How to keep on top of your photos - a workflow that works!

How to Keep On Top of Your Photos (A Photo Workflow That Works!)

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If you take a lot of pictures like I do, it can be overwhelming what to do with them all after they’re taken. Many people just leave them stored on their camera’s memory card, to be forgotten and never printed, which is a shame. In order to keep on top of your digital photos, you need a photo workflow that works.

This is a breakdown of the steps you should do with your photos on a regular basis. I know it sounds like a lot, but honestly once you are familiar with the workflow is doesn’t take much time at all (but of course it depends on how many photos you take.)

How to keep on top of your photos - a photo workflow that works!

1. Upload to Computer

If you take pictures every day, or every second day, I recommend uploading them to your computer each night after taking pictures. If you take pictures once or twice a week, then weekly processing should be fine.

Take that memory card out of your camera and put it in the card reader on your computer.

Your computer will likely be programmed to take an action when you insert media with photos. If you need to change this action (and use Windows 7), here’s how:

  1. Navigate to the devices and drives window on your computer (Probably named “Computer”)
  2. Right click on your memory card drive and choose “Open AutoPlay…” from the pop-up menu.
  3. A pop-up named AutoPlay will open, with the name of your memory card device at the top and a list of “Pictures options” to choose from, which include viewing and importing options from all the different software programs currently on your computer. Select your choice from the list, or click “View more AutoPlay options in Control Panel”.

If you don’t have Windows 7, search the help on your computer or do a quick search online for how to do this on your operating system.

There are windows and mac software which automatically import new photos, and there are also free software that are included with Sony, Canon, Nikon and other cameras.

I have tried several different software for the purpose of importing and sorting new photos. I can’t really recommend the best as I haven’t tried them all but I will tell you what I use and why I like it: I use the Canon ZoomBrowser Ex. It came with my old Canon point-and-shoot, and while I have since moved on to a Nikon DSLR I still prefer this software for the job. When I insert my card, the Canon ZoomBrowser Ex Memory Card Utility opens, and this asks me if I want to download all images, select images to download, or print.

How to keep on top of your photos - a photo workflow that works!

I believe it is best to download all images right off the bat, and here’s why: Not all of my images are good, sometimes many of them are trash, however I download them all so that I can take my time going through them after, before deciding if I want to delete them (see Step 2 for details).

I have already programmed the software (through the Preferences button) to create dated folders to save my new images in.

How to keep on top of your photos - a photo workflow that works!

This is how I organize my photos on my computer:

Pictures > Year > Month Number (ex 01) > Day (labelled Year_Month_Day ex 2014_01_01)

I divided photos into yearly folders since I have several years worth on there, and then sort by month so it’s easier to find pictures (I can usually remember which month a picture I’m looking for was taken). The months are labelled by number rather than name so the alphabetical and chronological ordering are the same and correct. The day folders are dated the date taken with the year, month and date so I can easily see all this information when looking at that folder.

The images themselves are not renamed, they remain the same as how my camera named them, which correlates to the memory card and are in numerical order. One of the main things I like about this Canon program is the way it allows me to tailor my file and folder naming and organization, and then does it automatically every time.

Once the new images are downloaded, the Canon ZoomBrowser Ex opens which shows all of my new images, in their new folders, and allows me to rate, tag, filter and edit my images.

A digital photo workflow that works

Please note, I’m not advising you to use this software, I’m just explaining the helpful features and process you may want to incorporate into your workflow with the software of your choice.

Also I apologize that step 1 is long winded, it’s just that setting up your import automation and organization is key to a quick and easy workflow. After you have it set up, step 1 will only take half a minute to complete on its own 🙂

2. Purge the baddies

I used to cling to every image I ever took because I was afraid to delete them. I thought ‘sure it’s a bit blurry/dark/overexposed/repetitive, but someday I might be glad I kept it.’ I was a photo hoarder. Then when my hard drive was full, I went looking to clear some space and found tons of horrible photos of my babies, which were never printed and completely forgotten about because I cherished the good ones that were printed. It gave me perspective and I realized I’m never going to cherish bad photos. Besides, keeping bad photos costs you money in storage space, while deleting them isn’t throwing away money thanks to digital technology 🙂

So, comb through your new pictures for these photo fails and delete, delete, delete!

