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A simple way to organize your digital photos

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Digital photography is fun and liberating. No wait to get your film developed, and if you have a decent printer you can print out lots of photos at a pretty reasonable price. But once I got a digital camera, I ended up with LOTS of digital photos — crammed onto my hard drive, on CDs, sitting on memory cards — all in no particular order. Kind of the digital equivalent of shoeboxes crammed with photos, only even harder to search through.

Some of my colleagues use commercially available programs for organizing their digital photos. They work well enough, but they've told me they can be a bit "sluggish" when you've got a lot of photos on file. But it's not  necessary to invest in extra software if you use a simple filing system to keep track of your memories. Here's how I do it.

Step one -- Download your photos. This sounds obvious, but it's easy to fall behind on this if you take a lot of pictures. Soon, you're buying more memory cards and wondering where that picture of little Jimmy with Santa Claus is. So after your trip or event, get the photos out of your camera and into your computer.

Step two -- Set up your filing system. I use Windows on my home computer, so I go to "My Documents," then drill down to "My Pictures." Every time I download pics from my camera, I create a new folder and put the pictures into it. That's easy enough, but the real key is how I label each folder. Follow the next three steps and you'll never go wrong.

Step three -- Date the pictures. Enter the date on the folder using the same format every time. I do it by year, followed by the month, like this: 2007-04, for April, 2007. If you follow the same format, the computer will always sort the folders chronologically. Don't forget to put a zero in front of the month if it's only one digit. For example, January is "01," not simply "1."

Step four -- Enter the subject. Don't worry if you only took a few photos of something, they deserve their own folder as well. You may not remember when you did something, put you'll remember what you did. Now our folder looks like this: 2007-04 - Boston Marathon.

Step five -- Back up your files! I back up my digital pictures onto CDs. Once I've done it, I make a note on the folder that the job is done. Once I've backed up the folder of pictures, it reads: 2007-04 - Boston Marathon - CD. By the way, I usually only put a few folders on each CD. The CDs may be able to hold more, but CDs are cheap, and it's easier to scan a few titles written on each CD than a long list.

As you can see from the sample picture below, the system holds up well even after you've added numerous folders. I've been doing this for over 3 years now, and I can find almost any picture I've taken in just a few moments.

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