Good cell phone photo hygiene

To be clear, if hygiene makes you think of germs, then yes, you need to clean your cell phone regularly. (If you’re looking for tips for that, use a 50/50 mixture of water and alcohol and a microfiber cloth. Use a cotton swab for the crevices.)

But this post isn’t about germs. It’s about the photos on your phone that seem to multiply like bacteria.

Do you have thousands of photos on your cell phone?

Are you paying monthly fees to back up your phone photos even though you never look at the backup and have no idea what photos are being stored?

Do you struggle to find a particular photo on your phone when you want to show someone?

Well, this post is for you. It’s time to clean up your photo routine. No rubber gloves necessary.

Here are four tips for better phone photo hygiene.

Delete liberally.

Just because you took the picture doesn’t mean you need to keep it. We are no longer living in the film age where we got double prints of every camera click. You need to go through your digital images periodically and click the trash can icon at least half as many times as you clicked the “take picture” button. Face it: Most digital images are junk. You tried different lighting, or you turned your phone sideways, or you took a close up, or you snapped a shot of an item you wanted to buy (and now you’ve purchased it), or you just accidentally took extra pictures. Delete the ones that don’t matter. Yes, right now. Or at least take a few minutes at regular intervals (the first of every month or every Sunday night or while you’re waiting for your hair stylist/doctor/oil change) to delete mercilessly.


Backup the photos on your phone either with a cloud service or by saving to your computer or thumb drive. If you’re not sure how to save photos to your computer, check how this post on how to find your DCIM and move photos from your phone to your computer.

After backing up your photos, consider deleting them off your phone. Blasphemy? OK, you don’t have to delete all of them (though I do because I absolutely hate showing people photos on my tiny phone screen), but you can delete older ones and ones you no longer want to show other people. If you have photos on your phone you want to show off, check out this next tip.

Create albums.

If you have an iPhone, you can tag photos so they appear in different albums. Your phone will do this automatically for some photos, but if you want to show off photos of your kids or your new house, you can segregate those photos into an album so they’re easy to find. Here’s how:

  1. Click on the Photos icon.
  2. Click on “Albums” on the bottom right.
  3. Click the + sign in the top left.
  4. Name your new album (i.e., “Kids,” “New House,” “Biggest Fish”). Click save.
  5. Now tap the photos you want to save in that album. Scroll up and down to see all you have on your phone.
  6. Click Done in the top right.

Now when you want to show someone these particular photos, click the Photos icon, then Albums and find the one you want. Voila.


Many photo print shops offer apps just for this purpose including SnapFish, Shutterfly, CVS and Walgreens (search “print photos” in the App store). To make this work, you actually have to use the app and print some photos. In many cases, you can print items other than simply photographs, like photo books and other tchotchkes. Listen, if the photo was important enough to take and save, then it might be worth printing and enjoying in real life inside of only virtually.

There, now your phone is lighter, at least in terms of  memory use, and you can better enjoy the photos you’ve decided to keep. Nice work.

Now you can clean up the germy parts.

Good luck!


The right box for storing printed photos is designed for storing photos


As a photo organizer, I’ve seen a lot of containers for keeping loose photos. Frames (frames are designed for displaying one photo, not for storing several). Cardboard boxes (cardboard is useful for Amazon and UPS, not most photographers). Plastic containers of every shape, size and design.

The worst container I’ve ever seen was a laundry hamper. Laundry hampers are designed for dirty clothes, not photos. Even if the material of the hamper was photo safe, which is certainly possible, the size alone was damaging the photos because none of them could lie flat. The photos were a jumbled mess inside — folded, curling, bent and torn.

Not good.

Here’s what happens to photos stored in container meant for other things:

curled photos

Curled photos can be fixed, but it isn’t quick or easy. Better to store them flat in the first place. And a cover can go a long way to prevented fading; eliminate light and you eliminate a lot of discoloration.

There are a lot of boxes in the world for storing printed photographs, and a family historian can get overwhelmed if you don’t know what to look for.

flat photo storage

Even if your photos aren’t labeled as those here, they’d be better off lined up in this box than one that’s not made for photographs.

The first thing to look for in a good photo storage box is one actually designed for photos. You can spend a lot or a little, but if you get a box made for photos, you’ve covered the most important elements. To begin with, a properly sized box will help you keep the photos flat. Also, they’ll be easier to get at when you want to enjoy them or scan them or share them (remember that laundry hamper? Think about how hard it was to get to the photos on the bottom — impossible!).

