Organizing your personal photos

For the past few months, I've been working on a massive project: organizing ALL of my photos, both digital and printed. As a former photographer, I snap a LOT of photos of my personal and daily life, especially once Xavier entered the scene. Although I kept my client's photos very organized, my personal photos weren't always the case.

Enter: the Guide to Organizing Your Personal Photos, from the Nancy Ray Shop. I promise this isn't a sponsored post :) Nancy has put together a great, comprehensive and most importantly, EASY guide to getting your digital and printed photos under control. I followed the steps outlined in the guide and am so thrilled to say that my photos are now completely organized AND I'm 100% up to date on printing my photos - starting in 2004!!

I'm not going to share all the details from the guide, because I really think it's worth the investment of your $30. These are your memories we're talking about! But I want to show you a peek at how my personal photos are organized.


I did start out with a leg up, because my photos were loosely organized by year or time period before starting, so I had a basic idea of what I was working with. I had a "high school" folder, a "college" folder and a "summers" folder and each year (freshman, sophomore, etc.) was inside one of those. And while that sort of made sense and was helpful, I decided to switch and do it by year first.

Now, I have a master folder on my desktop titled "Keinsley Family Personal Photos." Once a month, I back up that folder to an external hard drive, as well as Dropbox, so my precious photos are saved in three places.

Inside the "Keinsley Family Personal Photos" folder, I have a folder for each year of my "digital" life. I got my first digital camera in 2004, so that's when my year folders start. I also have a "scanned photos" folder, because I've been working on digitizing all my mom's printed photos.

Inside each year folder are three folders: one for photos, one for videos, and one where I keep photos to add to a photobook at the end of the year. Inside the "Photos" folder are folders for each month of the year. 2016 has a bonus folder because I worked on a special photo book project for Xavier's first year.

And then inside each month, I create folders for iPhone, and every event that happened that month, as well as a folder to hold all the photos from around our house and everyday life.

I should add that for the high school and college years, I did organize by school year and not month. It was too hard to go back and figure out what month the photos were from, and I decided it ultimately didn't matter. So for instance, spring of 2007 was my junior year of high school, and fall of 2007 was my senior year. Here's what the "2007" folder looks like:

Inside each of those three folders ("junior year", "senior year" and "summer") the photos are just all thrown together, not organized by event. Again, it was too hard to go back and figure it out, and I realized I didn't exactly care. Make the system work for you! Note my super helpful file names (abunch074?!) Thanks a lot for those descriptive titles, past Valerie. Not. Again, it didn't matter enough to me to change the filenames, although I might go back and do it later. It's super easy using Adobe Bridge.

The hardest part was downsizing the amount of photos I had. I opened each and every single photograph in Preview on my iMac, and only kept the ones I truly loved. All the silly selfies from high school and college: deleted. Group photos from college with people I only met once: deleted. I was able to get rid of two external hard drives by downsizing how many digital photos I had. So freeing! A photographer here in Indianapolis sometimes describes looking at photos with your "30-year goggles on", meaning imagine how you'll feel looking at a certain photo in 30 years. That's the standard I used when deciding which photos to keep. 30 years from now, or 50, will I care about this photo? It sounds harsh but I promise it's helpful as you're trying to decide which photos to keep. By looking through your "30-year goggles" it will be easy to know which photographs are most important and which ones you can let go of.

Once I had the photos sorted into their appropriate years, months and events (if applicable), I went back through and chose which ones to print and which ones to put in books. I opened each photo in Preview on my iMac (I did it by folder, so I opened all the "April 2016 Cherry St" ones at the same time), and dragged the ones I wanted to print to a "photos to print" folder on my desktop, and the ones for the photobook to the "photobook" folder for that year. Last week I placed a Shutterfly order for 400+ photos (free 4x4 and 4x6 prints right now on the app - just pay shipping!) and got up to date on all the prints. The total for all my prints was around $50 for shipping. A steal for a decade's worth of printed photographs!

To make the organizing easier, I went by year. I tried to only tackle one year at a time, whether that took a few hours or a few days. Once a year was done (organized by month and event, photos chosen for prints and books), I moved on to the next year. Doing it systematically helped me not get overwhelmed or lose my spot. I started with 2016 and worked backwards until I was done with every year through 2004.


The guide from Nancy Ray has awesome tips for organizing your printed photos as well. I followed her recommendations, bought six large photo boxes, labeled them according to life season, and got to work sorting my printed photos. For me personally, my six boxes are labeled as such: early childhood (before Kindergarten), school years (k-12), college years (Matt and I dated my sophomore-senior years, so we have a LOT of photos of us from that time), engaged + newlywed, family life (once Xavier was born) and generations (which is where the old photos of grandparents and great-grandparents go.)

The boxes currently live in a closet because I don't have space to display them, but I chose neutral colors that I wouldn't mind leaving out on shelves, as that is the eventual goal. Now, as I print photos or are given them by family, I can easily sort them into their appropriate box. I know exactly where to go to find a particular photo. The photos in the boxes aren't sorted chronologically or anything, they're all just thrown in. But since each box only includes a certain season, it's pretty easy to find what I'm looking for.


Once a week or so, I download the photos from my DSLR camera onto my iMac, edit them and sort them into appropriate folders. Once a month (on maintenance day!), I download the photos from my iPhone and drag them to that month's "iPhone" folder. At that time, I also go through the month's photos and decide which couple to add to the "photobook" folder, and which few to print. I'm trying to only choose 3-5 from each month for the photobook (think quality over quantity!) and 5-8 to print. By the end of the year, I'll have around 60 beautiful photos for a book, and 60 or so for the boxes. I keep the ones I want to print in the "photos to print" folder on my desktop. I save them there until Shutterfly does a 101 free prints or free prints from their app deal, then I print them all.

The idea is that by the end of the year, I already have all the photos chosen for our yearly photobook, and I've kept up on printing my photos monthly. I'm creating photo albums of each year through Artifact Uprising, and I plan to do another post on our books once we order and receive them :)

And that's that! My photos are all organized and easy to search, I feel a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and most importantly I've learned an important lesson in quality over quantity. Organizing my photos this way has taught me to think twice when taking photos in the first place, and to really consider which ones to keep. I have way less photos on my iPhone camera roll these days, and less clogging up my DSLR memory card, too. I think the idea is that, especially when it comes to kids, more is better. Because babies don't keep and kids grow so fast and we want to capture every single second. But the result of that is overwhelm, because we end up with way too many photos to ever do anything with. They sit on our computers because we don't know where to start and so we never get to enjoy or relive those moments we captured.

I can't recommend the organization guide enough. There are tips in there for how to decide what albums to make, choosing photos for your walls, the whole nine yards. Even as a former photographer and organized person, I found it to be incredibly helpful. Mamas, make it your goal this year to get your family's photos organized. You will be so, so glad you did.