You’re taking photos with your phone one second and the next second your camera roll is full. We all have this problem, right? You don’t have to be a photographer to love taking photos. We all share a desire to capture our family and personal lives, whether it’s on a phone or a fancy camera.
I spent years only prioritizing the organization of my client’s photos. I had a system in place for storing hundreds of sessions and weddings, and every external hard drive was perfectly labeled.
Then I took a look at my personal photos – quite the opposite. Photos from our wedding day, travels, quick iPhone snaps were all a mess and hard to find. My computer desktop was completely jammed, my camera roll was 100% full, and I had photo prints shoved in random drawers around the house.
After a lot of frustration, I finally created a method to organizing and storing our personal photos, both digital and tangible.
Now I want to share our system with you. These ideas alone will help you create a method that works for you and your family.
Let’s get your family photos organized for the long haul so that you can enjoy your memories year after year.
It all starts by having multiple backups of your digital images. I have gotten far too many sad emails that read, “we just lost all our photos from our session – do you still have them?”
The unfortunate truth is that computers and hard drives are unreliable. Period. There is always a chance of drives crashing, and it’s our job to back up our most important memories if we want to ensure they’ll last.
We have a family hard drive (separate from our client’s photos) that all family photos are stored on. We love using these solid state external drives – they’re reliable and portable. They’re not just for photographers – everyone should have one. By storing your photos on a hard drive, you’re freeing up space on your computer or phone so that they can operate faster.
My family hard drive is organized into folders labeled by the seasons– Winter, Spring, Fall, Summer. You could also organize folders monthly; it just made more sense for me to do it quarterly (that’s the accountant/tax brain coming out in me HA).
Within each folder, there are specific events or weekly folders. This is where it’s best to organize in a way that is most practical for you. I do a weekly dump of photos on my hard drive. Every Friday I copy all the photos I took that week and label it with the date. You could do a monthly dump of images if that sounds more manageable. Bigger events like graduations, parties, etc. have their own folders.
I typically fill up one of these hard drives every year, so I plan to buy one at the start of the new year. You may find it easier to buy a bigger hard drive so that you can store multiple years worth of photos on. If you do that, just create master folders on the hard drive labeled by year, then season, then event.
Label the outside of your drive by the year(s) and store in a fireproof safe or tucked away in a drawer.
In addition to an external hard drive, I would also backup an identical copy of your family hard drive to an online media storage system like Amazon Photos, Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud, Box.com. It never hurts to have multiple copies of your family’s memories in case a hard drive fails you.
Next, let’s talk about ways we can back up our photos in tangible form.
These are the favorites of the favorites. Since Michael and I do not have kids yet, my most cherished photos are of our wedding. I have our wedding photos spread throughout our home – some are a part of gallery walls; others are smaller gift prints in small frames on desks and shelves. You want to get your favorite images of your kids and your wedding printed.
Every year I like to replace prints in frames with updated photos or buy new framed prints. Work with your photographer to order wall art or shop stores like West Elm, or Artifact Uprising for higher quality frames that will hold up better over time. Framed prints are just the start and make up a very small percentage of all our tangible photos.
These are the photos and memories that you have captured professionally. Whether it’s your wedding, a newborn session, or a senior session, I prefer for these milestones to be printed through my professional printing lab so that I know the album will stand the test of time.
You may already order premium art like heirloom albums through your photographer. If not, reach out to see what they offer. I love knowing that photos of our most important life events, like our wedding day, are in a safe and physical place in addition to digitals on a hard drive.
Families with children: I would make a milestone album for their first year, including newborn, 6mo, 9mo, and 1 year sessions. That could also be broken down into an album per session if that is your preference. By doing at least one heirloom milestone album for each child, you know you have their first year preserved.
Every year I make a family yearbook through Artifact Uprising. This annual photo book is a compilation of all our trips, events, and iPhone photos. I organize the book by season (winter, spring, summer, fall), then by event, just like I do my hard drive. I write a summary of what happened and what life was like on the first pages of each season.
Pro tip: Organize your yearbook the same way you organize your hard drive. At the end of the year when you’re putting together your book it will be way easier to locate photos and place images.
The family yearbook is meant to be a coffee table book that we flip through day to day to remember the memories we made together each year. I may include a few photos from each milestone session, but since those are professional photos, I prefer for the bulk of them to be separate.
Families with children: the yearbook would include all of your kiddos photos at whatever ages they are. Making a book for each child every year sounds overwhelming to me. A family yearbook that includes photos for everyone is easy to make and fun for everyone to flip through.
I organize any loose prints into photo boxes by year(s) or major life seasons. Since I don’t have as many loose prints around, it’s not necessary to have folders for seasons or months like I do with my yearbook and hard drive. You could label your boxes with the following: Wedding/Newlywed, our childhood photos, our babies first years, etc. This is where you decide what makes most sense for your family. We have a box for our childhood photos combined, college years combined, wedding/newlywed.
I like to store prints in these boxes from The Container Store. I like that you can label the front by year or season of life. They are big enough to fit up to an 8×10 and look pretty enough to store out and about. The boxes of loose prints are an extension of my annual family yearbook. Whatever didn’t make it into the family yearbook (or more photos of certain events) end up in loose prints.
Things like wedding invitation suites, hospital bracelets, first awards, etc… I would store in a keepsake box. This is completely separate from photo storage, but photos and keepsakes go hand in hand – they are special things we want to cherish forever.
These handmade wooden boxes from Make and Stow are my favorite and can be customized with your child’s name. I love the idea of having a box for each child and one for your wedding as well. They’re so beautiful and should be displayed on a shelf in the nursery or your living room.
All the ideas and methods mentioned above have worked for us over the years and ensures us a peace of mind that our most important memories are safe, organized, and easily accessible. Even if you decide to only use one or two forms of organization we shared, I hope that it helps you get to the heart of why we all love taking photos.
Erin Fox Photo is a husband and wife photography team based in Nashville, Tennessee photographing weddings and engagements. Available for travel in Middle Tennessee and beyond.