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The best way to organize digital photos, according to professional photographers

It’s never been easier to take literally thousands of photos every week, whether they’re of your worldly travels or your everyday antics. But then, what do you do with all of those pictures? Unless you're going to print and then delete them on a regular basis, it's a good idea to back them up in some way — both for the purpose of freeing up space on your phone or camera, and as a fall-back in case you somehow lose the originals. And while you’re at it, it’s also a pretty good idea to create some sort of organizational system that won’t have you sifting through thousands upon thousands of files every time you want to find one picture to post for a #TBT or print for your new gallery wall.

Ahead, professional photographers share their top tips for doing all of that, without losing your memories or your mind.

Backup images on the cloud

“One great piece of advice for backing up your photos is to use cloud-based apps like Google Photo, where the photos are stored in your online account instead of your phone. Be mindful of their storage limitation, and know that there’s a monthly fee for additional space — but it is well worth it for safe-keeping. The app also comes with various features to allow you to organize, find and search for images.” — Kenny Kim, photographer at Kenny Kim Photography

“I subscribe to iCloud for pictures I take with my iPhone. If I don't have access to the internet, I will transfer photos [and] videos I really like to my computer via Airdrop as backup. From an organizational standpoint, I create an album on my phone for each destination, event or individual I am photographing, and add the images I take at the end of each day. It makes it very easy to find what I need when the time comes.” — Susan Portnoy, travel photographer, writer and creator of The Insatiable Traveler

Stock up on memory cards and external hard drives

“I always make sure to have plenty of memory cards with me [when traveling]. I don’t need to reuse them during the trip. It’s too easy to lose images that way. I always carry two 2 TB external hard drives ([I use the] Silicon Power 2TB Rugged Portable External Hard Drive) and at the end of each day, I download my memory cards to both. On one, I have [Adobe] Lightroom set up, and I edit images using that. It’s also how I manage my library of photos for easy retrieval. When I am back in my office, I copy the files to my main Lightroom catalog on one external hard drive, and copy that updated catalog to a 10 TB hard drive as a backup. — Susan Portnoy, travel photographer, writer and creator of The Insatiable Traveler

Use your editing software for backup and organization

“When I get back to my hotel room at the end of the day I dump all of my files from my SD cards onto an external hard drive (the files are never stored on my laptop’s hard drive). I then import the photos into [Adobe] Lightroom in order to catalog them and do some basic processing, I love Lightroom’s way of allowing you to organize photos. Once I have categorized all of the images and added relevant keywords (to make searching for them later easier), I create a backup of the Lightroom catalog, which is saved to the same external hard drive the photos are on. Lastly, I back up the external hard drive to the cloud ([I use] Amazon Drive). That way, I have a physical copy of the files and a backup stored in the cloud.” — Charlie Gardiner, travel photographer at World of Travel Photography

Invest in a network-attached storage device

“For all of my photos (both taken on my phone and with my DSLR camera), they are all uploaded to my computer and stored within a network-attached storage (NAS) device...a high-powered server and external hard drive that allows you to store images and files. Because it is also a server, you have the ability to access your stored images remotely, along with being able to sync images up to it, such as directly from your phone. The exact model I have is the QNAP TS-453Be. While it might be on the more expensive side, this is because it auto backs up files, and you can quickly access files anywhere. ...Once I transfer images from my phone to the NAS, I can delete them from my phone and still access them remotely. [I also backup all images] using Amazon S3. Amazon S3...an online cloud-based file storage system that allows you to store and backup your data, which you can then access at any time. By backing up your images to a secure online location, you have the additional security of knowing that even if your phone, computer or external hard drives crash, you can still retrieve your files through S3. This way, [I have] two copies of every image in very different and secure locations. — Kaitlin Cooper, wedding photographer at Kaitlin Cooper Photography

Backup your hard drives with Backblaze

“Backblaze is one of many different photo backup systems that we use. [It’s a subscription service that] creates a backup of the hard drives that you attach to your computer. Backblaze makes it easy because it is a simple app for your computer and an easy-to-use-web interface. Additionally, there’s no limit to the size of a file or the total backup size. ...The desktop app (I use the Mac app) is simple to use; it runs in the background and backs up your photos quickly. Backing up photos with Backblaze is a solid option if you don’t want to lose any of your photos ever again. If you encounter a drive failure, Backblaze can even send you a replacement hard drive with all of your photos and digital files.

[That said], Backblaze is purely backup. ...It's not a way to view your photos; rather, it's a service that will keep them safe and secure from hard drives that you have attached. It's not like Google Photos — it's a secondary place where your photos live in case your external hard drive or computer hard drive might fail. [And] one feature that isn’t mentioned too often is the ability to locate your computer: If your laptop is stolen or you somehow forget where you left it, you can sign into your Backblaze account and locate your laptop.” — Dan Gold, photographer at Halfhalftravel

Organize photos with detailed folders and keywords

“The key to organizing photos is to keep it simple and use good tools. First, you'll need somewhere to store the pictures. Purchase a high-quality external drive, [like the Seagate Expansion 8 TB Desktop External Hard Drive], to keep all your photos. On the drive, set up folders by year, and break them into month and date. Next, use an organizing tool like Adobe Bridge. Import all your photos, and assign keywords to the pictures. For instance, my photos are keyworded by general location (Brazil), and then by specific location (Rio, São Paulo, Paraty). You can assign multiple keywords to all [of] your photos. Next, import photos or videos from other sources (for me, that's my phone). Add them to the same folders, and use the same keywords. If you have special pictures you know you'll want to be able to find quickly later, keyword those as ‘priority.’ …[The] key is simplicity and consistency.” — Viktoria Altman, travel photographer and blogger at Travel Tipster

“I sort everything by Year —> Month —> Event Name. Since most everything I shoot is a game or concert/festival on a specific date, that makes it very quick to find exactly what I’m looking for when I have to reference back.” — Matthew Maxey, public relations manager for Visit Franklin and freelance photographer for ICON Sportswire

Send photos using services instead of email

“If I'm trying to send a few one-off photos to clients while on the go, I either use Google Drive or WeTransfer. Both are free, and you can send fairly large files without clogging up someone's email. However, if I'm delivering a larger set of photos from an event, I use Pixieset. Pixieset delivers images in a clean, Pinterest-like aesthetic that works for my brand, offers batch and individual download capability for both high- and low-resolution, and can send automated reminders. It's a very easy-to-use solution for visually oriented small businesses.” — Jocelyn Voo, wedding photographer at Everly Studios