Taming family photo chaos – part 2

Taming family photo chaos – part 2This article may contain compensated links. Please read disclaimer for more info

In my last post about organising digital photos I talked about getting into a habit of editing on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. How are you going with that? I’m the first to admit life gets in the way so I try to do this task when I’ve got a few minutes spare on the bus or in front of the tv in the evening. When you have mastered this habit you are then ready for the next task.. consolidation.

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Organising your photos - step two

Step 2 – How to consolidate your digital photos

This task requires concentration and a fair amount of time so the best thing to do here is to start when you know you have a few spare and quiet hours available. The method I am going to share with you here is based on a lot of research. I am approaching the problem from a family photo management perspective however I have borrowed ideas from professional photographers who are managing huge numbers of images. If you set your files up this way you will be able to take full advantage of some of the software that is available to help manage your photos.


You will need at least one external hard drive to store your consolidated photo collection and another to back them up. I’m all for using digital methods such as Dropbox or Google Drive however it’s always a good idea to have a physical back up also. You never know what will happen to these companies or whether they will change their product strategy.

Set up your folders 

First start by setting up a folder structure. I have found the best way is to set up your folders is by year, month and source. It looks like this:

Folder structure - organising digital photos

This is a very basic structure but what it does is allow you some flexibility when it comes to organising your files and searching for them using photo management software. You will notice I used the numerical format to organise the months. This is so they will appear in chronological order which is also useful later when you are trying to group images.

Another reason to organise the files this way is if you have taken photos with the incorrect time and date stamp – yes, it happens even to the most organised people.

Some people like to organise further by event or location or some other factor but I find this is a bit too manual when you can use clever software that can help with those tasks.

Define your file naming approach

I simply use the default file name from the camera. However you may want to change yours to add the device name or another code in front. If you are using the camera’s file naming system make sure you have organised your folders by device because it otherwise you may find duplicate file names across different devices. Eg you and your partners phone.

Mass changing file names to add a prefix is quite easy and you can get some software to help depending on whether you are using Windows or Mac – just google “batch rename files” and you will find some options

Identify all sources of images for your family collection

Photos are everywhere.. start with your main sources – your smart phone, your partner’s smart phone, your laptops and hard drives, any digital cameras – point and shoot, digital SLR etc. Even though I like to think we run things pretty lean in our house in terms of gadgets, there are a lot of devices floating around. Old phones should be included in the mix. Don’t forget your online collections –  Facebook, Instagram, Picasa

Secondary sources would include  – relatives devices and photo collections, any online back ups or repositories that you created on DropBox or Google Drive etc.. I cannot tell you how many images I found in Google Drive and DropBox – frightening but also a relief as I had thought them lost.

How to organise your photos - where are your images?

The next part is what requires time and concentration. Now you need to put the files in the folders you created. You may have many years of images to deal with like we did. If it all seems a bit overwhelming, break down this activity into manageable chunks. If you can do a year’s worth of data in a week you will get through the task in a couple of months. After all, this digital image explosion is a fairly recent phenomenon.

Tip – play close attention to the file names and their order. We found whole chunks of images missing that were then rediscovered on hard drives. They usually relate to specific events.

Now you have consolidated your photos you should be feeling proud and a bit relieved. It’s now much easier to find those images when asked at a moments notice. 

In my next post I’ll talk about some editing and file management software options that can help you sharpen your images and organise them so you can start to print and display them.

In the meantime do let me know how you are going, if you have any questions and if you find this useful.

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  1. 19th March 2016 / 11:48 PM

    Hi – this is a bit bafflingly good (though it is nearly midnight!) I think I will read again in the morning and try and actually follow the instructions as it’s too late for me to do it now with any chance of success. But something I struggle with DEFINITELY and this sounds like a sensible approach to take. Maybe I’ll even be able to find a photo I need in less than 80 steps (my average at the moment!) Thanks for such a useful post and have a lovely weekend. xx

    • 20th March 2016 / 10:14 AM

      Thanks so much. I have really struggled with this problem and thought I couldn’t be the only one. We recently lost a few special people to illness and I have been able to pull together some lovely memories quickly. Let me know how you go and enjoy your weekend too x

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