Organizing a lifetime of photos is a huge project, and it is hard to know where to start. Most people, my past self included, dive into an organizing project in a state of overwhelm and anxiety. I can tell you from personal experience this is not the best state of mind for sound decision-making. These feelings of anxiety cause the amygdala, a part of your brain responsible for the fight or flight response, to take over our thinking processes. This leads us to react in an intense and emotional way which can be helpful when you are about to be eaten by a bear. The problem is that when you are in this state, you lose access to your prefrontal lobes, which are responsible for clear thinking. Knowing this, it’s understandable why mistakes are common when embarking on a photo-organizing project. Read on so you can learn how to avoid these common mistakes.
Mistake #1 starting without a plan
When I was studying art in college, I took several classes which required the use of X-acto knives and sometimes saws. Every time a professor introduced a new project that required materials to be measured and cut, they would say the same thing. Measure twice, and cut once. Why? Because if you measure incorrectly the first time and cut a piece of paper or wood too small, you’ve just wasted both time and money. The same is true for starting a big project without a plan. Your time and resources are limited, and without a plan, you are more likely to head off in the wrong direction. Before organizing your photos, take some time to assess your goals, set priorities, and get realistic about how much time you have to dedicate to the project. You’ll often find that you have more things you want to do with your photos than you have time and energy for. It’s best if you start out tackling your top priority. This has the added benefit of giving you a sense of accomplishment earlier in the project, which can be incredibly motivating.
Mistake #2 not having all your photos in one place
If you are like most people, you are organizing your photos because you can’t find what you need. This is because it is incredibly common to have photos scattered across multiple devices and applications. Why? Because you buy a new phone and computer and maybe you transfer all your files from your old device and maybe you don’t. Maybe you ran out of space on your computer and moved some of your photos to an external hard drive. Or maybe you downloaded Google Photos onto your iPhone and said yes to having some photos on your camera roll sync with Google Photos. Do you have photos on Dropbox, iCloud Photos, Flickr, or Amazon Photos? Then there are the photos that friends and family sent you an email or text. As you can see, it’s becoming increasingly impossible to keep track of ALL your photos. Gathering your photos into one place before you begin organizing them gives you a bird’s eye view of what you are working with. It allows you to eliminate duplicates, so you don’t have to organize the same photo two, three, or four times. If you do have duplicates, chances are you’ve already started to organize some of them. Seeing all of your photos in one place allows you to save the version of a photo that is the best quality or has already been sorted in an earlier attempt to get organized. In short, you can’t make a decent plan until you know what you are working with.
Mistake #3 not protecting your photos FIRST
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve heard a lot about the importance of backing up. And the hair-raising perils of not backing up. Backing up is like brushing your teeth. It’s not sexy or fun. My hope is that the more people hear me talk about it, the more likely they are to protect themselves from data loss. When I start an organizing project, the first thing I do is backup my client’s files. This way, if something goes wrong during the organizing process, I know I can recover any missing files or lost clues. I also back up my work as I go. Can you imagine what a bummer it would be to spend 40 hours on an organizing project only to have my hard drive crash?! Ouch.
If you are new to photo organizing, you are more likely to make the following mistakes.
- Deleting the highest quality version of a photo when deleting duplicates.
- Moving a photo from one folder to another without protecting the valuable clues that could tell you when that photo was taken and who is in it.
Hindsight is 20/20 in photo organizing, and having a backup allows you to recover from these newbie mistakes. Think of a backup as an insurance policy.
Mistake #4 not having the right tools
First, you HAVE to organize from a computer. Why? Let me use my Thanksgiving dinner analogy to explain. While you could, in theory, cook Thanksgiving dinner for a party of 20 in a motorhome kitchen, it wouldn’t be an experience you would want to repeat. Same thing if you are trying to feed a restaurant full of people. You don’t want to do that in your home kitchen. You want a kitchen that has the space and equipment to get the job done.
A smartphone or tablet just doesn’t have the power you need to organize your photos, not even the iPad Pro (sorry, Apple). If you have a smaller photo collection, you could organize your photos on an older and slower laptop. If you have an average photo collection, you could organize your photos on a brand-new, moderately fast computer. If you have a large photo collection, you’ll want something much more powerful.
Computer & phone hard drives have gotten smaller, but the amount of photos we take has increased. Most people don’t have enough space to store their files in one place. If you’ve read problem #2, you know the perils of not having all your photos in one place. So how are you supposed to do that if you 0
don’t have enough space on your computer? Cloud storage is an option, but only if you don’t have any duplicates (Side note: EVERYONE has duplicates). You could purchase a large external hard drive, but you have to make sure that the computer, external hard drive, and the cable connecting them are high speed. Not all hard drives are created equal.
Before starting an organization project, make sure you have the right tools for the job. If you are not sure how to find out, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll help you figure it out.