Organise your photos

18 08 2007

I had a friend recently ask some advice on how to sort out the thousands of photos that we take these days with the advent of digital cameras. I thought it would make a useful blog post so here’s (roughly!) what I said to him…

[BTW, a huge congrats to Tim & Karen on gettin’ hitched!!!]

Photos can be difficult to organise, I’m still trying to sort out 1000’s of photos spread over around six hard drives. But here’s what I’m heading toward, and what I recommend:

Use a photo management tool (running locally) to sort through all of your photos. This will be the primary means of bringing order to the chaos. I physically put all my photos in folders sorted by year/event. Something like “2007/ColletteLukeWedding”. Then I tag them with more information in my photo management tool – so all of those photos would have “Collette”, “Luke”, “Wedding” tagged on them as well as further tags like “Tom”, “Dick” etc if those people appeared in specific shots. That way it’s easy to find the photos later.


On Windows I’d use Picasa. I’m on the Mac and use iPhoto. There are other alternatives (eg some people swear by Photoshop’s browser) but these are pretty solid products and very popular.

[BTW Picasa calls ‘tags’ ‘keywords’. If you haven’t used any form of tagging before, fire up Picasa, hit Ctrl+K and add a tag to a picture. Then try searching for it; it’s blazingly fast.]

As well as using a local application I often want to put many of my photos online. I use Flickr and wholeheartedly recommend it. You can easily upload photos from within Picasa to Flickr with many tools (I used to use Picasa2Flickr, now I use Flickr Uploadr) and most preserve the tags so you can search easily in Flickr as well. For example, here are all of my photos with the “wedding” tag. And here are all photos from all users tagged with “wedding”.

See how useful tagging can be? 🙂

Although Flickr has a free service I pony up US$25 per year to get unlimited photo storage. I consider it worthwhile.

Picasa also has an online service, called “Picasa Web Albums” that is the other obvious Flickr competitor. It’s more tightly integrated with Picasa (even easier to upload) but it’s perhaps not as powerful. The Flickr folks have been very good about allowing developers to connect to their service too which means that there are dozens of tools to help you use Flickr – few tools exist in the PWA space.

There are also many Flickr/PWA competitors (Zooomr, Smugmug, Photobucket, Snapfish, Shutterfly, Phanfare just to name a few) and although they all have their pros/cons I always found Flickr to be the pick of the bunch.


OK, so you’re cruising, running Picasa locally and using Flickr online. What else do you need to worry about? Backups. Don’t forget to backup! My photos are one of the most precious things I have. I’ve settled on using an online service to backup my photos. I’m using Amazon S3 in conjunction with JungleDisk which, in simple terms, provides me with a drive that gets mounted in my operating system and I simply copy files to it. Those files are encrypted and copied to Amazon’s servers somewhere on the internet. I can access them from any PC with a net connection. I debated using local hard drives, DVD’s or whatnot to backup my files and I’ve been really happy with S3/JungleDisk although I’ve really got to automate it (so I don’t have to manually copy files).

It’s not a free option though. JungleDisk costs US$20 and Amazon charge you for the amount of space you use and how much you transfer back and forth. My typical monthly bill from Amazon is US$1-2 though so it’s not a huge cost!

So there you have it; the basics of how to manage photos in a digital world…




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