Best Way to Organize Digital Photos and Videos

An easy method for staying organized with your photos and videos.

After years of accumulating hundreds (actually thousands) of photos and videos, I can tell you first-hand how important it is to stay organized. Not only will your files be safer, you’ll also be able to find them with ease. Plus, you’ll feel soo much more peace at the end of the day.

In this post, I’ll walk you through not only how to get your current photos and videos organized, but I’ll also share with you an easy to follow method that will keep you organized for years to come.

It’s not a process that you want to have to repeat year after year. So be sure to stick with it and follow this method to stay organized on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. A few extra seconds just to put things in the right place every so often will end up saving you hours and headaches down the road.

This post does contain Amazon product recommendations. As an Amazon associate, I receive compensation for qualifying purchases, however any commission that I earn comes at no cost to you.

1 | Pick a secure location for storage

Where is the best place to store your photos and videos?

To be completely honest, you absolutely need to be storing all of your media in one of two places:

1) an external hard drive

2) a cloud subscription online

Storing files long term on your computer’s internal hard drive (i.e. desktop or internal ‘photos’ folder) is not a good idea for two main reasons:

  1. Eventually this is going to bog down your computer’s processing speed and make it run slower. You have infinite storage space with external drives as you can continue to buy new ones for each year or two as needed without worrying about how much space is left on your computer.
  2. Computers fail all the time. Your photos and videos are priceless memories and it would be devastating to lose them with a hard drive crash or computer virus.

What is an external hard drive?

If you’ve never used one before, please don’t be intimidated. They are actually quite easy and simple to use! An external hard drive is simply a portable storage device that can be attached to your computer for extra storage. It’s like a storage closet for your computer.

Stick with me and I’ll explain exactly how to set one up and use it for organizing your photos/videos.

What’s the best external hard drive to buy?

External hard drives have become so much more affordable these days. You can find great options for less than $100 to get you started.

By the way, quality is very important here. Don’t skimp on quality just for the cheapest drive. I’ve had numerous drives fail on me in the past and believe me, it isn’t fun. So make sure you are buying for quality as well as affordability.

Lastly, storage capacity. For exclusive photo storage, I would recommend at least 1 TB of storage. For video storage, I would go a little bigger and recommend at least 2 TB of storage. But this is of course a matter of personal preference.

Personally, I burn through external hard drives very quickly. I fill up a 2 TB drive every six months or so. But I also shoot professionally. For the average user, 1-2 TB should last at least a year or two if not more, depending on your usage.

Here are a few of my favorites that fit all of the above criteria: (they go on sale often, so check amazon for the current price)

  1. Best for photo storage: Seagate Portable 1TB – Under $50, compatible with PC or Mac, connects via USB cable (check current price on Amazon)
  2. Best for video storage: Western Digital 2TB – Under $75, compatible with PC or Mac, connects via USB cable (check current price on Amazon)
  3. Best for travel/rugged use: Lacie Rugged 1TB – Under $75, compatible with PC or Mac, connects via USB or Thunderbolt, built for extra durability (check current price on Amazon)
  4. Best overall quality and speed: Samsung T5 1TB – Under $175 (but price varies), compatible with PC or Mac, connects USB Type C to C and USB Type C to A cables, very fast which is great for video reading while editing, ability to password protect, small and durable design (check current price on Amazon)
  5. Most reliable: check out this post I made about my favorite SSD drives. These drives are a bit more expensive ($100-300, depending on size) than traditional hard drives, but what you get in return is added security, durability, and speed. Check out the post for more details to see if this type of drive might be best for you.

What is a cloud based subscription?

Using a cloud based subscription allows you the ability to store files remotely through a website’s online plan (like amazon or google).

This is actually the most secure way of storing your photos and videos since you don’t have to worry about anything physical being damaged or worn out over time. External hard drives fail from time to time (although rare). You never have to worry about dropping it, or a flood, or a fire, or any other catastrophic thing that could damage an external hard drive. These are concerns you won’t have when storing via the cloud.

