How To Organize Your Photos, From Backing Up To Tagging : Life Kit Feeling overwhelmed by thousands of photos? Here's how to organize them, from tagging them to backing them up. We've got tips from the experts.
NPR logo

Here's How Tech Experts Recommend Organizing Your Photos

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/944307272/951663670" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Here's How Tech Experts Recommend Organizing Your Photos

Here's How Tech Experts Recommend Organizing Your Photos

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/944307272/951663670" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1, BYLINE: Hey there, LIFE KIT listener. I know we don't have to tell you 2020 has been chaotic. The coronavirus pandemic has turned all our lives upside down. Suddenly, the straightforward parts of life, like going to the grocery store, felt scary and uncertain. Plans for school and work dramatically changed - not to mention the unbelievable amount of loss. And we know it's not over yet. But through every twist and turn of this exceptional time, LIFE KIT has been here to be an ambassador of sanity - from our coverage on coping with anxiety to finding virtual therapy, from confronting microaggressions at home to having tough conversations about race and identity in the workplace, from caring for elders amidst a pandemic while remembering to care for ourselves because everyone needs a little help being human now more than ever.

So if LIFE KIT has helped keep you grounded this year, we have a favor to ask. We want to continue to be your support system in the new year. So please, if you have the means, one way to do that is to donate to your local public radio station. Just go to donate.npr.org/lifekit. Again, that's donate.npr.org/lifekit. And thanks.

ELISE HU, HOST:

How many photos of your dog do you think you have, would you say, or a memorable trip, back when we took trips, or photos of your kids?

KIM KOMANDO: One picture of your child smiling - why not take 12, right?

HU: For the vast majority of us, long gone are the days of cameras which were separate from our phones. And film roles? I wouldn't even know how to load one into a camera anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You know, back then, you only had 24 shots you could take on a roll of film. You don't have those constraints anymore, so we just love to keep clicking the shutter - and capturing as much as we can.

HU: We take hundreds and thousands of photos these days because, well, we can. Storage is trending cheaper and more infinite.

ANA CARVAJAL: Photo overload is real.

HU: But when we have so many digital images and we want to cull them down a bit and get organized, where do we even start? This is NPR's LIFE KIT. I'm Elise Hu. In this episode, we're making our digital photo collections more manageable. From simple routine prevention of photo bloat to a big archiving project, experts will talk us through how to get our memories sorted so we can access them when we need them the most. There is something so powerful about an image to preserve our memories and to connect us across distance and across generations. That's if we can find them.

KOMANDO: Organizing your photos takes a lot of time and commitment, and it's something that you can't procrastinate. You actually have to do it.

HU: That's Kim Komando, consumer tech expert and national talk show host.

KOMANDO: Next year you're just going to have more photos, so just bite the bullet and get it done now.

HU: That's the first takeaway in digital photo organization, which is commit to starting in the first place.

KOMANDO: So you want to take a look at all of your devices - your phone, your camera, your tablet, any memory card you have laying around and your computer, of course.

HU: The next takeaway is whittle down the rubbish, the stuff you don't need. Remove images like receipt photos or screenshots and duplicates. When you see a lot of photos that look the same, Kim says start culling those down.

KOMANDO: So we want to pick maybe not the best five. If you can really do it, you start picking the best two.

HU: Some software programs do this task for you. Pros like a program called PhotoSweep. Kim recommends Photos Duplicate Cleaner on a Mac or Duplicate Cleaner on PCs. The programs group dupes so you can only keep the ones you need.

KOMANDO: Now, if you really don't want to do any of this, of course, you can always get on to fiverr.com and say, I want somebody to organize all my photos.

HU: Glad you brought that up, Kim. There are professional photo organizers out there, like Ana Carvajal. She's certified by an organization called The Photo Managers.

CARVAJAL: I organize, I preserve, and I share.

HU: She handles big jobs, like if you have photos from your grandparent's era to scan and preserve or a big research project involving lots of visuals or an event where you want to display old photos, but you have to get them organized first. She takes everything from prints to negatives to slides and memorabilia.

CARVAJAL: And I put them in chronological order, and then I give them back to you in a way that you can share and preserve them for future generations.

HU: Ana offers tip No. 3; keep a regular photo maintenance routine. You can do it by marking favorite photos on the fly and sitting down to do monthly organization. She loves the simplicity of keeping your favorites folder up to date so you can go to it first for albums, gifts, and cards.

