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How to best organize photos on your computer

Tips on How to Best Organize Photos on Your Computer

Zach Cabading
Reading time: 9 minutes
Take a moment to really think about all the digital photos that you want to keep.
Most of your pictures are probably saved on your cell phone, because cell phones are our most frequently used cameras these days. If you’re a photographer, you no doubt have lots of photos saved on your digital camera, too.
And let’s not forget about the photos we receive from other people - we save the pictures that our friends text us, or maybe we download the image that we’re tagged in on social media. That’s a whole lot of images to keep track of.
What’s worse is that the images are probably not all in one place. Most people have their photos scattered across many different devices, social media profiles, and cloud storage accounts. That makes it difficult to find an individual photo when you really need it, and it also increases the likelihood that some of your photos may go missing or accidentally get deleted.
Never fear - HP Tech Takes is here! Here are some tips on how to best organize your photos on your computer.

Establish a digital photo hub (DPH)

Organizing your photos isn’t difficult in and of itself. What’s difficult is getting yourself organized enough to organize (let that sink in for a moment).
The first and most important step is to establish a digital photo hub (DPH). Think of a DPH as your digital filing cabinet, the place where you’re going to store all your photos. Your digital photo hub should have a large amount of storage space and should be:
  • Easy to access
  • Easy to back up
  • Secure
  • Durable

On your computer

The best digital photo hub is a simple folder on your computer if you have enough hard drive space. A folder meets all the criteria of our ideal DPH. It’s very easy to access; all you have to do is click on the folder to open it and see its contents. It’s also easy to back up, because you can drag the folder over to an external hard drive icon or you can upload the contents of the folder onto a cloud storage program. There are also no restrictions on the amount of data you can place in a folder [1].

Stay secure

As far as security is concerned, you can easily encrypt the entire folder. Encryption is a process in which the contents of a piece of data are jumbled up so only authorized users (you) can access it.
When you encrypt a folder, you’ll be able to set a password that you’ll have to enter every time to open it. Encrypting the folder is much easier than encrypting every individual photo that’s stored in it - that would be extremely tedious or downright impossible if you have thousands of photos.
The key takeaway here is that it’s always best to keep everything consolidated in a single file that’s easy to encrypt, move, and upload. Create a new folder and name it “Photos.” Boom, that’s your digital photo hub.

Go external

The only concern may be how much storage you have on your computer. If this is the case, you may need to use an external hard drive (EHD) - or more than one if you have that many photos - for your archive photos, and only have the photos you need immediate access to in your accessible DPH.
If you have a laptop, then you can keep your EHD connected as you are organizing, then unplug and go with your essential photos at your fingertips. Just don’t use cloud storage as your DPH - we’ll get into why later.

Twice is nice, thrice is better

Make sure you have a backup of your photo library. We’ve all heard horror stories of lost laptops, failed hard drives, and hacked data. Don’t lose your precious memories or vital professional photos because they were only stored in one location. Make sure you back up your photos (and all your other documents while you’re at it) to at least one, but better to two, other files storage location.
In a perfect world have them on your computer, on an external hard drive, and in the cloud.

Choose how to organize our photos

Now that you’ve established your DPH, you need to figure out how to organize your photos within it. You can organize your photos by:
  • Date
  • Event
  • File size
  • Tags

1. How to organize photos by date

One of the most popular ways to organize photos is by the date the photos were taken. Most people create folders for each year, then you can subdivide those folders into months or events within that year.
If you’re a professional photographer who takes a large swath of pictures every day, you might even subdivide your “month” folders into separate “weeks” or “days” folders then into events or tags.

2. How to organize photos by event

You can also organize photos by event, including:
  • Weddings
  • Birthday parties
  • Holiday gatherings
  • Vacations
Some people like a combination approach, in which they organize their photos by year, then further group photos into particular events. That way you can find photos from your Hawaii vacation in 2017 without having to scroll through Florida in 2012 or getting sidetracked by those great shots of the kids Ireland in 2015.

3. How to organize photos by file size

This might be a good category for photographers. Photos taken on higher-end digital cameras are likely to have a larger file size than photos taken on a lesser digital camera. Organizing your photos by file size might be a good way for you to group your photos that are taken at higher resolutions, like 4K.
Again, sorting professional photos into size, then event or client will help keep them separate from Junior’s band 6th-grade band concert which you memorialized with your cell phone.

