Getting Your Photo Files Organized

Hard drives, CDs, DVDs, and slide sheets can all be used to organize and preserve your photos

Everyone, at some point, has to think about getting his or her photo files organized. Some just procrastinate and some just feel overwhelmed by the thought of organizing lots of images and don’t know where to start.

For the folks still using film negatives/slides it may be a question of space as well as organization. For my slide files, I use hanging slide sheets (see photo) placed in a stackable file cabinet unit for hanging files from your friendly local office store. The archival slide sheets and the file hanger are separate items, made by companies like Vue-All, Print File, and Clear File. They are available from photo supply outlets locally or online from B&H Photo in New York and others

To use this filing system, it needs to be kept in the air-conditioned part of your home. No storage in the garage or storage unit, please. Film, slides, prints, and digital storage devices react poorly to heat, humidity, mold, freezing, oils, ozone, UV, ants, mice, roaches…well, you get the idea. Keep your photo files protected in the A/C. Some photographers go to even more extensive measures to protect the longevity of their photos, using separate climate controlled storage away from their business or home.

To get organized, you need to think of how to number or name your files. It needs to be a system that makes sense to you and gives you a way to continue to expand as time passes. For instance, if you have a lot of vacation photos, you could reference them alphabetically by place primarily, then put a date and a sequence number on that particular sheet. (So you can get it back to where it belongs when you’re done with it). If you take mostly people pictures, a system using the person’s name alphabetically as the primary reference point could work. Lots of wreck photos? How about by State or Country, then wreck name, then date of dive/photo and sequence number in the sheet. Like, Cayman Islands – Wreck of the Oro Verde – 98-07-14 (year/mo/day) – #15. So one spot in your file cabinet has a tab that says Cayman Islands (all the photos behind that are from Cayman). The next tab says Oro Verde, (all your Oro Verde photos), Cayman, Oro Verde, and the Date go on the top of the file sheet and the image sequence number goes on the slides along with all the other info. So, if your slide has “Cayman-Oro Verde-980714-15” you ought to be able to get it back to it’s proper resting place after the family or dive club slide show without it getting confused with the other wreck pictures from 2004 or whatever. Yes, it takes a while to get all that done. That, of course, is another argument in favor of being critical when you’re deciding which images to keep. Why go through all that for images that you’re never going to look at again or take out of the file? The totally over-exposed picture of the grouper that has tons of backscatter…toss it! The nice part is that you don’t have to do it all at once. You can get a few rolls of film or slide boxes done at a time as your schedule permits.

A note about images that you really, really like! Make duplicate slides, make digital copies or scan them to CD or DVD disc. In other words, back it up in some way, so you don’t loose it forever.

For the folks who have made or are making the switch to digital images, things are a little easier. All the above ideas and info apply; it’s just a little quicker, easier, and doesn’t take up quite as much space for storage. If you have both film and digital files…organize the digital files first. Your digital files are probably still growing, while your film files may not be getting any larger. Get a handle on the digital stuff, so you can stay on top of it as it grows. The film files will be there when you’re ready. The other reason to do the digital files first; if you change your mind about how you want to organize the files, digital is easier to change after the fact. Remember to back up your digital files too. Back them up on CD, DVD, or an external hard drive. They need to be backed up some place off your primary hard drive, so when your hard drive crashes (painful thought) you won’t loose all your photos. External hard drives have come way down in price and Delkin Devices ( has an archival gold disc that they say will last 300 years. That hopefully will be long enough for anyone’s needs.

The only thing left is to stop procrastinating, sit down, and get started.