CARVAJAL: You'll start realizing what you really love, what you really want to preserve, and what is really important to you.

HU: OK, and so this is as simple as just marking it with the little heart or something...

CARVAJAL: Yes.

HU: ...If we're talking about an iPhone, right? OK.

CARVAJAL: Exactly, so that's - you know, that is something that anybody can do on the go, on the fly.

HU: And you can do your future self a favor by getting into a regular photo organizing rhythm. Ana recommends sitting down and culling those duplicates or unnecessary selfies at least once a month. I'm not the only one with failed selfies on my phone, right? Right? She cleans up by using a big monitor - or at least on her laptop.

CARVAJAL: A lot of people attempt this on the phone. And on the phone, you don't really have a big screen. You can really see more than one picture at the same time, so it's really difficult.

HU: OK, but if you have a big project or you decide you want to get your entire photo history organized, you should organize those big archives chronologically. If the photos are really old digital prints or film, she organizes by decade, then gets more detailed from decades to years, than years to month, then month to days. Tip No. 4 - do the tedious work of tagging, that is writing to the metadata information that travels with each digital image file so that any computer can more easily search and sort going forward. Ana likes Adobe Lightroom, but the photos app that comes with Mac lets you add keywords, too. Windows, similarly, lets you add tags to your photos. And Google Photos also allows manual tags.

CARVAJAL: It is painfully boring, and it takes a long time, but it is absolutely worth it. So my advice is not to overwhelm yourself with a huge number of text. So for example, my personal library is about a hundred thousand photographs, but I only have about twenty keywords.

HU: So don't get too specific.

CARVAJAL: So my keyword for our travels is vacation. That's it. I don't say Italy, I don't say - I don't know - Colombia. That's not what I do. It's travel because I also know the dates of those travels.

HU: Now, since she's organized by date already, she can go to 2016 then click the travel tag. And all the travels of that year would come up.

CARVAJAL: You know, whatever system you have, whatever works with you, just pick a software that can keyword or tag. But the thing is to actually do it and maintain it. By the end of the year, you should have your photographs tagged for the current year. That means that when Christmas comes along, you can have your calendars made, your personalized gifts really easy.

HU: If taking on a big tagging project and organizing by dates feels like a bridge too far, stick with the basics. Even the techiest, most detail-oriented among us cut themselves a break.

NAVEEN SELVADURAI: I started a service called Foursquare, which is, you know, partly about tracking all the places that you go to so that you can remember and you can say, oh, here are the - my five most favorite places in Paris.

HU: We originally went to tech entrepreneur Naveen Selvadurai for advice because he's so into digitally tracking and organizing his life. But he's the father of a toddler.

SELVADURAI: Oh, my God, I didn't even know if I brush my teeth this morning. There's just no time for anything.

HU: So his family keeps it simple. He relies a lot on machine learning and AI to help him identify the what's, who's, and when's in his photos. Most of our phones have software that recognizes faces and places and common visuals, like a hug, really well these days.

SELVADURAI: Something really wild has happened in the last five years. Machine learning and all this stuff is now so good and getting better every year that you could actually just use search alone to go back and look at some of your photos.

HU: So your fifth takeaway is to lean into machine learning and search functions to fill the gaps in your organization. Naveen gives an example of trying to find a photo of his son's stuffed animal - or a lovey, as you might call it.

SELVADURAI: So I just went to my iPhone into the photos app. I typed in toy. It showed be all the toy photos I've ever taken a photo of and then, boom, there are 10 or 12 photos of the one that I was talking about.

HU: Kim Komando, the consumer tech expert, agrees photo search and AI have taken a lot of the hard work off our hands, except in some cases. So I could essentially tag my oldest daughter, who's named Ava (ph), just Ava, and then it can automatically sort all the photos of Ava - right? - if this is working correctly?

KOMANDO: Yes.

HU: OK.

KOMANDO: If it is working correctly. But whenever I do that with my son, Ian (ph) - is that because we look so much alike...

(LAUGHTER)

HU: No way.

KOMANDO: ...Is that it's like, wait; that's not Ian, that's Kim.

HU: OK, so there is the tricky problem of resemblance, but the AI is good and getting better. No matter how well you're organized, your vast visual memory collection means nothing if it's vanished. So your tip that the experts cannot stress enough - Takeaway No. 6 - is backup, backup, backup, backup. Ana, the professional photo organizer, recommends the 3-2-1 backup standard.

