How to Organize Your Digital Photos: A Beginner’s Guide

“It’s the worst feeling because…these are memories that you captured…and they evoke so many memories…These things are priceless and now…they’re gone.” ~Charles Forman

Picture this. You have 20-years-worth of photos stored exclusively on a site. One day, you log in and you don’t see any of your 93,000 photos. Those photos from birthday parties, weddings, your travels, selfies? Gone. Would you be sad, helpless, or angry? Or all of the above?

This scenario really happened to someone – Charles Forman – and the problem wasn’t that he used Picturelife, a photo organizing and backup service. The problem was that he used Picturelife exclusively. When you use a service exclusively, if that service goes offline or shuts down, the only copy of your photos is gone.

“Well I don’t use Picturelife,” you may say. But what about the photos on your iPhone? Is that the only place they're stored? If so, you’re one step away (via a dead phone, or a phone that is lost or stolen) from losing all your photos too.

This story I shared has a somewhat happy ending. Listen to this podcast and read this for the full story.

If you're like me, you take a lot of photos. And have photos saved all over the place (not just your smartphone). When looking for a particular photo, if you find yourself searching multiple places to find it, or in general have a hard time finding your photos, it’s time to untangle your digital photo life.

Untangling your digital life means you are in control of your photos, and they are in one place, organized, and easy to find. The key factor being you, not some cloud service, having ownership of your photos.

Organizing and being able to find your photos can’t happen until your photos are all in one place, so let’s tackle that first.

Centralize Your Photos

Every photo you own should be in your possession, including those you post online. When I centralized the storage of my photos, I searched five places: my smartphone, computer, Facebook, Instagram, and digital camera.

When I found photos, I downloaded them to a temporary location on my computer, a “Triage” folder:


To get started with centralizing your photos, I always recommend starting with the photos on your smartphone. Smartphones are typically one of the bigger sources of photos for most people, and also one of their biggest frustrations with their phones:

Have you seen one of these notifications lately?

Seen one of these notifications on your iPhone lately?

The three videos below demonstrate how to download photos from your iPhone and/or Android device to your computer (Mac and Windows PC).

How to Transfer Photos from an iPhone to a Mac



How to Transfer Photos from an iPhone to a Windows PC

How to Transfer Photos from an Android Device to a Windows PC or Mac


After you’ve downloaded the photos from your smartphone, move on to another source – your digital camera, Facebook, Instagram, computer – until you're confident you’ve triaged all your photos to your computer.

But you’re not done after centralizing your photos! Let’s look at everything involved in untangling your digital photo life.

The Untangling: A 3-Step Process

The process to untangle your digital life involves three steps:

  • Centralize. Covered above, but you download every photo you own to your computer. All your photos. All in one place.
  • Protect. If something happens to the computer where your photos are stored, there’s no need to panic when you have backups. One thing I’ve learned from professional photographers is to have a backup of your photos, and a backup of your backup. You should have THREE copies of your photos, on TWO different media, with ONE stored offsite (I meet these requirements by having my photos on my MacBook, on Google Photos, and on an external hard drive).
  • Organize. The way you organize your photos should reflect how you’ll search for them later. When you label a photo based on specific details about it – who is in it, where was it was taken, what is happening – finding it later is easy.

Your Digital Life After It's Untangled

Later, when looking for a specific photo, you can search using the label applicable to what you’re seeking (e.g., all photos from my skydiving trip are labeled “skydiving”). Searching using labels is more efficient than manually sifting through your entire collection.

So how do you get these labels on your photos? You can do-it-yourself (DIY) or use a tech tool that will do-it-for-you (DIFY):

  • In the DIY approach, you pick the exact labels for each photo (100% personalized).
  • In the DIFY approach, a tool, like Google Photos, scans and groups your photos based on the same person, place, or thing being in them. For instance, Google Photos will create an album that contains every photo that has a cat in it, and another album that contains all photos taken in Paris.

With one, you have complete control over how your photos are organized (DIY); with the other, you give organizing control to your chosen tech tool (DIFY).

For Additional Help

I created a step-by-step guide that will walk you through all three phases – centralize, organize, protect – and help you untangle your digital photo life. The guide will help you:

  • Pick the right tools to use to organize your photos.
  • Organize your photos in a manner that makes it easy to retrieve photos in the future.
  • Take the guesswork out of how to setup and automate doing backups of your photos.

If you’re afraid because tech is involved, have no fear! The course includes step-by-step videos and/or photo instructions of all technical steps.

Click here to learn more.