For most people, gone are the days of printing out photos and organizing pictures in photo albums. Now, it’s easier than ever to snap and store digital photos. Even as digital camera sales crater, the number of photos taken continues to soar, as Business Insider reports. In fact, over 1.4 trillion photos are projected to be snapped in 2020, according to photo organization software company Mylio, in conjunction with Keypoint Intelligence.
But being click happy means that everyone from grandparents racking up smartphone photos of grandchildren to wildlife photographers snapping breathtaking scenery shots can struggle with how to store photos and how to organize digital photos. As Mylio finds, the number of stored photos is projected to grow from 7.4 trillion in 2020 to 9.3 trillion in 2022. Without a system in place to manage all these photos and safely store them, you can end up losing important pictures or struggle to find them in a timely manner.
In this guide, we’ll explore the best ways to store and organize digital photos so that you can make this process more structured and manageable. Not everyone will prefer the same organizational methods, but as long as you find a system that works for your style, you can more easily enjoy all the great photos you’ve taken.
What’s the Best Photo Storage Device for Me?
The best photo storage device depends on factors such as price, simplicity, security and personal comfort. What works well a tech-savvy person, for instance, may not be the best digital photo storage device for someone that just wants to know where to save photos so they can easily find them.
The three main categories of digital photo storage devices include:
- External Hard Drives
If you want to store huge quantities of photos, especially ones with large file sizes, such as photos taken from a professional camera, then an external hard drive could be a good option. These devices typically need to be plugged into an outlet, as well as connected to your computer, so they’re not the most travel-friendly option. Yet they tend to run faster and have more storage than more portable devices.
Like your existing hard drive on your computer, an external hard drive lets you store and organize photos within folders of your choosing. The costs vary widely based on the storage size and specifications of the device, but generally for somewhere in the ballpark of $100 you can get a few terabytes of storage.
- Portable Storage Devices
For people looking to store only a limited number of photos or ones that have small file sizes, a portable storage device like a thumb drive (also known as a USB flash drive) could be a good option. Or if you want to conveniently carry certain photos with you to share or transfer, without needing to rely on an internet connection for cloud storage, a portable storage device could work.
These devices connect simply via your USB port on your computer or on other devices like some TVs for easy viewing. However, they typically store less than external hard drives or cloud storage options and might not have as strong technical specifications. But the price reflects these limitations. You can get thumb drives that hold several gigabytes for just a few dollars. In fact, you can often get them for free, as they make a great promotional giveaway, similar to how companies give out t-shirts and pens with their names on them.
Keep in mind, however, that you should only use drives from people you trust, as they could be loaded with malware. Also, if you lose your device and it’s not password-protected, someone could easily gain access to your photos.
- Cloud Storage
Cloud storage can naturally be one of the best places to store digital photos, as you can often easily move the photos from your smartphone to the cloud, sometimes automatically. Cloud storage offers more flexibility than other digital photo storage devices, because you can scale your amount of storage space up or down over time, rather than being limited to the storage size of the physical device you purchase.
Some cloud storage providers also let you save your photos for free, up to a certain amount, so if you fall below that threshold, cloud storage could be a good option. Yet if you have hundreds of gigabytes or terabytes of storage, the cloud can add up, as you can face monthly charges, rather than the one-time cost of a physical storage device.
Plus, the flexibility of the cloud can be both a pro and con compared with physical storage devices. With the cloud, you don’t have to carry a hard drive with you to access your photos from other devices, but if you’re trying to sign in to a cloud service in an area without a strong internet connection, you might not be able to access your photos. Also, you may give up some control with cloud storage. If you’re concerned with your privacy, you might not want another company to have access to your photos and would prefer to instead keep those in your possession on a physical device you own.
When considering the best photo storage device, keep in mind that some level of redundancy is wise. Storing photos on multiple devices or in multiple formats can help you keep them intact over long periods of time. For example, instead of just keeping photos on your iPhone, automatically backing them up to a cloud service like iCloud means you can more likely recover deleted photos.
