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Get App-y: Organize your photos before they take over your computer

We take thousands of photos these days with smartphones and digital cameras. How can we keep track of them all?
by Lillie-Beth Brinkman Modified: September 16, 2013 at 6:00 pm •  Published: September 16, 2013

1. Start organizing at the beginning, when you first import your photos from the camera to the computer.

Gfeller, who shoots a lot of portraits, said he uses the program Lightroom, a $79 software application from Adobe, to import his photos and file them on his hard drive. He'll organize his photos by date and then file them in a folder identified by the family or event name of his photo shoot that day so he can find it again. He'll rename the files according by letter when he imports them. Lightroom also lets you use keywords to tag them so you find them later, he said.

Adams, who mainly takes news and sports photos, including for The Associated Press, also renames them by event name when he uploads them to his computer.

2. Once they're uploaded, develop a system to view, rate and file them.

Adams uses Photo Mechanic ( to name and rate the images by quality (one to five stars) as he views them; he also uses this program to add captions.

Some people use this step to delete bad images, but Adams keeps all of his.

“That's just me,” he said. He tells people, though, “you have to use a system.”

Gfeller whittles his personal photos down to his favorite 50 or so using the star rating system of Adobe Bridge, another tool for viewing. He'll throw out the ones with eyes closed or out of focus and give higher ratings to the photos he likes. Bridge lets him do this fast. He won't erase his photos off memory cards until he's gone through the process of viewing and backing them up.

3. Back up your photos either online in the cloud or on an external hard drive or both.

Most photographers keep a couple of copies in case one gets lost, destroyed or deleted. External hard drives have now come down in price to less than $100 for at least a terabyte or two of storage.

Sites like also are good for people to upload, view and share their photos; after a recent redesign, Flickr now comes with a terabyte of storage free for any user, making it a good choice for the nonprofessional. There are a lot of smartphone and iPad apps that integrate with Flickr, too.

A similar site that Gfeller likes is, which comes at a cost, but it gives professional photographers a way to display a portfolio. I've also used, which also lets you order prints.

Right now, I'm organizing all my photos in folders by year, then by month and by event if I can. It's helping me find past photos much easier and doesn't look so unwieldy on my desktop.

I have two backup hard drives as well and use one for old photos and another for a current computer backup.

It still isn't easy to manage and I still have some deleting to do to get rid of my duplicates. I am trying to start deleting my bad ones right away, when I first upload them, so I'm not spending so much time trying to rescue a full computer.

If you have anything that works well for you, email me, and I'll post some of the better ideas on my blog at