How do you organise your digital photographs?

Screenshot of photos on my PC

How do you organize the digital photographs on your computer?

Organize by event

Until recently I kept all our photos in folders by event, e.g.

  • 20061226 – Galashiels – Boxing Day 2006
  • 20070114 – Edinburgh – Owen’s 1st Birthday
  • 20070202 – Edinburgh – Eddie Moustache Party

The benefits of such an arrangement was that it was easy to see what each folder contained, and the folders sorted easily into chronological order – you’ll notice the date is year-month-day (yyyymmdd).

But I was finding it impossible to find anything, even with dedicated photo archiving software like Google Picasa (more of which in a moment) and not every photo could be easily assigned an event category.

Organized by date

So this past week I’ve been re-filing all our digital photographs by date, e.g.

  • 2008
  • 2009
  • 2010
    • 01 January
    • 02 February
    • 03 March
    • etc.
  • 2011
    • 01 January
    • 02 February

Each year has up to 12 sub-folders, one for each month, and the photographs within each are simply filed according to date.

Rename the files

Of course, all our digital photographs get uploaded from the cameras with generic names such as

  • DSCF1730.JPG
  • DSCF1731.JPG
  • DSCF1732.JPG
  • DSCF1733.JPG

so I’ve been using Better File Rename for Windows to batch rename the files to the date and time that they were taken, using the format: YYYY-MM-DD HH-MM-SS.JPG

Better File Rename allows me to use the “Picture Taken Date” that’s stored within the images’ EXIF data.

Better File Rename
Better File Rename

Add metadata with Google Picasa

I’m now going through the long process of using Google Picasa to tag the photos so that the photographs also benefit from some metadata attached to them (that is ‘data about data’) about who is in the photographs, where we were (geo-tagging), etc.

Picasa also has some other neat tricks such as facial recognition, so you can tell it who someone is and it then goes through your photograph collection and identifies people that it thinks is the same person. On the whole it is very accurate…unless you have twin boys, it would appear!

I then use the Picasa2Flickr plugin to upload my photos to my Flickr account. You’ll notice that I’ve not uploaded anything in a while. That’s because my digital photographs were in such disarray on my PC.

UPDATE: Backing up metadata

It occurred to me that if I ever need to reinstall Windows I may lose the metadata and face tag data that I’ve added to photos.  Google Picasa Help answers this under Fix a Problem: Upgrade to Windows 7.

Basically you need to back up:

  • C:\Users\%username%\AppData\Local\Google\Picasa2
  • C:\Users\%username%\AppData\Local\Google\Picasa2Albums

According to, it seems that the face tag data is stored in the Picasa database and also in the .picasa.ini file in the folder where your tagged photo sits. Performing a backup within Picasa (via Tools > Backup Pictures) will transfer the face tags too.

How do you do it?

So…I’m interested! Tell me, how do you organize your digital photos? And do you use any additional software and why?

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

6 thoughts on “How do you organise your digital photographs?”

  1. As is typical for someone who is an organiser of stuff by profession, my photo filing system is totally haphazard, some are on Picasa (some online, some not), some on Flickr, others from an old PC are on an external hard drive, and recent ones are in iPhoto on my newish Mac. I started putting the newer ones in folders according to subject matter as I am taking pictures of creative work I make as well as people and places, but this hasn’t been very consistent, and file names often remain as the unhelpful numbers generated by the camera. Oh dear, failed librarian moment no. 968. My one consolation is that my print photos from the good old days are all sorted in albums and easily retrievable, although regrettably none of them scanned in for digital posterity. All of these jobs are for another day.

  2. Well since you ask… badly… 😉

    Most of the stuff I shoot is in order to get a photo-per-day, so files take the form
    ~/Pictures/EyeFi/20110204/IMG1234.CR2 – EyeFi is a legacy from when I used such a card, so that subdir is a general dumping-ground for stuff.

    I use Adobe Bridge to assign all the metadata and various scripts to pull it back out in suitable form for my websites. (Open-source Mac-compatible replacements are eagerly sought.)

    Weekend days-out go in ~/Pictures/$cameraModel/$seriesName/IMG1235.CR2 and metadata applied, etc. I have scripts to do time-sync geotagging with the GPS and to export smaller versions of images with borders and copyright text added (hail imagemagick). In a workflow that goes from CR2 to archive-quality JPEG but occasionally detours via PSD or TIFF (HDR/panorama work) or even DNG, I try to add the metadata as early as possible in order that it inherit all the way through to exported JPEGs of various sizes.

    There’s also ~/Pictures/production/$orgName/, a directory-structure where I store stuff that’s been published – either on my portfolio website or sent for local photo-club competitions.

    I only keep a few days’ current/recent processing material on the Mac; I have a backup script that copies everything (in the case of Pictures, the RAW and largest archive JPEGs) to a linux server, which then acts as a live archive and does a poor-man’s backup to its secondary drive. Thus there is ~/Pictures/archive/, a mountpoint for viewing *all* my stuff.

  3. Hey Gareth,

    I’ve always done mine in your ‘new’ way. By year, then with subfolders 1-12 for each month. Because of the way my old camera uploaded, I used to then have subfolders in each month for each day. Tedious for searching for stuff from a particular day you think happened sometime in July 2007. So I’ve disbanded the days, and will instead just shove all photos from each month into the one folder, possibly with subfolders for specific named events. I don’t rename any image (unless I’ve altered it in any major way in which case it’ll keep the generic name and have ‘edit’ added on the end). I also find the fact that I upload photos regularly to facebook helps me to work out around about when I took ‘that photo of the massive pie I made’ so I can go into the folders and find it. No software or additional programs. Piece of cake.

  4. I use Aperture to grab the photos from the camera, sort them into folders similar to your original file structure, but it’s very messy, so I’m erring towards the year/month/day/event idea too.

    Aperture is good for minor edits and batch editing, and also has a face recognition system which slows down my computer and makes many mistakes (the most amusing/annoying being recognising faces in paintings or adverts behind scream person, or simply things-arranged-a-bit-like-a-face).

    In tune with the other replies, I too would say that I organise my photos badly, and I keep far more than I need. 300Gb is excessive, as as least 60% of those could be trashed.

    However, sites like (see his blog) show me that a relatively plain photo can be turned into something quite striking with a little effort and Photoshop wizardry. It’s just a case of finding the time, and with my photo library, finding the photos!

  5. Hi,
    Some great tips.

    I’ve been trying to rename my pix but I have a huge problem with numbers. If I see loads of numbers together I don’t understand what they mean.

    If I added the pix with the dates in written form (Tues, Feb 22nd, 2011 instead of 22.2.11.) would the computer still recognize them?

    I would really appreciate any help on this as it’s really stressing me out!

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