How To Tackle Your Giant Collection Of Digital Photos Once And For All

Take a deep breath—we're going in.

December 18, 2017
taking a food photo
kizilkayaphotos/getty

The last thing on your mind when you snap a half dozen photos of your avocado toast is that someday this deluge of pictures may cause you some amount of stress. Maybe you don’t get around to sharing it on Instagram. Or to deleting the five shots you don’t want or need. Or maybe you can't even remember which old phone with the cracked screen that particular breakfast is stored on.

With the ability to capture almost any moment at any time, photos aren’t as simple as they once were. Back in the good old days, the cost of film and prints made us a little more selective about which shots we took and framed. And the simple fact that one had to print a photo to view it forced us to take at least one initial step in doing something with pictures, even if they ended up in a shoebox.

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These days, you’d need a pretty large shoebox. Certified photo organizer (yes, they exist!) Caroline Guntur says her clients typically have between 30,000 to 60,000 photos, an average she believes is common for most people in our digital world. So what it is that compels them to seek out a professional? “It’s usually [feeling] overwhelmed,” she says. “Because they don’t know where to start with just so many photos in so many different places.”

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If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. Now let’s get into what you can do to enjoy your photos as much as your avocado toast. But remember—when you’re dealing with this amount of anything, change won’t happen overnight. And that’s perfectly okay!

Designate a home for your files...

The first task you can give yourself is to decide where all your digital photos will be stored. This can include photos from your phones, old and new, on past and present computers, stored on CDs, hard drives, and SD cards. And don’t forget about those pictures in old albums you planned to scan maybe someday. The good news is that there are a number or cloud-based options to pick from, such as Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud, Amazon Photos, Google Photos, and Dropbox. Browse their interfaces, compare prices and storage, and read reviews to see how compatible they are with your devices.

 

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...Then back them up

Figuring out how and where and when to get all your photos in one place may take a beat, but you don’t need to have all the answers to know that you should do this right away. If you break your phone, your laptop gets stolen, or your home floods, knowing that these precious memories aren’t lost forever will be a relief. “That’s always step one of what we teach,” Gunter says. “Back it up, and then we’ll deal with it.” Luckily, most cloud-based storage options make it easy to drop files in from multiple devices. Start loading up your files as soon as you pick the place to house your pictures.

What's more mysterious to a toddler than a camera that uses film? A typewriter, maybe—here's one toddler's explanation of how typewriters work:

Ask this simple question

Now that you know your memories are safe, it’s time to get philosophical. What do you want to get out of your photos? In other words, why do you take them? Of course this answer will vary—you may snap one photo to make a friend laugh over a text message, another to share on Facebook, or a whole set during a vacation you want to remember in detail. Getting into the mindset of knowing the underlying intentions of a photo will help you categorize it (and also reduce stress around knowing what to do with them). Even if you plan on doing nothing with a photo, knowing that will give you a little more peace. Keep it and enjoy!

 

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Get in the habit of deleting

Why is it so difficult to delete photos? Even if you snap ten nearly identical selfies with your bestie, deleting the nine duds is almost physically painful. But culling your library has its perks. Not only will you create more space on your device, you’ll also be able to scroll through pictures faster and enjoy looking at the cream of the crop with less fuss. Now that you’ve put some thought behind the purpose of a photo, it should make deleting the dead weight easier. A good rule of thumb for deleting: blurry shots, photos that you would never consider printing, and the majority of photos taken of a single moment can all go.

Related: 13 Tricks Personal Organizers Use To Keep Their Clutter Under Control

If deleting just doesn’t work for you, try the opt-in option. Instead of deleting, quickly scroll through a group of photos on your phone and like or star your top picks, then go back and delete the ones that didn’t make the cut. Or on a computer, make a folder of keepers that you add files to, then shut your eyes and delete the original folder where the rest remain.

Create a system for your photos

Organizing your photos may be the most paralyzing part of this process. If you’re like most people, this isn’t a task you can complete in a few days. Instead, think of this part as a micro-task you can do when you have a few minutes at a time over the span of a few months. To organize photos, some people prefer to tag, others to create folders. You can group photos by years, people, places, events, or do subsets of a few options. Creating a naming convention for your files can further organize them within your folders. Most computers have shortcuts to batch-edit file names, so no need to go in one-by-one.

Set your pictures free

Carrying a camera everywhere allows you to document pretty much anything. But what’s the use if you never go back and look at your pictures? “Photos were meant to be shared and looked at again,” Guntur says. “When you don’t do anything with them, the connection is lost of why we take them in the first place.”

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Making the most of your photos doesn’t mean you need to go on a printing spree. Avoid letting all your photos collect digital dust on your phone. Instead, share them on social media, archive them in a way that makes it easy to go back and look at them, or stick them in digital photo books. Guntur recommends a product that makes photos so easy to share, she’s bought one for three different family members. Nixplay creates cloud-based digital photo frames that allow you to send new pictures into the frame from anywhere with an internet connection. You can rotate in new photos with a few clicks to the delight your long-distance relatives.