Simple Ways to Organize Your Family Photos

Are you suffering from digital photo overload? Get your photo collection under control with our guide to organizing, printing, and creating fun keepsakes from all those great shots.

  • Kevin Jordan/Getty Images

    Step away from your point-and-shoot and ask yourself this: Are the 200 photos you took on your baby's first birthday sitting in the same desktop folder as shots from the neighborhood block party -- from, ahem, three years ago? Have you broken countless promises to your in-laws to share last year's family vacation pics? Did the most recent photo you printed out come from your college graduation (a picture that's now collecting dust in the attic)?

    If you're being honest, you probably answered yes to at least one of the above and you have a common case of Digital Photo Disorder (DPD). Luckily for you, we found the cure. Follow our simple step-by-step plan and you (and your photos) will be on your way to a full recovery in no time.

  • Lucy Schaeffer

    Start your New System

    Your digital photos aren't going to magically appear in neat, named folders on your computer without a little effort on your part. That said, don't get discouraged -- there's still hope for your precious pics. "Establish a system today and when you have five minutes, go back and organize what you can," says Peter Walsh, organizational expert and author of It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life With Less Stuff.

    After you've taken photos, follow these steps with no exceptions: The entire process takes only a few minutes if you do it regularly, so don't stop until you've completed all three to-dos.

  • Lucy Schaeffer

    Upload All Those Pics

    If you're someone who avoids the oh-so-tedious process of transferring photos from camera to computer, get yourself a wireless memory card -- stat. (We like Eye-Fi's SD card, $50 and up; eye.fi.) This nifty memory card automatically and wirelessly uploads the images on your camera to your home computer and/or favorite photo Website as soon as you enter your home Wi-Fi network.

  • Fancy Photography/ Veer

    Edit Your Shots

    Before you do the fancy stuff, like fix red-eye and crop, you must delete! Send awkward faces, closed eyes, blurry, overexposed (too light) or underexposed (too dark) shots to the trash immediately. Next, tackle duplicates. Decide which smile or pose you like the best when photos are very similar, then delete the rest. "The fewer photos you end up with, the easier it is to sort and store them," says Walsh.

  • Lucy Schaeffer

    Organize Your Photos

    Establish a good filing system by creating a hierarchy of folders in your chosen photo program, like iPhoto or Picasa, or on your computer's desktop. Dedicate a main folder to each calendar year, then group photos in subfolders based on an event or time of year. Be sure to make folder and file names direct and to the point, like Kyle's 3rd Birthday or Missy's Dance Recital. "Go with whatever comes to mind first. Think: people, places, and things," says Erin Manning, professional photographer and author of Portrait and Candid Photography.

    If your software allows, take an extra minute to tag your photos. Assigning a keyword to an image makes searching more convenient. If you want to look up photos from last year's block party you can do so quickly and easily if you tagged those pics "blockparty09."

  • Fancy Photography/Veer

    Share Your Favorites

    There's no reason to clog up inboxes with hefty photo attachments. Instead, join a photo-sharing Website (see next page to find the site that's best for you), so you can easily e-mail a link to specific photos or an album and post images to social-networking sites.

    But before you share, consider your audience. "Your Mom may want to look at 100 photos of your baby," says Manning, "but a group of friends may crave something more entertaining." Transform a group of images into a 30-second montage set to music on animoto.com. Or, use smilebox.com to send someone a free e-card of your photo, suggests Manning.

    The bottom line? "Stick to what you are comfortable with," advises Amit Gupta, author of Photojojo!: Insanely Great Photo Projects and DIY Ideas. "Don't worry about finding the perfect tool or changing each month to the new cool one you hear about."

  • Fancy Photography/Veer

    Preserve Those Memories

    Backing up photos is often the last thing you think about, says Gupta. If you do nothing else, follow these easy steps now to ensure that they are safe.

    First, streamline. Take the time to go through the prints from your childhood and have your favorites converted to digital files so you'll always have them, sans the yellow tinge of time or (gulp) water damage. Two popular services are ScanDigital and ScanCafe, both of which require you to send in your negatives, prints, or slides. They'll send back your digital files on a DVD along with your originals. Prices range from 29 to 88 cents per photo.

    Once everything's in one format, be steadfast in backing up your digital files, no matter the means. If you store your images on an external hard drive, DVD, or a storage Website, remember it's only effective if your images make their way onto the device. Get into the habit of backing up your photos immediately by considering it the final step of your uploading process.

    If you're forgetful (or just too busy!), try investing in an external hard drive that automatically backs up your images, and all of your computer's files, once it's plugged into your computer's USB port. (We like Clickfree. $100 for 160GB.)

    Gupta advocates using an online service, like mozy.com, carbonite.com, or backblaze.com, that continuously runs software that backs up your computer's contents. These plans cost about $5 a month or $55 for the year for unlimited storage.