CARVAJAL: Which means you should have three copies on two different media and one off-site. So it sounds kind of complicated, but it's actually really easy.

HU: A cloud service counts as off-site. Kim Komando, the consumer tech expert, recommends Google Photos or Amazon Prime backup, which comes with a Prime membership. Naveen is cool with iCloud. And Ana uses a cloud service called Backblaze.

CARVAJAL: I also have my photographs in my computer and on a hard drive that my computer writes to every night. So if my computer fails, I have, at home, a second failsafe. And then, if worse comes to worst, Backblaze will FedEx me with all my information.

HU: A note on iCloud - Ana reminds us it's a syncing service, not a pure backup service.

CARVAJAL: So whatever you do on one device, transfer to all the other devices. So if you make a mistake in one device and delete photographs and you wait for 30 days and you don't realize, those photographs are gone.

HU: Can't hurt to make sure your backups have backups. Whether it's our mothers, sons, fathers, daughters, friends, dogs, parties or milestones, photos capture them all and bring us together. So the final tip is about what all this organization is for, to share the photos. Ana Carvajal keeps an extensive archive for sure, but she also prints photos into books and other gifts. She has a revolving photo album on an iPad in the kitchen, and she uses photos as part of family nights and gatherings.

CARVAJAL: Sometimes I do Sunday night slideshows, where I pick pictures of the kids that are funny. And, you know, we sit down and we watch 50 funny pictures, and stories come out. And I think that is the most important thing about archiving and sharing our memories, that you - when you share them, there's another side to that photograph that you had no idea about. And those stories come out, and they enrich not only your life, but, you know, the person who's telling them.

HU: In preserving moments, you can bring the past forward. We just have to be mindful of how to manage them all. OK, let's review. First, you may feel overwhelmed by all the photos to sort through and get organized, but you can start small. Takeaway No. 1 is just start, says Kim Komando.

KOMANDO: This is not going to be like an overnight success, OK? It's going to take some time. It's definitely going to take some patience.

HU: Two, whittle down what you don't need.

KOMANDO: So we want to pick maybe not the best five. If you can really do it, you start picking the best two.

HU: Three, maintain a regular photo maintenance rhythm with favorite thing on the fly and monthly photo cleanup sessions.

KOMANDO: My tip, though, is try not to have too much wine while you're doing it...

HU: Right (laughter).

KOMANDO: ...Because you just might be culling and saying too many photos the next day.

HU: (Laughter) for big projects, the fourth takeaway is to organize chronologically by date, then use software to tag your photos in a classification system that's meaningful to you.

CARVAJAL: Just pick a software that can keyword or tag. There's lots of them out there. But the thing is to actually do it and maintain it.

HU: And if manual tagging is too much, your next takeaway is machine learning and image search tools are your friends. Rely on AI to help you identify the same people or scenes, and then simply label.

KOMANDO: So using AI, you can say that these are certain people. So maybe this is mom, dad, your husband, your spouse, your partner.

HU: The most basic tip is tip No. 6 - backup.

SELVADURAI: Let's just make sure they're backed up somewhere, and they're backed up without us having to think about it because if we lose our phone or we break our phone or my laptop breaks, we don't want to think about, did we back up the photos? Where are those photos?

HU: Finally, organization helps you share. And sharing photos is a powerful way to connect us to our pasts and to one another.

CARVAJAL: I've done - for my two daughters that are over 18, I did a zero to 18 photobooks. And they just absolutely love them. You know, I feel like I'm continuing something. I think, like, I'm actually giving back.

HU: A picture says a thousand words. Now we have thousands of pictures saying millions of things. It's best if we can find them. For more LIFE KIT, check out our other episodes. We have one on how to have a good conversation and another one about how to stop stress spending. You can find those at npr.org/lifekit. And if you love LIFE KIT AND want more, subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter. And now a completely random tip - this time from listener Andrea Poras (ph).

ANDREA PORAS: Something that I've recently found to be helpful is you get those dishwashing gloves and you put them on to open up jars. It's very easy.

HU: If you've got a good tip, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, 202-216-9823, or email us a voicemail at lifekit@npr.org. This episode was produced by Audrey Nguyen. Meghan Keane is the managing producer, and Beth Donovan is our senior editor. Special thanks to Kainaz Amaria, O. Malek (ph), Liz Taylor (ph), Channing Johnson, Steve Boyle (ph), Denise Guerra and Beck Harlan. I'm Elise Hu. Thanks for listening.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.