Photo of a man taking pictures with his camera

Digital photos are great - they're convenient, virtually free to take, and easy to store. You can edit these photos, share them online, and even order a calendar — all without leaving your seat. Before you know it, you have hundreds, if not thousands, of photos on your computer. If you've been organized, that shouldn't be a problem. If you haven't, well, now would be a good time to start.

There are endless ways of keeping your photos organized, and, of course, there is no right or wrong way. Obviously, some methods are better than others. With over 10,000+ digital photos, I've created a system of over 250+ folders and sub-folders to sort through them all. The first time you sort through your photos will take time, but once you're done, you'll be glad you did it.

How It's Done

I have the following folders in the top-level of my pictures folder: "Anniversaries and Birthdays," "Concert and Shows," "Holidays," "Misc.," "Photos Emailed to Us," "School," "Sports," "Vacation and Trips," and "Weddings." The top-level of your pictures folder should contain as few folders as possible. Here's an explanation of the general folders and tips on how to organize them:

  • Anniversaries and Birthdays - As the name implies, the "Anniversaries and Birthdays" folder contains all photos from birthday parties. The sub-folders should be named after the person or couple who celebrated the occasion. That folder can then be divided by year if necessary.
  • Concerts and Shows - The "Concerts and Shows" folder can contain photos of anything from the latest Foo Fighter's concert to your niece's musical at the YMCA. Each concert and show should have its own name.
  • Holidays - The "Holidays" folder contains one sub-folder for each holiday (which can then be divided by year). The "Christmas" folder, for example, can contain the sub-folders "2005," "2006," etc... If many photos were taken during a holiday, the year folder can divided into sub-folders for the different events or days such as "Christmas Eve" and "Christmas Day." Also, if Christmas Day was spent in more than one place, the "Christmas Day" folder can contain sub-folders for the different events throughout the day, such as, "Opening Presents" and "Mom's House."
  • Miscellaneous - The "Miscellaneous" folder contains all folders that don't fall into any other category. It can be a good place to store scanned photos, photos of your new dog, or your wallpaper collection.
  • Photos Emailed to Us - If your friends and family send you photos, having such a folder is recommended. You can download the photos to this folder, categorizing them by the name of the person who sent the email.
  • School - The "School" folder should be used if you have a child in school, work at a school, etc.. This folder can be divided into names or events. For example, if there is a talent show every year, you may want to create a folder named "Talent Shows". The talent show folder can then be divided by year. If your are a teacher, you may want to create a folder for the grade you teach, and divide that folder academic year. In some cases, the "School" folder can be hard to categorize, so organize it the way you think is best.
  • Sports - The "Sports" folder can be great for storing photos of your son's basketball game, or latest Red Sox game you watched. It can be divided by sport, name of team, school, or player.
  • Vacations and Trips - The best way to organize the "Vacation and Trips" folder is by location. If you go to a place more than once, you can divide its folder by year. That folder can be further divided by city (if you went to more than one city), which can be then divided by event. For example, if you went on a family vacation to Florida, you can have a folder named "Florida" containing sub-folders for each city you visited. If you went to different places within a city, you can have one folder for each place. If you went to Orlando, for example, and you visited Disney and Universal Studios, you might want to have one folder for each. If you took many pictures in Disney, you might even want to divide the "Disney" folder by park or date. The goal is to make your photos to be easy to find.
  • Weddings - The "Weddings" folder is self-explanatory. The best way of organizing this folder is by creating a folder for each wedding using the couple's name as the folder's name. If necessary, you can have separate folders for the different parts of the wedding.

If you haven't caught on already, the whole "system" is made up of a tree structure; it starts out general and becomes more and more specific (until it can't be any more specific). The goal is to make photos as easy to find, so do what you think is best.

Why It Works Best

As I said before, there is no right or wrong way to organize your photos . I've seen many different methods - everything from using dates to simply tagging all your photos - but all have their downsides. For example, dates are easy to forget, and tagging photos relies on software such as Picasa.

Photo organization programs such as Picasa and iPhoto can be great. I use Picasa to view, edit, and share photos. However, all these programs have one downside: you will eventually rely on them to keep your photos organized. The method I described works on any operating system and doesn't require any extra software.

Where to Start

The best way to start, whether you have hundreds or thousands of photos, is from the top-down. In other words, create the general folders first (as you read above), sort through you folders (moving them into the most appropriate general folder), and repeat, getting more and more specific as you go. Hours later (maybe even days!), your photos will be organized. Adding new photos will, at most, involve creating a new folder or two and moving the photos into that folder.


  • Always back-up your photos. Investing in a backup service such as Mozy can be a good idea. You won't have to worry since backups are automatic and your photos are stored off-site. An off-site backup is the best way to avoid losing photos On-site backups can be destroyed in fires, robberies, or natural disasters.
  • Google's Picasa can be great to view, share, print, and edit your photos. If you organize your photos as I described, use the tree view to quickly find your photos, and set the folder list to only scan your pictures folder (make sure it says "Always Scan").