removable. And it comes with an accordion envelope for 8-by-10s (even 11-by-13!), diplomas and certificates — the envelope fits right in the Simply Secure Lid.

Made in the United States and available from members of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers like me, it’s $54.99 plus shipping. I can have one shipped right to your door.

Want a chance to win one? Appo is giving away a LegacyBox™ to one of its blog readers! Simply leave a comment at the blog here about how you are storing your printed photos (or why you need one of these boxes!) and you will be entered automatically!  Do it quick — the winner will be announced Thursday, Aug. 16 on the Facebook page. While you’re there, subscribe to the Appo blog for more great photo organization ideas.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (or the wedding bouquet with the trash)

In “The ABCs of Photo Organization” I teach people to throw away (yes, throw away) some of their photos. Some photos just aren’t worth keeping, especially duplicates, unflattering photos, blurry photos and most scenery shots.

But some poorly composed photos are worth keeping because they tell a story.

Like this one:

I recently ran across this image of my parents’ wedding in 1964. They’ll be celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary next month, so you can imagine there’s a lot of story in this picture.

It’s blurry, yes, but I love it because of its ethereal appearance, just a like a fairy tale. My mother’s big hoop skirt captures the feel of a Cinderella dress, and my handsome father looks tall and thin like a Prince Charming ought to. And fairy tales always end with “And they lived happily ever after.” This photo — seemingly flawed — illustrates my parents’ fairy tale relationship. So it’s a keeper.

When you run across a photo like this in your own collection, ask yourself, “Is there a story here?” If there is, the photo is worth keeping. And telling the story.