After I wrote about my insane nesting spree last month, several readers requested that I give a more detailed account of how I organize and store my digital photos. While I don't consider myself an expert in this arena, I am pretty anal about it and over the years have devised a system that works for me.
Since I take hundreds and hundreds of pictures each month (of my babies, and for this blog, or because I'm bored and holding an iPhone), if I didn't stay sort of on top of it I would be drowning in digital images. For that reason, I upload photos from both cameras and my phone at least once a week, but usually more than that.
They upload directly into my iPhoto library, where I immediately sort them and do a quick run through deleting the blurry/bad/duplicate shots. My sorting process is a mix of actual events (Halloween, Birthday Party, Hawaii trip) and time (Pigtail at 15 months, Lake in July '11). Sort them in a way that you can find something when you need to, but don't over sort. "Hawaii Vacay, Day 4" will just clutter your photo library and isn't necessary.
Immediately going through and deleting the obvious bad shots will also keep you from feeling overwhelmed. I also take a few minutes to fix red eyes and whatnot, but I don't do any serious editing. I'm not ruthless with my delete button, but I don't ponder over each shot, either. Go with your gut and when in doubt, keep it.
The uploading and sorting process may seem overwhelming if you're starting from scratch or way behind, but once you make it a habit, it's very quick. I spend no more than a half hour (and sometimes much less) each time. If you don't take as many pictures as I do, I would just try and do it after every picture-worthy event so you don't get too far behind.
At least once a month I back up my photos to a hard drive and print out hard copies. I back up photos three different ways. This sounds a little obsessive, but of all things I don't want to lose these memories.
First I manually drag and drop to an external hard drive. Since my photos are already sorted in my photo library, this takes just minutes. On my hard drive I already have general folders where most fit, but if I need to create a special folder, I do. Try not to get bogged down in the organizational tree, what matters is that you're backing them up and that they're listed in a way that makes sense to you. My hard drive back up folders are more general than my computer's photo library folders. I use "Family 2010" and "Good Times 2010," etc. I've found that when I'm looking back for something, I'll generally remember the year but don't need to know if it was Spring or Winter or whatever.
I also back up my entire computer using Carbonite. I highly recommend online backup. Carbonite is $50/year and it backs up your computer online constantly. I like this backup-in-the-sky idea because physical hard drives fail or would be lost in a robbery or fire, but online backups would not. Years ago, my husband lost his external hard drives in an office theft, so we're especially sensitive to this.
Lastly, I print all my photos and store them in photo boxes. I print my photos on matte paper with a thin white border (see where and how I print my photos here) and store them in black Milano boxes from The Container Store. (Strangely, after years of using them it appears that The Container Store is no longer carrying the Milano series and possibly that they're no longer making them. Bummer.)
My categories within the photo boxes are also pretty general. "Summer 2010," etc. I don't go through these actual photos much, they're mainly a third way to ensure I have them should the internet ever fail us and in case I need something right away. When I print pictures, I get duplicates of the best ones for the grandparents. This satisfies everyone and are fun to send periodically throughout the year.
I used to make photo books more than once a year, but I happen to be behind on this step since my daughter was born (go figure!). I compare the different photo books sites I've used here, but I'll be honest that as I'm catching up on them right now, iPhoto is just the easiest and most user friendly for me. If you're not using iPhoto, there are tons of other options for user-friendly photo book making.
Whether you're the kind of person who just makes one large photo book documenting the year, or the type of person who makes a photo book for every individual event, they're such a good way to display your memories. And since they're relatively inexpensive, they're also a fantastic and personal gift. After our girls weekend at the lake last year, I made a small, soft cover photo book for all the attendees. It took me less than two hours to put it together, and they loved it. Now everyone has a little keepsake.
In short my digital photo organization tips can be summed up like this:
1. Upload frequently
2. Sort Immediately
3. Backup Often
4. Print In Batches
I feel like I get the most out of my pictures this way. And again, once you start doing it, it's very quick. If you did all the steps every time, it would be less than an hour a week. Similar to any other regular cleaning or organizational task, but in a way more important. Much more satisfying than, say, vacuuming.
If you've got questions or your own tips, share them in the comments!