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How I organize my digital photos for multiple photo streams

Remember when organizing your digital photos was easy? You had one camera that you connected to one computer and no one else really wanted to look at them. These days, it's not uncommon to have photo streams coming in from your phone, your camera, your significant other's phone, their camera, your family's pictures, and Facebook or other social media. Then you have the organizing aspect of all those photos, to include backing up across multiple computers and in the cloud, which lends itself to the ultimate reason we take pictures: sharing. 

So, what's my system? I'm coming around to Picasa, having previously used Windows Live Gallery until I upgraded to Windows 8.1. To ensure proper cross-platform backups within my Photos directory, I have several folders with a consistent naming system on Kacey and my computers, as well as an external hard drive.  

  1. Download into distinct sub-folders, because two photos might be called IMG_1234 on different cameras. I prefer setting my cameras to use filenames that have the yearmonthday format, but you can't really change that on photos you get from other people. Ideally, the camera will allow you to download into "Year>Month" folders, but not always. It's not worth it to me to sort files here by date (I sort & filter later in the process).
    • Folder "0) Download Files Here"
      • a) My Camera. Filed by "Year>Month" because Canon has that setting, but I also auto-backed up to Google + as soon as it hits my computer. Older models might group picture downloads by month only (I have one camera that just created a month "145" folder), but it's basically the same.
      • b) My Phone. Filed in folders by date blocks, from the last date I downloaded to the current download date, ie, "20130106-20130608". Also automatically backs up on Google+)
      • c) Kacey's Camera. Also done in date blocks, but I suppose I should switch to Year>Month.
      • d) Kacey's Phone. Also done in date blocks (because I only get access every so often), and her phone also automatically backs up on her Google+ account.
      • e) Other Camera Sources. family member's photos (usually through Dropbox), by folder found in original source, i.e. "Cousin's Wedding"
      • f) Other Social Media. Facebook downloads & other social media sources (Tumblr, Instagram, etc). These photos usually have ridiculously long file names, so they are unlikely to accidentally overwrite each other.
      • g) Pictures from the scanner. As soon as the scanner saves then to this folder, they upload to Google+.
  2. Process (tag, orient, change dates)
    • Viewing the master download folder in Picasa, sorted by date usually merges all the various photo streams by date taken, unless I downloaded them from Facebook. In this case, those pictures fall out to the bottom and I change the download date to match the actual date the photo was taken.
    • I use tags to group by geography (Country, and city if warranted) along with any holiday events like Christmas, Halloween, Easter, etc. This helps differentiate those Christmas photos taken in Virginia from the ones in Florida.
    • I use the people tags in Picasa for the main family members, with fake emails for some of the folks that don't have them (like the kids). Because we also use Shutterfly to make birthday books, I try to filter on the kids each year with tags like "Kid 1 - Age 5".
    • So, it's not entirely impossible for a picture to have the following tags: "Florida, Christmas, Me, Kacey, Kid 1, Kid 1- Age 5"
  3. Organize (file and distribute)
    • Once the pictures are tagged, I sort by tags and move them to what's effectively an archive folder structured by Geography then by Date/Event. I went with geography over date because many of the photos have the date built into the filename. But just having a folder named "2014" or "March" means nothing when I'm trying to find a photo from a certain place. Obviously, you end up with a lot of random photos in the place you live, so I created seasonal folders as well. Because winter straddles the New Year, I chose to break the seasons down into Winter (Jan-Feb), Spring (Mar-May), Summer (Jun-Aug), Fall (Sep-Nov), and Christmas (Dec).
    • In general, the folders are named "YEAR City - Event / Season"
    • Folder "1) Places, Events, and People"
    • Particular to Picasa, I got away from the habit of simply listing the year within a folder, since I might end up with 5 folders named only "2014" which tells me nothing about what's in the folder. And more importantly, I don't want to accidentally overwrite one folder with another. Unique folder names prevent accidental over-writing.
    • Also, when I have recurring events that span a season or two, I just create a thematic folder, like 2014 Kids in the Pool (not a real folder, just a good example).
    • I've got Picasa set up to auto-backup to the cloud any time new pictures move into the top level "photos folder", which usually occurs after I move the photos into the download folder. A fun feature I discovered is that when my scanner drops a picture into the folder, it backs up to Google+ as well. Note: this does not necessarily mean all the EXIF info in the file (like tags) will be automatically updated in a timely manner if you move them, but at least you have the image stored. If you want to ensure this happens, coordinate your archive directory with G+ not your download directory...but then you risk not backing the image up unless you move it.
    • Lastly, I'm still working out how to propagate the backed-up photos to a second computer drive, so that Kacey has access to all the photos without having to ask me where to find them. I think it's just an issue with sharing the folder with what I'd call on Google+ "My Inner Photo Circle" rather than "public" or "all circles."
    • Ok, I was wrong, that last point wasn't the last. All of this is for backing up your entire photo catalog, but maybe you don't want the world to see those pics of yourself looking less than stellar before you first three cups of coffee. Picasa has the capability to group pictures from various folders into what is called an "album" (as opposed to a folder) without actually moving the files somewhere else. Think of an album as consisting of a whole bunch of thumbnail shortcuts back to the source file. You can also publish these curated albums for mass-consumption. So I might keep the dozen or so folder-based back-up photo albums from Germany shared privately with my Inner Circle, but publicly share an album called "Germany - Selected Photos."
So that's it. Not really simple, but it's fairly easy to find the photo I'm looking for, share the photos I want to, and ensure nothing gets lost in transition.

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