Simple Ways to Organize Your Family Photos

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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
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
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
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; 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
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
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
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 Or, use 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
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,, or, 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
Shannon Greer


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
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
Peter Ardito

Create with Photos: Make a Case

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

Peter Ardito
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.


Uploads / Minute About 15

Files Accepted tiff, gif, png, jpg

Upload via, 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 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


Uploads / Minute About 15

Files Accepted jpgs

Upload via, 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


Uploads / Minute About 20

Files Accepted jpgs and bmp

Upload via, 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.

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