A few of you wrote to me after I posted about my new year's goals to ask how I sort my photos. Apparently just about everyone in the universe has piles and piles of images on their phones and computers, and/or paper envelopes full of prints and negatives in boxes. It took me a while to figure out a system that worked for me, but since it does, I thought I'd share it. *Although I write here about digital files, the same process works for film.
1. Once a month I download all the photos from my phone and cameras onto my computer and into my photo software. I use a program called Adobe Lightroom to organize photos on my computer, but iPhotos or whatever program you currently have is fine if it works for you, and as long as you can rename your files and sort them into folders and subfolders.
2. I download all those files into a folder I call “TO SORT”. Creating this folder has helped enormously because I know exactly where stuff is that I haven’t looked through yet. Here I weed through the images, getting rid of duplicates, etc. If I have 5 photos of the same thing, I’ll pick the best one to keep (two if I can’t decide). Then I delete the ones I’m not keeping. Be ruthless!!!
3. I've created a folder structure organized by year and month, with special trips & events having a folder of their own within that particular year. I found this to be the simplest solution. I thought of trying to group stuff by category: garden photos, flying photos, etc, but I liked having a chronological order instead. I can always tag or label my images to reflect a category if I want to. I put the number of the month in front of the name or they’ll arrange themselves alphabetically and, thus, out of order.
4. Once my “TO SORT” folder of images is culled, I’ll add them to the proper month’s folder (eg, 04-April), and then rename the images once they're in the folder. I name each image with the year, month, and then a sequence number: 201704-01, 201704-02, etc. You should be able to automate this process within your photo software.
5. After I've sorted & renamed files, I make sure to back up my hard drive and then I delete images I don't still want on my phone.
* The secret to making this work is to be diligent about setting aside time to do this. Start NOW with the new system, and then just catch up with the rest slowly. Yes, I am overwhelmed with years of a backlog, but now I just spend 10 minutes every morning going through photos. Eventually they’ll get done. It’s amazing, too, how many photos I'm able to delete after some time has passed because I'm not as emotionally attached. Also, because I’m so sick and tired of the mental energy required to hang on to everything forever, I’ve gotten kind of fired up about getting rid of anything that I don’t truly love.
* At the end of the year, I delete everything off my phone except my few favorites from past years. If you take a ton of photos, try doing this more often :-) I also look through & delete images from my phone when I have a few random minutes, say, waiting at the doctor's office or standing in line somewhere. It beats wasting time on social media.
* For those who have film and actual photographs, this system still works. Just use envelopes with the month/year system.
If you are feeling ambitious, you could get archival sleeves to store your negatives, and even have them scanned so that you can get them into your computer. (If you're local to Columbus, McAlister Photoworks does this, and if you're not getting giant pro-level scans, it's pretty inexpensive.)
I hope this helps! If you have a different system that works for you, please share it... I'd love to know how others tackle this overwhelming task.