Reader Request: How to organize your digital photos

Reader Mary wrote in:

I was wondering if you could do a post on organizing your computer, in particular in organizing your photos.

I have a Mac and try to live as minimalist as I can when it comes to my computer (though I seem to fail a bit at it), and my biggest issue is that I just have way too many photos, and I don’t know how to tackle them.

I basically have them in a folder called “To Be  Organized” (I’m not sure how I feel about iPhoto yet).

A bit about my computer setup

I have a Mac, a PC and a Netbook, and I tend to use my PC the most.

I keep the Mac by my bed.

I use the PC on a kitchen table.

The Mac is more for surfing and doing minor things bedside so I don’t have to move my PC from the kitchen table to the bed and set it back up again.

Using Software: The Very Organized, Methodical Way

This is certainly the best method of all, if you really care about your photos — using a piece of software to organize it all.

I am too lazy to use this, but I’ll give it a brief overview.

On a Mac, iPhoto is great: you can tag, categorize and do all of these awesome things to sort out your photos.

I used it, and was very pleased with the results, especially being able to pull up albums and quickly do a slideshow for when friends and family pestered me for photos.

(Now I just email them the Facebook link.)

But it’s extremely time consuming, and difficult to keep up on it unless you have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)?

On the PC, you can just go through and painstakingly rename all of your files and sort them into folders, and even tag them in the File Properties.

Again, very time consuming and not my cup of tea.

Using Folders to your advantage: Lazy but Semi-Organized

It’s not VERY lazy actually.

Very lazy would be just throwing photos into a big folder and calling it “Photos”.

This has a bit of structure to it, but is flexible enough that I don’t have to really fuss with it.

I subscribe to the 3-level methodology:

No set of folder structure should be deeper than 3 levels once you are in it.

1. Set up your major categories

On the PC, I have a set of folders labeled something along the lines of this:

  1. Family_Friends
  2. Trips
  3. Food — this is an odd choice, but I do take pictures of food we make & eat


I name these folders with a number (1., 2., 3.) in front, so that it sorts in the exact order I want.

If I didn’t, they’d sort alphabetically and not be any logical order that I’d want:


It may not sound like such a big deal, but it helps keep your most important & used folders at the top, and the rest at the bottom.

2. Organize another set of folders within the first

Within each major folder, I have another set of folders sorted by:

  • Major Category (Like a Person, City, or Food Group)
  • Event (Baking, Birthdays, Random things)
  • Date (Sorted by Year-Month-Day so that it aligns in the same manner)


I do this because Birthdays come every year, and I do a lot of the same activities with the same people, but I want it sorted logically.

See how with the date naming convention at the end, it sorts by Year, Month and then day?

If you happen to have a lot of the same activity in the same Year and Month, the day sorts it nicely like so:


If you wanted to get fancy, you can always add an extra note name after the categories like this:

Note: Only works if you don’t care about the dates being out of order, but would like to remember the date anyway.


*BEST OPTION*: If you want the best of both worlds and have it sorted by date AND by extra note category then do this:

Put the category at the end.

Just in case you want to sort by another category, with events that happened all on the same day, it helps.


3. Throw all your unnamed raw originals in each folder and leave them

When I clean out my SD camera card, I just go through the groups of photos and click and drag them into the folders I’ve created.

There, done.

I find this works the best, because then I see exactly what the event is, the date, and all of the images I’ve ever taken for each category in there.

The very best time saver is even if I take 5000000 photos, I don’t need to rename them all.

I’ve just created structured folders and a quick 2 minute procedure to be able to sort and find everything easily.

(Yes, they do have batch naming file converters out there, but I am really someone who likes to keep it simple.)

Wait, what if I want to sort those photos inside as well?

If I do decide to go through a certain folder, like my mom’s Biscotti folder, then I make another folder called:

  • Originals

This is where I store all of the raw untouched images, the last third level of folders.


And in the main area, I keep the photos I’ve decided to select:



I don’t do this for the most part.

Only for trips, and generally only when I want to publish or send them without toggling between the IMG_ names to see which ones were what.


About the Author

I'm a 20-something year old girl who lived out of a single suitcase in 2007, and now I'm living with less, but only with the best. You don't have to get rid of everything to become a minimalist! Minimalism can help simplify and organize your life, career, & physical surroundings. You can read more about me as a minimalist. Or come and visit my other blog Fabulously Broke in the City where I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months, earning $65,000 gross/year.