Lessons from my end of year photo organization

Throughout 2020, I worked on cleaning up and organizing my photos from time to time but didn't make the progress that I needed to, at least not enough where I could ever envision completing it.

It wasn't until I started writing things out (in a notebook, with a pen) that I started to get some clarity around what needed to be done, how I would do it, and when I would know I was finished.

Within the last 9 days (my vacation from work) I buckled in to do the tedious and necessary: finish organizing this digital chaos.

Now, on the first day of 2021, I can confidently say that I am 85% done. All that's left is to organize prints into albums and start designing some photo books.

I thought I would share some of my method and lessons learned here.

The Basics:

Workflow - I went as far as to write down (in a notebook with a pen) my workflow, if only to re-establish what it should be. For the most part, I already stick to it. It's simply moving photos from a camera to folders (structured chronologically) on my local drives. If they need post-processing, I'll then import them into Capture One. If not, I'll then import them into Apple Photos.

Backup - I established the 3-2-1 method of backup (3 copies, two of which on different drives and one offsite). One copy on my main computer, one on a NAS (network-attached storage), and Flickr as my cloud service/backup copy. So, copies of the final photos (edited or not) are exported to the NAS and to Flickr.

Monthly Maintenance - Once a month (moving forward) I'll set aside and spend time organizing the photos by tagging them, sorting them into digital albums, backing up, and liberally culling (deleting) ones I don't need to keep.

What I did:

Before beginning any organizing and/or deleting, I made sure that I had multiple backups of everything. Just in case. Always, just in case. Two copies on two different external drives, and one more copy on my NAS. Just in case. Overkill? Perhaps. Peace of mind? Yep.

I updated my file folder structure to be YEAR>MONTH. Within each MONTH folder are folders for ORIGINAL and EDITED files. Some MONTH folders have subfolders for specific trips, events, or photo projects.

I then spent time moving files into their appropriate folder locations.

Using Apple Photos,

  • I imported the photos, tagged, and organized them into albums.
  • I deleted duplicates and A LOT of photos that didn't meet the "keep" criteria (more on that below).
  • I saw a lot of photos that I had forgotten about, and reminisced about the times around them.

We (my wife and I) selected 974 photos to print (using an online photo print service). When the prints arrive, we will organize them into physical photo albums.

We printed photos, using our home photo printer, and mailed them to friends and family who we thought of when we saw the photo, and/or who were in the photo itself.

I identified series and groups of photos to be designed into photo books, which I'll design and print, over the next few months, using Blurb. This includes some of my photo projects, events, and travels.

I identified photos to be printed in larger formats to be hung on walls around the house. This will be ongoing.

What I learned:

Photos are meant to be printed! Print them out! Display them in albums, on walls, on shelves, as cards, whatever! Don't hide them on a hard drive. That's pointless.

Photos are meant to be shared! Online is easy and accessible but, it's even more fun to share prints. Buy a roll of stamps and some notecards and mail them!

Applying the "keep" criteria made is very easy to decide which photos to delete. My criteria? Will I ever print this? Do I want this on a wall, in an album, or in a photo book? If "no" then delete.

But, there are some that I still had a rough time deciding on so I asked myself, "what makes me want to keep this photo?" until I had a better understanding of why I wanted to keep it. That helped me then to answer the "will I ever print this?" question.

It's perfectly okay to have "online only" photos (that you will never print out). These are pictures for things like Instagram, blogs, and whatever else. Consider keeping them in a separate folder structure and/or organizing application.

Some resource recommendations:

TDS Podcast: What to Do With All Those Photos - a good discussion between the host and Isabelle Dervaux that gave me some ideas and inspiration to finally buckle in and start deleting, organizing, and printing.

NPR Life Kit: 7 Steps To Get Your Photos Organized - This is a good listen. The episode came out after I did the majority of my photo organization but still was a bug help in establishing some more ground rules and a good maintenance routine.

Canon Selphy (photo printer) - this is my home photo printer. I just wanted a cheap, photo-specific (i.e. not a multi-function inkjet printer) to give me 4x6 prints on the fly.