January 3, 2020

How to organize your photos

Happy New Year!

If you’re like me, the holiday decor is down and packed away, and you’ve been scanning online furniture sales to redecorate with plans to organize the whole house. Not yet? Just wait. That fresh-start energy is always a sure bet!

A few years back I ran a 10-month photo organization series for my newsletter subscribers. Occasionally I am asked if there is an online home for those tips and until now, there hasn’t been. I hope you find the system below helpful and invite you to go at whatever pace works for you! 


Yes! Find your photos! Easy enough, right?

Sorta. At the office we have a fool-proof way of taking the most considerate care to archive your images in an uber organized fashion. At home? Despite my best efforts, with two little ones the house looks like a tornado passes through daily! But I do have a few places I keep important things out of their reach. So to track down personal images, for instance, I’ll first look in the home office closet, then the top drawer of the sideboard in the dining room, the shelf of our coat closet and then to the basement to start peeking in boxes. Oh and maybe the junk drawer in the kitchen. Or the kids’ memory boxes in their rooms. Or…

Yikes! What am I hunting for specifically? Various external hard drives, random USB thumb drives, a DVD or CD from long ago or, goodness me, actual printed photographs. Things are strewn about. I don’t have one particular place where I know I can find volumes of images, either printed or digital files. And that’s a problem.

So your task for January is to dedicate some time to collect what you have. Put it all in a box. Write a list of what may be on your computer or smart phone. Got it?


I hope our first month’s assignment was a success and that you now have a corner of an office or dining room that looks like mine: a big ‘ole pile of photos in a box (or six). For February your task is to dive into those boxes and start organizing them.

FOR PRINTS please make three piles:
1) Display — Favorite photographs that should have been in a frame yesterday.
2) Archive — You like this collection of photos, but there’s no need to frame, so an album or even a photo box will do.
3) Share or Trash — You know a few of these gems would be much better appreciated if they were in the hands of the humans featured in the image. Or recycled.

THEN you have one ACTION STEP:
MAIL off the photos from pile 3 with a little note or toss them in your trash, so you are left with two piles.


This month we’re continuing the sorting process with your digital files. It’s time to dig into that box where you have gathered your collection of harddrives, jump drives, memory cards, DVDs, point & shoot cameras and cell phones.

1) PREPARE Concerned you don’t have enough memory on your desktop computer to house all of these images? I recommend purchasing a Lacie Rugged external harddrive.

2) DOWNLOAD — Find the appropriate cords (visit Best Buy or Radio Shack if you come up dry) and connect your devices to your computer.

3) ORGANIZE — Open a folder of images from a device in an application like Photo Mechanic (click here to download a free trial). Sort by Capture Time. Double click on the first image to open into a full-screen view. Then arrow through each image, tagging keepers by typing the letter T. Additionally, I mark my absolute favorites by pressing the number 4 which marks an image with a yellow highlighter (or whatever color you prefer).

4) COPY — Create a master folder on your desktop or external harddrive and place sub-folders within for each year (ie: master folder named PERSONAL PHOTOS contains subfolders named 2019, 2018, 2017…). When you have gone through your first device in entirety on Photo Mechanic, press F3 to see all of your tagged images (likewise, you can sort by Color Class to see your favorites, too). Go to the File> Copy/Move Photos menu and navigate to the yearly subfolders on your desktop or external harddrive to copy the tagged images into their corresponding year. I also recommend having a “favorites” folder for those yellow standouts, too.

5) REPEAT — Follow the steps above for each of your devices. Soon you’ll have all of your images organized into the folders from each year that they were taken regardless of what device they had been living on!

6) RENAME — Next, open each year folder in Photo Mechanic. Sort by Capture Time and then go to File> Rename Photos. If you have 300 images in that folder, you’ll want to set the sequence value to 000. I’ll rename my images for this year, for instance, to 2019_001 so that would look like 2019_{seqn} with seqn= 000.

Make sense? May sound confusing, but I promise you’ll get the hang of it. Setting a system in place is crucial for this project’s success (and ensures you’ll keep up with it moving forward).


Did you finish gathering and digitally organizing all of those photos on those electronics hanging around the house? Quite the undertaking, isn’t it?

Are you sure that you grabbed all those old point-and-shoot cameras and memory cards? What about all those photos you uploaded to Facebook but deleted from your smartphone? Uh oh. Forgot about those, didn’t you?

Fortunately, Facebook allows you to download your profile info! This month, we’re showing you how to get those photos off your social profile and into the Picture folder on your hard drive.

1) LOGIN —  Login to Facebook from your desktop or laptop. Click on the down arrow at the far right of the header row, then click Settings. 

2) REQUEST YOUR DOWNLOAD — Under the General settings in the left menu, click Your Facebook Information, then Download Your Information. Be sure Photos and Videos is selected on the next screen and then click on the Create File button. You may have to reenter your password to verify your identity and/or click to confirm a few times. You’ll get an email confirming your request.

