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How to Organize Digital Photos

Although I wouldn’t consider myself a photographer by any means, I do take great enjoyment in documenting my life through the lens of a camera. From a young age, I crowned myself the official photo-documenter among my group of friends. Apparently I possessed a talent for capturing people at their least attractive moments [or so they complained lovingly informed me]. Naturally, with the massive pile of photos–literally, and then eventually, digitally–I soon learned the hard way the importance of backing up my photos. Yes, I’m talking about everyone’s worst fear: losing years of pictures due to sudden, violent computer deaths. Huge chunks of my life are now forever lost in the virtual unknown! After two such incidents [yes two, because I clearly didn’t learn the first time], I finally learned this agonizing lesson. I have since developed a system for organizing and backing up photos to protect against unforeseen technical failures:

Transfer all photos from the camera & phone to the computer at least once a month. This keeps the pile much more manageable by having a set time to work on organizing my photos. I import everything into Lightroom for post-processing, and sort through them by only editing and exporting the ones I want to keep. I try to think of how much value a photo might have in the future. After all, I’m probably not going to care about that one flower bush in a few years, no matter how pretty it might have been at the time. I also try to only keep my favorite of a bunch of similar photos. After importing, I erase them from the camera. This helps me keep track of which step of the process I’m on.

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Organize by year, month, and date. Once I am ready to export the photos, I create new folders on my computer. Each event has its own folder within the month folder; the month also gets its own folder within the year’s folder: e.g. “25 Christmas with Chu Family” goes under “December,” which goes under “2016.” At the end of the year, I delete all originals from Lightroom that haven’t been exported. Scary, yes..but I also haven’t regretted such deletions, or even remembered those deleted photos.

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Back up files!! Once photos have been exported onto the computer, I copy the files onto a USB stick. At the end of the year, I then copy them onto a DVD, which are labeled with the year[s] and stored in a box. I’m also starting to upload photos to online storage as an extra precaution. Did I mention I was paranoid..?

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Print physical photos. I actually don’t print individual photos to place into albums anymore, although this is a nice, simple option for a lot of people. Instead, I create annual photo books with Mixbook, which I order and print at the beginning of the following year. I tend to work on the spreads each month as well, so that I’m not left with an entire year’s worth of photos to organize at the end of the year.

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Thanks to this system, I feel much more at ease about my photos, and not as afraid that I’ll lose them forever to the [evil] Virtual Black Hole. It’s also much more helpful to keep everything in one place so that they’re easy to grab and run, should unexpected emergencies arise.

The thing about photos is, they’re not just images on a screen. They symbolize something unique to my life–special moments that I wanted to capture and keep forever. A certain picture may bring to mind a funny instance in the past that draws people together who also shared in that moment. It may stir forgotten emotions that take me back to a specific time and place, evoking feelings of nostalgia. Photos represent the history of me, the stories I have lived through, and in remembering where I have been before, they give me inspiration and strength for tomorrow.

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