Second thing to consider: Material. When it comes to boxes for storing your photos, look for acid-free material or photo-safe plastic containers. Avoid recycled materials. Choose opaque when possible, rather than clear, because opaque materials keep out light.

Third: Choose a container with a cover. Covers keep out light, air pollution and dust.

And finally, when it comes to storing your photos, where you put the box matters. Avoid moisture and high temperatures, both of which hasten photo aging. So consider the environment and climate in which they will be stored; find a cool, dry place in your home, such as an upstairs closet.



The Legacy Box

My favorite box is the Legacy Box (inside pictured above), available through most reputable photo organizers (including me). It’s big (stores up to 2,300 photos), beautiful, made with acid-free and lignin-free materials, and designed to keep photos flat and easy to label and see.

Your phone is not a photo storage device: How to find your DCIM and manually move your photos to your computer

Trained photo organizers urge photographers to backup their digital images two or three ways.

Unfortunately, some users don’t backup their images even once. Let’s be clear, if you leave all your digital images on the device with which you take them, they’re not backed up. If the disc in your digital camera corrupts or you drop your phone in the toilet, your images will be gone. And you’ll be sorry.

Cloud storage helps some cell phone photographers. If you use cloud storage. And if you’re backing up your phone properly.

I use an iPhone, and I’m not a fan of iCloud. Honestly, I’m not willing to pay for storage space for most of the photos I take with my phone. Why? Well, let’s just call me frugal. Also, I take a lot of junk images which aren’t worth saving, let alone backing up. But the most important reason is because I manually back up my images so I know I’m saving what’s worth saving, and I know where to find the images later.

I recently changed phones and used iTunes as my backup. For reasons I cannot explain (because some things are unfathomable like that), the images I found on my new phone were not the same ones I had on my old phone. If I hadn’t backed them up manually, I would have been very sorry.

If you want to avoid similar sorrow, here’s a quick step-by-step to finding your images on your phone and backing them up manually:

  1. Plug your phone into your computer. [I have an iPhone and a Toshiba computer with Windows 7 (right, I’m not a fan of Windows 10, either) so the screen shots I share here are what I see. No matter what phone or computer you’re using, you’ll see something similar.]

2. Find your phone on your computer. Sometimes, I have to unplug and replug in the phone to see it. You should see a window like this; you can see “Monica’s iPhone” in the left column and under “Portable Devices.”

phone-camera on desktop

3. Double-click to open your phone. Now you’ll see something like this, “Internal Storage.”

phone-internal storage

4. Double-click to open “Internal Storage.” Now you’ll see the DCIM folder. DCIM stands for Digital Camera Images. If you’ve found it, you’ve found gold. This is the designation for almost any digital camera or phone for photo storage.

phone DCIM

5. Double-click to open the DCIM folder. You might see another level of folders, as I do on my iPhone: 100APPLE. If you have a lot of photos on your phone, you might see 100APPLE, 101APPLE and so on (in Apple’s system, there are 1,000 images in each folder). Open each folder to find your digital images, usually jpgs you can view as thumbnails.

phone Apple100

6. Now you can copy the images you see onto your computer (or another drive). I move them to labeled folders such as “2016 blog photos,” “2016 charitable donations” (I always take pictures of donations to Goodwill for tax purposes) and “2016 family photos” (with sub folders labeled by topic such as “Las Vegas” and “Caswell’s Graduation”).

At this point, you may choose to permanently delete images from the DCIM folder, depending on if you want to access them later from your phone. I usually delete them because I am loathe to show people pictures on my tiny phone screen and I prefer to spend my available phone memory on music files, but that’s me.

Now, in a perfect world you’ll back up your computer files on an external hard drive or the cloud (or, optimally, both which give you two backups to the original images).

Good luck!

Spring speaking schedule heats up

It’s the time of year when a gung-ho man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of organizing his photos.

Gung-ho women, too.

My apologies to poet Lord Tennyson.

People all over the world resolve to get organized in January, and nothing’s more important to get a handle on than one’s photos.

Evidence of this is my speaking schedule. It always begins filling up this time of year when people are looking for guidance. So “The ABCs of Photo Organization” gets updated and polished and presented.

Check out my Events page for coming dates. I’m financing this year’s trip to see the Minnesota Twins play spring training with a few talks in the Tampa area. I’ll be back in Chicagoland in April, speaking about the ABCs in Lincolnwood.

Here’s to getting organized.

Memory sherpas focus on the story and its most telling plotlines

Organizing photos into categories often makes more storytelling sense than chronological order. That approach improved the final result of a project I finished recently.

