Running out of phone storage again? Time to sort your photos

Helen Carefoot

THE WASHINGTON POST – Who among us hasn’t done battle with dozens of blurry smartphone selfies, pictures of random landmarks from forgotten vacations or images of memes sent in old group chats?

“People take more photos than ever before but are more detached from the photos,” said head of the Association of Personal Photo Organisers Cathi Nelson and author of Photo Organising Made Easy. “I think people still care deeply about their goals, but they just can’t keep up with the changing technology.”

Here are some tips and tricks to tame an unruly digital photo collection.


The first step of any organising project is to create a manageable timeline for getting it done, Nelson said. You might require more time initially if you’re building your organisation method, but once you have a system in place, Nelson recommends carving out about 20 minutes every week or month (depending on how many photos you’re organising) to comb through pictures. Spacing out the project prevents it from becoming overwhelming.

The most basic way to store your collection, Nelson said, is to create a folder on your computer and add photos to it every month

Another way to avoid feeling overwhelmed: Make a habit of regularly deleting photos. “You have to figure out a way to get to the ones that you care about,” Nelson said. “It’s like maintenance, like house cleaning.” Make a habit of culling pictures from your phone when it’s being updated or backed up.


There are numerous methods and services to keep your photos in order, and “there is no one perfect system,” Nelson said. To assess what will work best for you, consider how you plan to use your photos – whether you want to share pictures publicly, have others add to albums, print them or just keep your collection for yourself.

The most basic way to store your collection, Nelson said, is to create a folder on your computer and add photos to it every month. This could work for someone who just wants to store their collection so they have it.

Kate Jacus, who founded the photo organisation firm the Photo Curator, says the easiest organisation tool is the software that comes pre-installed on your devices and is connected to cloud storage. If you have an Apple product, use Photos and iCloud; for Microsoft try Microsoft Photos; and for Google, try Google Photos. Especially if your phone is your primary camera, using this method is an easy way to link your devices, because your phone probably already automatically backs up into this system.


Most phones sort pictures by when they were taken, but Nelson said the easiest way to sort your pictures is to create themed albums. “We think and remember thematically in terms of experiences,” she said. “It’s much more interesting to pull it up based on themes and experiences that matter to you.” She sorts the pictures on her phone into albums that correspond to themes such as ‘Celebrations’, ‘Friends’ and ‘Family’. She travels a lot, and has different vacation albums that correspond to her trips, such as ‘Machu Picchu’ or ‘Santa Fe’. The most bare-bones method of organisation is to create folders that are named for years and months, she added.

“Best-practice digital photo management is actually looking at everything, making decisions, and tagging and sorting things as you go,” Jacus said. Jacus and Nelson suggest using the ‘ABCs’ system (which Nelson created) when deciding which photos deserve a spot in your collection.

A is album quality: your best photos that you want to save, print out and put in photo books. Depending on the device, app or software you use to organise pictures, you probably have the ability to add keywords or tags to each photo file (or group of files). Mark these photos in a way that will make searching easy when you decide to use them. One easy way to do this: If the photos you want to use primarily live in your iPhone’s camera roll (the camera folder if you’re using an Android), Nelson recommends going through your library and “favouriting” them.

B stands for box: Photos that are worth saving and important but probably won’t end up in an album. If these were printed photos, they’d be the ones you keep in a box somewhere but don’t necessarily display. They also might provide additional context or tell the rest of the stories of the ‘A’ photos. Store them according to whatever regular theme-based or chronological system you have set up.

C is for can (as in, trash can): photos to delete. This category includes blurry pictures that hold no emotional or sentimental value, duplicates and low-quality pictures. Nelson recommends using the 80/20 method: Save 20 per cent of your pictures and discard the rest.

S is for story: Photos that tell a story. Even if these aren’t the most compelling, beautiful photos, they have value if there’s a memory attached to them. This is another way to determine if a photo is an A photo.


Even the best organisation method won’t matter if your data goes missing. Prevent this from happening by backing up your image library in multiple places. Jacus says the industry standard for backup procedure is the 3-2-1 system, which means backing up your library in three separate places. “You want three copies of every photo in your collection on at least two separate types of media, and one of them is off-site,” meaning not on your physical device, she said. “What that looks like is you’ve got your photos on your hard drive inside your computer, you’ve made a copy on an external hard drive of your whole collection, and then you send another copy of your whole collection to the cloud.”

Physical storage: This includes your computer’s hard drive, an external hard drive or a USB memory stick. Buy a drive with more space than you think you need, especially if you’re storing videos.

Off-site storage: Carbonite, Google Drive, Apple iCloud, Dropbox and Microsoft’s OneDrive are all cloud storage options that provide easy access and several plans at various prices and storage capabilities. Jacus suggests signing up for automated billing to ensure continuous service and guard against a possible loss of data.