How To Organize Your Digital Photos

Hi! I’m Meg from Snap Happy Mom and today I’m going to chat with you about how to organize your digital photos!

Take a minute and think about where all your digital photos are. If you’re like most people, they are on random folders on your computer, hanging out on memory cards in drawers, and sitting in your phone. Chaos, right? Instead of spreading everything out, here’s how to organize your digital photos! Organizing your photos will give you peace of mind, and help you find things quickly and easily.

How To Organize Your Digital Photos - Snap Happy Mom for Yellow Bliss Road

Set Up A Basic File Structure

Locate your “Pictures” folder, wherever that may be. Don’t just use the desktop; your computer came with a folder called Pictures, so use it!

No matter how crazy your photo organization situation is currently, you’re going to want to start with yearly folders. Start with a brand new folder labeled for each year.

Within each year, you’ll want to make twelve monthly folders. Add the number as well: 01-January, 02-February, 03-March, etc. This keeps them in order, which will make it easier to find everything.

If you don’t take a lot of pictures, you might be able to get away with organizing by seasons instead of the months: 01 Late Winter, 02 Spring, 03 Summer, 04 Fall, 05 Early Winter. I prefer months because the seasons seem to run together, but if twelve separate folders feel like overkill, this might work better for you.

Sort and Organize Into Your System

Now you need to start putting photos in appropriate folders!

I find it most useful to separate pictures by activity, event, or trip within each month. Make folders within the month for each set of pictures you have, and label it with one more date and a description of what’s inside. The more pictures you take in a month, the more useful it is to have these folders! No one wants to open up “July” and find 1641 photos to sift through.

Start moving your pictures from all those random places into your file structure. It’s going to take some time at first, but you want to clean up the random folders on your desktop that just say “Beach” and “Bday Pics” and put them where they belong! It will be so much easier to identify people and places in the upcoming years.

Systematically work through all the photos you have on your computer, memory cards, and mobile devices. You can add specific folders for “phone pictures” within each month, or add them to an event if that makes more sense. Once you’ve moved pictures to the correct folder in your file system, delete the empty folders.

Hint: if you can’t remember the details about a certain photo, check the date and timestamp on the picture. This should help you identify when it was taken, which usually provides clues as to where as well.

How To Organize Your Digital Photos - Snap Happy Mom for Yellow Bliss Road

Back It Up Before You Delete

No photo organization system is finished without a plan for how to back it up. Sure, your pictures are now beautifully organized on your computer, but what if it crashed, or you accidentally deleted something? Get copies of those files somewhere else too!

There are lots of options for photo storage but I try to keep my pictures in three different places: currently my actual computer, an external hard drive, and the cloud. You can read about different photo storage options here, but the bottom line is your files need to exist in at least two different places, and preferably three.

Once you have confirmed that your files are properly backed up, you can delete your memory cards and format them, so they are ready to use again. Don’t let your precious memories just sit on a card forever.

Keep Using It!

The system described above is a really good, instinctive system for organizing digital photos. It’s simple and effective, but it only works if you USE it… you need to KEEP organizing those photos! You can’t just do it once, because you’re always taking new pictures.

So, every time you import a memory card, you need to sort your photos into your event folders in that month. This shouldn’t take long at all – just create folders as you go, and import images straight into those folders. Don’t just drop it onto your desktop because you’re in a hurry… set a reminder and make clearing off your camera card a weekly habit!

Once the pictures are on my computer and my backup, I delete/format my memory card so it’s ready to use again. No more worries about whether or not a card has been imported!

The beauty of a system like this is that your actual photos are organized, and you can direct your editing software to those organized folders! Programs like Picasa, iPhoto, Lightroom, and Aperture can all play nice with an organization structure like this: just set the program to leave the files in their original locations, instead of moving them into that program’s specific library. This also allows for easy transitions to new software as your technology changes; your files are still exactly where you put them, and you don’t have to fiddle with getting photos “out” of a dated program.

How To Organize Your Digital Photos - Snap Happy Mom for Yellow Bliss Road

It’s totally possibly to have organized digital photos, with minimal maintenance effort. It will take a little while at first, but remember you’re setting up a good system that will serve you for years!


Meg is passionate about teaching moms how to use their own cameras! She believes families should have professional photos taken each year, but wants mothers to have the skills and confidence to photograph the candid moments that happen all year long! Meg's blog, Snap Happy Mom, offers tips and tutorials for all the things moms want to know about photography, including how to get your children to smile naturally, and how to choose a camera and learn how to use it. Meg has three adorable children at home, and works as a photographer in Arizona.

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  1. I have a Mac, & import photos directly into my photos software. When my kids were younger, I was probably in the 6,000 to 25,000 photos peryear. I actually sort by topic, & year under that.
    Example: little league, scouts, music, church, school
    Then event &/or year.
    I might have a baseball mom ask for a picture, or I want to make a slide show – rather than go month by month picking out the baseball picks from each month, I go right to the topic.
    I might do subcategories, too, like team we played against, group pictures; for band, it was pep rallies, football games, rehearsals, artsy shots, individuals, senior pictures, concerts.
    Just an alternative, as that’s how I think.

  2. Yes, I used this system for years and it really works great. I print out the annual file structure, 3 hole punch it and I have a physical reference to use with my annual DVD Backup storage and cloud backups. With 20+ years of DVDs and several computers later, it helps! I had a student that kept his photo files on his flash storage. Not a good idea since these often fail and the internal power in them will probably diminish in time. I give a full copy of my annual photos to my grown daughter and that way it’s an off-site backup and benefits her With all the photos I took of her kids for each year.

  3. Great article! I literally have thousands of digital and real photos (to be digitalized) and am very anxious to try your method. I’ve been looking for a beginning and you’ve given it to me. Thank you very much! *****

  4. Yes, this really helps. Thankyou so much.My photos are everywhere and I also have doubles. Before I found your Pinterest pin I spent all day yesterday doing just what you said and it is going to be a long job. I started with my Pictures folder and then found files which I had put into year dates. They were all over the place but I have definitely made a good start. I have one question if you could answer I would be thrilled. How do I date the photos which are not labelled with a date. I have tried right clicking on a photo, then scrolling down to the bottom (properties). The 3 sections, Created, Modified and Accessed often have 2 or three completely different dates e.g. Created…December 2017, Modified…October 2015 and Accessed December 2017. I have many more photos ‘undated’ than dated. Thanks for your time.

  5. Right there with you! i’m a digital organization junkie, so I’ve been using a similar system for many, many years. I don’t know if you use this tool, but Adobe Lightroom takes photo organization and processing to a whole new level. You can further organize with searchable tags, metadata, location information, flagging and rating systems and more. It took a while to enter information for almost 20 years worth of digital photos, but now I can find just about anything, including random requests for pics of __________ (fill in the blank – if I’ve tagged it, I can pretty much find it).

  6. Hallo Meg,
    thank you for showing us the good way to organize fotos. I’m very happy about this.
    I have two questions.
    1. Do you rename your fotos in a special way also? In case of yes how?
    2. Do you give your fotos tags so you can find it not only to use the date of the Foto?