A woman whose father died earlier this year wanted to share some photos of his life in a way that showed who he was, especially to his grandchildren.

Before even seeing me to create this album for her, she had divided the roles he played in his life into six categories:

  • Soldier
  • Father
  • Policeman
  • Landlord
  • Retiree

The final category was “lessons, advice, faith” which was designed for stories and memories. Each category, of course, had photos illustrating those roles.

In the end, we expanded the “father” category to “family” so we could include photos of his parents, brother and grandchildren in addition to his children. This added context to his background.

The result is effectively concise. Brevity is the soul of good photo organization. In the space of 20 pages and 50 photos, we told the story of a man’s life. In addition, we added photos of a lot of memorabilia: Images of medals, police patches, newspaper stories, club memberships. Displaying all those bits and pieces in this way is much more streamlined than a box of memorabilia. Here are a couple of pages in the album:

example 1


example 2

Sometimes, people mistake “photo organizing” for slotting a bunch of photos in box with a lot of file dividers (or the digital equivalent). Yes, that’s one way to organize photos. But better than that is organizing a few, carefully curated images in some way that tells a story. An album, like this one, can be the best way to organize a lifetime of photos. Even better, a printed album created from digital images is easy to duplicate. This client ordered enough copies so that everyone who loved him could have a copy and know what made this man special.

The call of the curator requires people who are selfless and willing to act as sherpas and guides. They’re identifiable subject matter experts who dive through mountains of … information and distill it down to its most relevant, essential parts.

~ Seen on Micropersuasion

Dropbox makes organizing and accessing images easy

I’ll admit to carrying an iPhone and being a fan of Apple products. Not a stand-in-line-for-36-hours-for-a-new-case-color kind of fan, but generally happy with my iPhone and iPad.

On my desktop, however, sits a Toshiba PC with Windows 7, and I generally happy with its operation, too. I like the concept of having a desktop and folders and documents. These archaic, paper-based descriptions help me function in the virtual world.

So while I enjoy clicking pictures with my iPhone, I hate, hate, hate juggling the camera roll, photo stream, shared streams, albums in various streams and then doing that in iTunes or iCloud or who knows where. When I have to Google a how-to question every time I want to access a photo, something’s too complicated.

That’s why I am a new fan of Dropbox.

First of all, the first 2 gigs of storage space is free. This is a lot of space, to be honest. And now, with the Dropbox app, I can organize and access quite a number of favorite photos quickly and easily.

Do you ever find yourself scrolling aimlessly through your camera roll of the photos you took two weeks ago to show your lunch date? “Oh, I can’t find them right now, but they’re so cute, just a second.” Ten minutes later, you’re still staring at your phone screen, and your lunch date is looking for the check.

With Dropbox, you can move a few of those cute photos on your computer into a folder called something obvious like “Cute Photos of Baby” and then move the folder to Dropbox on your computer desktop. Poof, a minute later you can see them on the Dropbox app on your phone.

Double bonus: Now your cute photos are backed up in the cloud. If your computer crashes (God forbid), you can get the photos back through Dropbox.

Dropbox makes its operations user-friendly. If you can find stuff on your computer desktop, you can probably figure out Dropbox.

Did I mention it’s free? If you share Dropbox with friends, you can earn more free space, but once you reach your free limit, you pay a monthly fee for more space. It’s a small price for priceless images.


Location as a theme: A clever idea for your next gift album

Another gift-giving season is upon us. But wait! Before you think I’ve lost my mind (and my calendar), spring and early summer are big gift-giving seasons. There’s Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, of course. Wedding showers. First communion and confirmation. Graduations of all sorts and kinds. And Mom’s birthday (well, if your mom, like mine, was born in April, that is).

Photo books make great gifts for people of all ages, and an easy way to choose and organize pictures is by location. Forget chronology or even subject — dig through your collection of photos looking for all the photos taken in one location — a house, a school, a church, a garden, Disney World, the baseball diamond, a vacation home — you get the picture (pun intended, heh, heh).

I’m on vacation this week at an undisclosed (but fabulous) location, but if you’re looking for some inspiration for a location-themed album, please enjoy this Clickago Storywerks post from a couple of years ago…

Photos of the lake — or anywhere else — transport the viewer

Choosing a place for the theme of a digital photo album is an excellent way to organize one’s photos — and it might make a fine coffee table book, too.

My sister lives on a lake in Minnesota, and a good friend of hers recently gave her a beautiful photo album illustrated with years of photos of their families’ exploits on the lake.

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