3) WAIT — The easiest part! Facebook will send you an email when your download is ready. Once you receive it, you can click the link to start the download process (you may need to login to Facebook again before the download will start).

4) DOWNLOAD — Once downloaded, you will need to unzip the file to your desktop (or some other folder of your choice). There will be a folder containing all of your Facebook photo albums! Viola!

5) SORT —  Now that you have your Facebook images, you can organize and sort them like you did with last month’s files. 

Instagram doesn’t have the same batch download feature (yet!), unfortunately.

MAY — Back up

If you’ve been following along, you’ve probably spent hours organizing all of your digital pictures, so don’t lose everything over a faulty hard drive, lightning storm, or accidental tumble. Back up your digital photos:

• EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE — We recommend Lacie Rugged or Desktop models which start around $180 for 2TB of storage.

• THE CLOUD — Are you an Amazon Prime member? Did you know that your membership includes unlimited photo storage? Visit the Amazon Cloud Drive to get started. Another cloud option comes from Dropbox, which allows you to store and share photos and files. Google is also a cloud photo storage option, too.

JUNE – Favorites

Whew. It took five months, but all of your photos– both digital and analog– should be in an orderly fashion now. Congrats! Awesome work!

This month’s assignment is to make print-outs (any ‘ole printer will do) of your favorite images. Tape them to your walls anywhere in your house. You might print 15, you might print 50 or more. No number is the right number. Over the course of the month, notice what catches your eye the most. What makes you smile? What fills your heart with a wonderful memory? The quality of this print-out does not matter for this exercise, we’ll get to making archival prints next month once you have selected your top picks.

JULY – Make prints

Last month you taped your favorite images to your walls, mirrors, cabinets, anywhere. How did that go? Did some top-notch contenders emerge as you “lived” with those choices at eye-level every day? Those, my friends, are the ones that have earned themselves a more permanent place in your homes.

It’s time to get printing! For this, our first foray into a more formal display of imagery, I implore you to order some 4×6 prints from Nations Photo Lab (create an account as a “hobbyist”) if your favorites don’t happen to already be associated with one of our studio’s sessions. Slide them into a Kolo Hudson 3-up album to start your family’s photo library.

Feeling a little more adventurous but not ready to commit to something like custom framing? Try ordering some larger sizes mounted on gatorboard to hang without a frame. I ordered 20 11×17 choice candids and arranged them in four rows of five in my living room – see here. At just $20/each, it’s an affordable way to have a living gallery that’s easy to update.

AUGUST – Integrating imagery

So did you have some images printed? Did you hang any on your walls? We’re not done with that core group of “favorites” you selected just yet. Let’s play with them a little more, shall we?

This month, I urge you to check out one of the many incredible printing and product service companies so that you can integrate your favorite images into your everyday. A shopping list notepad from Pinhole Press. A set of Instagram prints from Australian-based Origrami that prints a map on the backside with the date, caption and location of the image. 5×5 soft cover photo books from Artifact Uprising from your Instagram account or just-finished summer vacation.

SEPTEMBER – Planning Ahead

I know, I know. We just barely folded up our summer beach chairs and I’m about to say the H word: holidays. Yup, people, they’re going sneak right up on us, they always do. In an effort to advise you so that you aren’t a hot mess in December, I’m sharing my timeline for preparing for the holidays.

October: schedule a portrait session to include with your holiday cards

early November: Order those cards. Visit your favorite local retailer (we love Gus & Ruby Letterpress in Portsmouth, Portland and soon, Boston!) or online shop (minted or Pinhole Press are my go-to’s) to choose your design. Some places offer promotions to include your return address, or even address and stamp (!) your envelopes for you! I, personally, have stopped using labels. I send 300 holiday cards and I hand-write every address. It’s a big task, but I love taking a moment to think about the person I am sending to. 

Black Friday/Cyber Monday: SALES. Have your images ready and at your fingertips to upload to have prints or photo gift books made (A client of ours? Let us do it for you! Keep an eye on our shop for our post-Thanksgiving sale. Don’t worry, we’ll remind you).

December 1: My annual goal for getting those greetings in the mailbox.

NOVEMBER – Photos as holiday gifts

When I poll my family members for holiday gift ideas the response is always the same: photos of the kids. Whether you got married this year or have little ones, I can bet your family would say the same. A little advice for how to make that happen:

Prints: Make a list of everyone you would like to gift prints to, starring favorites or jotting down image numbers from your online gallery so that you can take advantage of our Thanksgiving weekend print sale (details above). A 4×6 is a perfect size for slipping in a card, a 5×7 for a desk, an 8×10 for a table and 11×14 or larger for a wall.

Frames: If you don’t want to go custom, my go-to source for modern frames is CB2. Pottery Barn, West Elm and even discount stores like TJMaxx and Marshalls also have some great options.

Misc: Every year, everyone gets a magnetic shopping list notepad from Pinhole Press. I love hearing from my dad that he loves “seeing” the kids each week when he visits the grocery store (what a guy!). You can also order beautiful photo calendars, puzzles, board books and photo books.