Clean Sweep in the New Year: Organizing Digital Photos

After readers found a piece detailing best practices for taking care of your personal archives helpful, the team at the Smithsonian Institution Archives reached out to us about a new post they were working on concerning the organization of digital photographs. Timed perfectly to coincide with the close of the holiday season (finally), this post serves as a basic introduction to preserving all of the memories you made over the past few weeks.

This post was also published on the Smithsonian Institution Archives' THE BIGGER PICTURE blog. It is used here with permission. It was written by Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, an electronic records archivist.

See more posts about the Smithsonian.


Clean Sweep in the New Year: Organizing Digital Photos

Digital photography has made it much easier to capture special moments in our lives. Folks who carry camera phones can always be ready to point and shoot everything from an impromptu family football game to a carefully staged portrait of folks in matching sweaters. There is no longer any need to worry about having only two shots left on a roll of film during the school play or coming back from the drive-through Fotomat or drugstore with fuzzy prints.

The holidays provide great opportunities for lots of picture taking. Now, as the season is winding down, can be the perfect time to organize recent digital images you've made, while events and memories are still fresh in your mind.

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DigitalPhotos2.jpgMake the time. Set aside an afternoon or evening to focus on your digital images.

Transfer them to your computer from your phone or digital memory card. Quite often you only need to connect your camera to your computer to conduct a step-by-step transfer to it. There also are a variety of image software programs to do this on a PC or Mac. These programs can manage your images by date, location, or name, and provide editing functionality such as sharpening, cropping, and red-eye removal.

Be aggressive about deleting bad images. Delete blurred, duplicate, or unwanted photos. This can be done on the camera before you transfer pictures to the computer or after. If you do this on the camera, you don't have to worry about the need to delete an image twice.

File names. Photos usually import into computers with a string of letters and numbers that is part of the camera's default naming standard such as DSCN0070.JPG and provide no description about the images themselves. Some newer cameras do allow you to set some of the naming formats.

Consider renaming the set of images to something more meaningful. Some options include the date, the name of the person or event, or some combination of all of them. I recommend at least including the date in some manner.




Another option is to group the images into named folders within the 'My Pictures' folder on the computer or within the image management program. In some instances you can use batch processes to name the files and/or folders. Be consistent once you adopt a naming standard.

DigitalPhotos3-Post.jpgMetadata (data about data). Some programs also provide the option to add keywords and other information about an image. Facial recognition is another feature with some packages that allow you to assign the name to a person and the program will match up other photos of that person in your files (it is not perfect and will select other people in some instances). This additional data can make searching easier.

Multiple copies. Even if you do not plan to print out your images, you can store copies with an online photo sharing service and share them with others.

Print out the best ones. I still believe in printed images, and there are a number of physical stores or online photo printing companies that will create prints.

Backup. Don't rely only on the images stored on your computer or device. While you may have the images on a photo sharing site mentioned above, also keep copies on CDs, external hard drives, or thumbdrives. And don't forget about these backups either as you change hardware and software.

Investing a little time now to organize this year's holiday memories will pay off in the future.


Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig is an electronic records archivist for the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Images: 1. Matching Christmas sweater, by Matthew Bietz, Creative Commons; 2. Kodak Fotomat, 1960s, by Roadsidepictures, Creative Commons; 3. This image was renamed from DSCN2773 to Max_Alex_102010_1.JPG, Courtesy Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig; 4. Printing photos, by Chuck Brown, Creative Commons.