4. How to organize your photos with tags

Tags are one the best ways to organize your photos. Tags are keywords that you can add to a photo to make it easier to find the photo on your computer’s search function.
Let’s say you take a photo of your friend Gary on New Year’s Eve. You can add the tags “Gary” and “New Years” to the photo description. If you ever needed to find the picture, you could simply search “Gary New Years” on your computer, and you’ll be able to access the file immediately.
If you wanted to, you could organize your photos exclusively through tags. Your tag categories could be “holidays” or “friends” or “Hawaii vacation.” Even if you don’t want to organize your photos by tags, these descriptors are still good to place on your photos for search purposes.
Windows 10 makes it easy to add tags to photos. Just right-click the photo you want to tag and select “Properties.” Click the “Details” tab and you’ll find the tag entry box located under the “Description” category.
You should get in the habit of tagging your new photos every time you place them in the DPH. The downside is that it can be time-consuming, especially if you’ve taken lots of photos. Just, you’ll save a lot more time in the long run because you’ll be able to quickly search for a specific photo.

Use the pyramid hierarchy

Use a pyramid structure to subdivide your digital photo hub. Ultimately, there should be only one folder that contains all of your photos. Within that folder, create gradual subdivisions of photo categories.

Don’t use cloud storage as your DPH

Cloud storage is a great tool that makes it easy to transfer your photographs across devices, or to share photographs with your friends and family. Popular cloud storage programs include:
  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive
  • iCloud
  • Nextcloud
Cloud storage is great, but you shouldn’t use your cloud account as your digital photo hub and you shouldn’t store your DPH exclusively on the cloud.
We’re not saying you should avoid cloud storage altogether - in fact, the cloud is an integral tool when you actually start organizing your photos. But there are several disadvantages to storing your photos exclusively on the cloud.

1. You need an internet connection

To access the cloud, you need to have a secure connection to the internet. Without it, you won’t be able to upload new photos to your DPH and you also won’t be able to access the photos already stored there. That’s just a bummer. You should be able to access your photos whenever you want, and if you’re a photographer, it’s absolutely critical that you always have immediate access to your pictures.

2. The cloud company could go out of business

There’s always a slight risk that the company operating your cloud account could go out of business. It would be time-consuming to have to transfer your files from the cloud onto a new storage device, and if you miss the memo, your data could be deleted entirely before you can transfer it elsewhere.

3. Your data could be hacked

When you use cloud storage, you’re storing your data on a private server operated by the cloud company. These servers are vulnerable to digital theft. While most cloud companies invest a lot of money in securing their servers with encryption protocols, data breaches have occurred in the past and will likely continue to happen in the future.

4. You might have to pay to store your photos

Some cloud companies charge monthly fees for their services. Even “free” cloud programs set a limit on how much data you can store and they’ll charge you for additional storage space. If you ever decide to stop paying (or if your credit card on file is lost or stolen and you change the number) you could lose the data stored there.

Use cloud storage for syncing and backups

One of the best ways to consolidate all your photos is to use cloud storage to sync them onto one device. Most cell phones, for example, give you the option to automatically backup all your photos into the cloud. You should definitely enable those settings where you can. If you store your DPH on your laptop, you’ll be able to access the cloud straight from your laptop and download the photos that were taken on your cell phone.
Cloud storage is also a good way to back up your DPH. You’ll just want to make sure that you keep it permanently stored on your computer or on your external hard drive. Check out our 1TB laptops if you’re looking for a computer with more storage space.

Don’t forget about output folders

Many photographers like using photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop to edit their photos. When you make edits to a photo, you’re going to create a brand new photo file. You might like the edited photo over the original, and might feel tempted to just delete the original. But you should always keep both the edited and original versions.
You should create a separate output folder to store the edited versions of your photos. If you have a folder that’s categorized as “Vacation Photos,” you might want to create another subfolder that’s categorized as “Vacation Photos - Edited.” Avoid mixing your original and edited photos together.

Get the right tech for photo editing and organizing

If you have Windows 10, you can use the Photos app to assist you in organizing your photos. The Photos app allows you to sort your pictures into albums, and it also enables you to sort photos into folders so you can create your own hierarchal DPH [2]. If you don’t have Windows 10, check out some of our HP laptops with Windows.
If you frequently edit your photos, make sure you have a computer that can handle intensive photo editing programs like Adobe Photoshop. You’ll love our HP laptops for photo editing, which are optimized for the creative professional.
Don’t skimp on getting the right photo editing and storage equipment. Photos are tangible mementos of the dearest memories we have, and a faulty computer or hard drive can put those at risk. HP technology can help you safely store and organize your photos so you can treasure them for years to come.

About the Author

Zach Cabading is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Zach is a content creation specialist based in Southern California, and creates a variety of content for the tech industry.

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