Organizing Our Family Photos

Previously, I have shared how I backup our family photos to keep them safe. That is the first step in managing our photos. The second step is organizing them in such a way that they can be enjoyed and shared.

Have you ever run across an old photo and wondered who it is a picture of? Maybe you turned the photo over hoping to see some writing that would help you, but there is none. Or found a baby photo in an album, and wondered if it was your husband or his brother, because they looked very similar when they were babies?

Those are the types of situations I am hoping to avoid for our family and future generations. Here is how I do it.

For many years I have used Lightroom to organize our photos. It is by Adobe, so I am pretty confident the software will be around long term, but even if Lightoom disappeared tomorrow, my organization would still be in place. Let me explain why that is important.

Years ago,  I organized my digital scrapbooking supplies with a different software program. All my supplies were in one major folder on my computer, but I used the software’s tagging system to label papers, ribbons, stickers, frames, etc. I spent many hours doing that. Wasted time.  The next time the software upgraded, there was a glitch and I lost ALL THOSE TAGS.

It was a hard lesson to learn, but an important one. From that point on, I used folders on my computer instead of proprietary software to organize my supplies.

Now, back to our photos and how this applies. On my computer, I have a Master Photos folder, and inside are individual folders for each month of a year from April 1996 (the month we got married) all the way to January 2018. The basic structure of my photos is built not in Lightroom, but on my computer. The folder names are like this, so they stay chronological within the main folder:  1996-04-April  to  2018-01-Janaury.

Then my photos get imported into Lightroom by folder, so the structure within Lightroom is the same, but if Lightroom crashed or went away tomorrow, my photos aren’t a jumbled mess of dates.

The next step in Lightroom is to apply some basic keywords, to larger batches of photos I see as I am importing. For example, if I am working with a group of photos from May, there might be several from Mother’s Day. I will tag those because I like having holiday photos tagged. I will also do this for things like 4-H activities or photos from church. If someone else has shared a photo with me, the photo gets tag with who it is from. Within our immediate family, I also like to tag when there is a photo of all 3 of us together, or a photo with our daughter and one of us. This has come in handy on a couple of occasions when looking for a photo for a project or gift. Here is an example of what a photo of my daughter and I from Mother’s Day 2002 looks like in Lightroom:


The labels on this photo are: Becki, Becki and Katie < 1 Our Immediate Family, Katie, Mother’s Day, photos by MomW.

Those labels mean that I could access that photo using ANY of those words. If I looked up all the photos that my mother in law has shared with me, it’s there. If I look up all photos tagged with Mother’s Day, its there. If I look up all photos with me in them, it’s there. If I look in the May 2002 folder, it’s there.

There is one other way that it is searchable as well, and that is by date. Even though this is a scanned photo, that was scanned in September of 2017, I have changed the creation date of the photo in Lightroom to be the actual date the photo was taken, as shown on the photo: May 12, 2002. So I can also search by date.

And the joy of all this is that Lightoom writes all this information directly in the file. So you do not need Lightroom or Photoshop to see this information. This is huge, because I want all the time that I spend inputting this information to be beneficial for many years to come, and for anyone I choose to share my photos with.

The creation date, keywords, any notes I enter in the caption area, are all visible to anyone I share the photo with, and it doesn’t matter if you are a Mac or a Windows person.

Here is a photo from my husband. He went on a Tiger Cruise with his uncle who was in the Navy in 1983. They were on the USS Eisenhower. Let’s imagine my daughter finds this photo as she is looking at family photos in the cloud someday. (remember my back ups? ) She sees this picture and wonders “What is this all about?”

All she has to do is look at the file info:

And by searching for more photos of the keywords Tiger Cruise, she will find photos of her Dad and great uncle labeled with their names so she can piece the story together a bit.

Now let me share with you a couple of ways this system has benefited us recently. At Christmas time, we hosted the gathering for my husband’s side of the family this year. I was able to quickly put together a slideshow of previous Christmas gatherings dating back to 1995 that we showed on the TV as people were arriving and getting settled. So fun and so easy, and because of a little bit of organization I was able to put my finger on just the photos I needed.

Another example, in November of last year, my aunt passed away and I was able to find some favorite photos of I have of her and share them with our family so they were included in the slideshow at her funeral. Times like that are stressful, so to be able to access treasured photos easily is a blessing.

Our photos should be doing more than just sitting on our phones and hard drives, (and backed up to the cloud). We should be sharing them, displaying them, making gifts with them. If they are easy to find, we are more apt to do so. I encourage you to begin organizing your photos so you can do the same.