Or if you have photos duplicated on both the cloud and an external hard drive, for example, you have a backup if either your cloud services provider has an outage or if your hard drive stops working. If you want to only use one type of storage device, you could back up all your original files to an external hard drive and keep versions with reduced file sizes on portable storage devices.
How to Organize Digital Photos
Figuring out the best way to store digital photos long term is only half the battle. You also need to figure out how to organize digital photos so you can find the ones you want in a reasonable amount of time. The best ways to organize photos include:
Get all your photos in one place: Instead of having a few photos on your phone, some on a thumb drive, and others in the cloud, make sure you have all your photos in one place (with redundancy if you want to reduce your risk of losing photos).
If you have your full photo library on an external hard drive, for example, you can then more easily organize your photos within folders, such as by year or location, to then find what you’re looking for later on. To get all your photos in one place, you may need to make some file transfers, such as by saving photos from one computer to a portable hard drive and transferring them to your main computer. From there, you can then back up all your photos to digital photo storage devices.
Consider photo organization software: Using photo organization software such as Adobe Bridge, Google Photos or Mylio can be a great way to get a handle on large quantities of pictures. These tools are often free or at least have a free tier of service. You can use photo organization software to quickly sort, edit, rename, tag and take other similar actions to make sense of all your photos. That way, when you open these tools, you can easily search for the photos you want.
Delete “bad” photos: The ease of taking photos on your smartphone likely means you’ve held onto “bad” photos unnecessarily. These can include ones where someone’s eyes are closed, someone’s moving, your thumb is covering half the screen, or even duplicate shots, such as when you fire off 20 snaps in a row of basically the exact same scene. Delete the ones you don’t need to make sorting through your photos easier.
Rename your photos: Whether you use photo organization software or simply upload all your files to a digital photo storage device, you likely want to rename your photos. Instead of going with the default, like “IMG_085”, rename them to something you can easily search for and identify, like “2018 Hawaii vacation_1” or “Family portrait_11_09_19.”
Tag/label your photos: Similar to renaming your photos, you can tag or label them in a way that helps with search and organization. The specifics of doing so depend on where you store your photos, but generally when you right-click a file or open up a photo for editing you can add more detail.
Since you can’t fit every attribute into the file name, you can include keywords like the names of the people in each photo or the location where they were taken. That way, if you want to find all the pictures of your Aunt Jackie, for instance, you can simply tag her photos accordingly and a search will pull them up.
Maintaining Your Photo Library
Once you’ve figured out the best way to organize photos, you want to make sure you maintain your photo library in a way that keeps it highly functional. For example, if you organize your photos on your computer’s main hard drive (in addition to backing them up to an external hard drive), you want to keep your hard drive in good working order. Otherwise, your computer can start to slow down, and it can be frustrating to find and load photos. As such, you can take steps such as periodically defragging your hard drive, which reorganizes the data behind your files in a way that can ultimately make going through your photos much faster.
In addition, you want to maintain enough free space on your hard drive to keep your computer running smoothly. In general, aim for at least 15% free space, as How-to Geek recommends.
How Can I Retrieve Deleted Photos?
Figuring out how to store photos and how to organize digital photos can help you preserve precious memories. Yet after doing all the hard work to get your photos in order, you wouldn’t want to lose your pictures. For example, if you accidentally delete photos from your computer and can’t find them on a backup, all hope isn’t lost. You can often still recover deleted photos using data recovery software. It’s even possible to recover deleted photos from compact flash cards that you may have used with a digital camera.
In other cases, such as with a damaged external hard drive, you can also recover photos by sending your device to a professional technician who can try to extract and repair your files. Or you can try to use data recovery software on your own to recover and transfer your files onto a cloned hard drive.
Enjoy Digital Photo Peace of Mind
By implementing these measures regarding how to store photos and how to organize digital photos, you can more easily find the pictures you want. Instead of wasting time scrolling through endless digital albums, you can quickly search for what you need. And by storing your photos in a convenient location, ideally with redundancy and security measures in place, you can worry less about losing important photos.