  • check for sharp focus, making sure to zoom in on the eyes, or what should be your photo’s focal point
  • watch for repetition — many of the same shot with the same subject/angle/lighting etc means you can get rid of the so-sos and just keep the best one or two
  • examine exposure, think about if the image can be corrected and saved in editing (if it’s otherwise a great image), or if the underexposure or overexposure is beyond repair
  • ask yourself: is the image exciting and interesting? Is the composition compelling, is the subject matter unique or special? If it’s just a boring, ho-hum picture that doesn’t grab you, is it worth keeping?

3. Mark and copy the faves

Look through your pictures again to find the ones that stand out in a good way, which ones are your favorites? Which ones would you consider printing or sharing on social media? If your program has a rating feature, rate the photos with a high star rating so you can easily find the best ones. If not, remember which ones you liked or write down the file names if needed.

Now you can select and copy (duplicate, not move) all your favorites to another folder on your computer, your favorites folder. The location of my favorites folder is Desktop > Faves {+ year} > Month > images. So I save drive space by deleting bad pictures and use extra drive space by duplicating the best pictures. There is method to my madness, see step 5.

4. Return memory card to camera and delete the baddies from it

I learned that memory cards are more likely to have errors (corruption) if more than one device is used to write to and delete from the card. That is why it’s best to have your camera write pictures to the card AND delete images from the card, and your computer simply reads the card and copies from it.

So, after all the images are uploaded from the memory card to the computer, remove the device (card) and replace it in your camera. At this point you can use your camera to delete the same images on your card that you just finished putting in your computer trash (now that you have zoomed in and know for sure they are no good.)

You could remove all the images from your card by doing a card format on your camera (especially if you have a low capacity card) because they are now backed up on your computer. Or you can use the memory card as an extra backup source to store the good images, as well as for showing to others directly off of your camera.

5. Edit the faves, share

The best images that you copied to your favorites folder can now be edited. When I don’t have a lot of time, I will stop after step 3 or 4, but it catches up with me eventually. You may want to only edit once per week or once per month, but don’t leave it too long or it will become a daunting task!

You have the original photos (unedited) stored in a safe location (the picture folder) while your favorites to edit are in your faves folder, so you don’t have to worry about your edits affecting the original, in case you need to re-edit, or forget to save as a copy after editing the original.

Usually you need to know where the image is going to be used or printed before you can edit it appropriately. A printed photo is much duller and darker than it appears on a bright computer screen, so a good idea when editing photos for printing is to turn down your computer screen’s brightness to about 50% to see what the print result will be.

In general, I assume that all of my favorites will be printed in a coffee table style photo book, so I edit them to have plenty of brightness and contrast. If you print all of your favorite photos at the lab for photo albums, you can also crop them now to 4×6 (or the size you get).

The edited images are ideal for sharing on social media since they are the best and clearest.

6. Back up

Backing up your photos to a second drive or online storage is so important. Theft, damage, viruses, drive failure and more could take away your precious images, so be sure keep them backed-up in a safe location.

The easiest way to backup your computer photos is to have a wireless hard drive or online storage space that automatically backs up new files, or backs up on a scheduled basis. That way you don’t have to think about it or do anything 🙂

I have one external hard drive which I use to manually backup old files (that no longer fit on my computer), and another external hard drive to automatically backup all new files on my computer.

7. Print those babies!

7a. Monthly, choose faves to print (if you make photo albums)

If you get prints from a lab to create a traditional photo album, choose images to print on a monthly basis. When you look at your monthly favorites, you may find there’s more than you actually want to print, especially if some are very similar to the ones from the previous weeks or month. So decide which, if not all, will be printed.

You do not have to order the prints every month, if you want to wait for a sale or get a bulk order discount, but it is a good idea to select your prints every month. That way when the sale comes or you are ready to place an order, the work has already been done and there’s nothing holding you back.

7b. Annually, choose from faves and create photo book (if you make photo books)

Look over your favorite photos from the year and decide which ones to include in your book. Photo books can be created and worked on every month over the course of a year if you prefer, but I like to make them in a shorter time frame in order to have a balanced and cohesive feel to the book.


This photo workflow works because it keeps the small processing and decisions happening on a regular basis, with backup and automation, which allows the printing and bigger photo projects to happen easier without all the daunting work and time required to get it done.

If you have any questions, or suggestions of a photo workflow that works for you, please feel free to comment below.


Courtney shares party inspiration, DIYs, and free printables on her blog, and designs art and party printables for her Shop. She loves Farmhouse home décor, photography and movies.

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