    To play it safe, double up. "You need to back up your photos in two ways and keep them in two different locations," advises Manning. "You never know what could happen." And, let's face it, the cost of peace of mind: priceless.

  • Shannon Greer

    Enjoy

    Give your pictures a life off the computer. "It's easy to laugh at your mother's box of 35mm photos in the closet, but that's what many people's computers are -- just a metal box full of photos like Mom's," says Walsh. Start by printing and framing any special images. You can do it yourself on your home printer using quality photo paper, or order prints for as little as 9 cents each from an online service.

    You can also design a digital photo book to commemorate special events. Photo book-creation sites allow you to put as little or as much effort and creativity into the process as you like -- offering numerous design choices for those who want a hands-on experience or prepackaged options if you're short on time or have a large number of images to include in a single project.

  • Peter Ardito

    Create with Photos: Play with Pics

    Cabinets full of photo mugs? Bring out the best in your photos with a unique, new creation.

    Personalize family game night with a puzzle made from your favorite image.

  • Peter Ardito

    Create with Photos: Make a Case

    Make a custom cover for your laptop, MP3 player or smart phone.

  • Peter Ardito

    Create with Photos: Sip in Style

    Decorate your reusable water bottle with something worth staring at.

  • Ready to Print? Sizing Up the Sites

    Tired of bouncing from one photo-sharing Website to another? We tested the most popular picks to help you choose a site you can stick with.

    Flickr

    Uploads / Minute About 15

    Files Accepted tiff, gif, png, jpg

    Upload via Flickr.com, the free app, or e-mail

    Storage Space & Requirements
    35 MB per month or 100 MB total
    Unlimited storage for $2 per month

    Access to High-Res Free Web-viewing versions available

    Prints, Photo Books, and Quality of Products All photo products are processed and fulfilled through Snapfish

    Ways to Share E-mail or post URL or embedded HTML code anywhere

    Special Features Create a public or private Group to share on the site itself

    Best for Parents Who
    Want to upload different file types
    Are willing to pay for additional storage
    Want a community experience
    Share images on social-networking sites

  • Ready to Print? Sizing up Kodak Gallery

    Kodak Gallery

    Uploads / Minute About 30

    Files Accepted jpgs under 25 MB

    Upload via Kodakgallery.com or the free app

    Storage Space & Requirements
    2GB per 12 months when you spend $5
    Unlimited storage per 12 months when you spend $20 or more

    Access to High-Res Free high-res version available

    Prints 4x6 prints cost 15 cents each, can pick up at CVS or Target stores

    Photo Books
    $30 for 9x10 1/4 photo book with fabric cover and picture window
    Limited design process, must stick to a single theme for background designs

    Quality of Products Good, lacks saturation and contrast

    Ways to Share E-mail or upload to Facebook

    Special Features Share History keeps track of what you've sent to whom, and when

    Best for Parents Who
    Want the quickest upload time
    Order prints or products once a year
    Want free access to high-res images
    Don't want to spend a lot of time designing photo products
    Like to keep track of online sharing history

  • Ready to Print? Sizing up Shutterfly

    Shutterfly

    Uploads / Minute About 15

    Files Accepted jpgs

    Upload via Shutterfly.com, the free app, or mail-in CD

    Storage Space & Requirements Free, unlimited storage (no purchase necessary)

    Access to High-Res Free "print-quality" version available

    Prints 4x6 prints cost 15 cents each, can pick up at Target stores

    Photo Books
    $30 for 8x11 photo book with fabric cover and picture window
    Best design process, most background and layout options, plus helpful Storyboard tool

    Quality of Products Great, best balance of saturation and contrast

    Ways to Share E-mail, post URL, or upload to Facebook, Blogger, or Twitter

    Special Features Create a public or private Share site, similar to a blog

    Best for Parents Who
    Don't mind waiting for images to upload
    Want free, unlimited online storage
    Want the best-quality prints and products
    Enjoy creative control and endless design options
    Share images on social-networking sites

  • Ready to Print? Sizing up Snapfish

    Snapfish

    Uploads / Minute About 20

    Files Accepted jpgs and bmp

    Upload via Snapfish.com, the free app, or e-mail

    Storage Space & Requirements Free unlimited storage when you place an order once every 365 days

    Access to High-Res Costs 25 cents for high-res version

    Prints 4x6 prints cost 9 cents each, can pick up at Walmart or Walgreens

    Photo Books
    $20 for 8x11 photo book with fabric cover and picture window
    Good design process, more than 50 layout and background options

    Quality of Products: Good, high amount of saturation and contrast

    Ways to Share E-mail, post URL, or upload to Facebook, Blogger, or Typepad

    Special Features Create a Group Room to share with invited family and friends

    Best for Parents Who
    Need to upload images fairly quickly
    Order prints or products once a year
    Want the cheapest prices for good-quality prints and products
    Crave interesting design options
    Share images on social-networking sites

    Originally published in the May 2010 issue of Parents magazine.