Saturday, May 2, 2009

What is the best way to organize my photos?

Do you find that you're photos are scattered about your hard disk? Having trouble finding your favorite photos? Even if you use a software program to organize them, what happens if the maker of that program goes out of business?

For me, photos are the stuff of memories. Anyone who leads a mobile lifestyle like most of us wants to document those travels with photos. But keeping those photos securely, in an organized fashion, so that they are still accessible and useable in ten, fifteen or even twenty years is a challenge.

I first started photography with my own darkroom under the stairs when I was ten years old, and with digital photography back in 1998. In fact, the photo on the right of our old house in England was taken in 1998 with one of the world's first commercial digital cameras, the HP Photosmart, launched in 1997. It saved its pictures in TIFF format which was not ideal as they were large and didn't have any compression. Over the years I've developed a system of guidelines as follows:

  • Always save your photos in an industry standard format such as .JPG. Some cameras such as Nikon have their own propreitary formats (termed RAW) which give you more control when editing but are larger and may become obsolete. I therefore always store a copy of my favorite photos in .JPG format.
  • Use a well known photo management program like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Lightroom, Apple iPhoto, of Google Picasa to edit, add tags and ratings to your photos. These are stored in photos meta data and can be accessed by most other photo programs and operating systems and make finding and sorting your photos much easier in the future.
  • Keep your photos in one place on your machine. On a windows machine this is usually in 'My Pictures' and on a Mac in 'Pictures'. My suggestion is to create a directory for the year (2009) and then sub-directories for each event (e.g. Daughter's Wedding). That way your photos will always be correctly grouped together making them easy to find and to backup.
  • At the end of each year, review your photos and save copies to a seperate directory called 'Favorites' and within there a sub-directory for the year. That way you have a back up and a quick place to look for a picture of the grand kids to add to an email card within spending hours hunting around your hard disk.
  • Always, always, always backup. The best method is to use an external hard drive such as our Executive Leather 160Gb External Disk Drive ($99). I back mine up regularly to one of these and then hide it in the RV. That way if someone steals my laptop, at least I have my data secure. I then also burn my favorites onto a DVD and mail to a friend, as well as uploading them to a site such as Flickr, Snapfish or FaceBook.