My favorite choice for online storage: SmugMug

Not only do you get unlimited photo storage with a SmugMug account, you get a host of other benefits that cannot be found with other online storage hosts. With a SmugMug account you’ll also receive beautifully designed galleries that are easily customizable, the ability to share with others as well as password protect, allow your family/clients to purchase digital images and prints from your gallery, as well as a number of other features.

The basic SmugMug plan is only $6/month and you can try it all for free. Use this link to receive 15% off your new account.

Amazon Cloud Online Storage

Amazon Drive seems to be the most affordable option, especially if you are already a prime member. It’s free for prime members and only $11.99 per year if you aren’t. You get up to 100 GB of storage for your files or you can upgrade to 1 TB of storage for $59.99 per year. This is still about what you’d pay for an external hard drive of that size. Find out more about using this service here.

Extra security

There’s no harm in backing up your media twice and using a cloud subscription is a great way to backup the most precious files. I use it to back up all the most important memories in case anything were to ever happen to my external hard drives. It’s free for prime members, so no reason not to!

Ok, let’s get to organizing!

2 | Create an organized folder structure

Let’s start with the basic file structure that you’ll want to create.

I’ll show you what I do and then you can adapt your structure for your own preferences. The point here is to make a structure that you’ll be happy with for the long term.

Once you set it in place, you really don’t want to have to make any changes or move things around. This will be the key to making things easy for years to come. You’ll learn and become so familiar with where your files live that it will be like second nature to find them and add new files as time and events go on.

1 – Start with your root folder. This is the highest level of your folder structure. I like to divide photos and videos into two separate folders. Just label it ‘Photos’ if you won’t be storing videos.


2 – Add yearly folders for the current year, plus any previous years that you plan to organize. Then inside each folder, label each month. Tip – use a number before each label (01-January, 02-February, etc.) to keep them in the correct order and easy to find.

how to organize photos in folder

3 – Organize by event. Once you get into each month, you can get as specific as you’d like. Label by specific event or you can create a grab all folder for the whole month. Title it ‘everything else’, ‘junkdrawer’, ‘general’ for a few examples. It’s up to you!

organize files by event

You may also choose to add additional dates or notes here. It all depends on how specific you prefer to be. You can also label important files by using the ‘tag’ colors on a mac. I often do this to remember folders I still need to edit or do some work on. (note the little red dot)

adding dates to organize folders

3 | Take time to organize from the start

If you’ve never been through this process before, here’s where the bulk of your grunt work is going to come in. I recommend carving out a few hours to sit down and tackle it all at once. But do what you can! I also recommend some tunes and some of this. Mmmhmm 🙂


Locate your photos and videos

Here’s the easiest way to get your photos from your iphone to your computer:

1 – Plug your phone in using a USB cable

2 – Allow the computer to access your phone’s information. Click ‘trust’ when it prompts on your phone.

3 – Open ‘Image Capture’ in the Applications folder.

how to open image capture

4 – Here’s what you’ll see. Make sure your phone is selected in the upper left hand corner, under devices.

5 – In the lower left corner, set ‘Import to: Desktop’. Create a folder on your desktop to temporarily hold all the files from your phone until you’re ready for the next step. You can just name it ‘iPhone files’.

image capture example.jpg

If your photos are in another location on your computer then now is the time to gather those as well.

On a mac: navigate to ‘Photos’ inside the applications folder to search for them. You can either drag the photos from there straight onto your external hard drive or into a temporary folder on your desktop before sorting.

Start moving files into the correct folders

Now that you’ve located all the files on your phone and computer, it’s time to go ahead and start dragging them into the correct yearly and monthly folders (don’t worry about remember events yet, just start with years and months).

If you can’t remember the date the photo was taken, simply right click on the photo and view the ‘date created’ under more info (for pc: select ‘properties’ and then ‘details’ to find the correct date).

I don’t worry about renaming my photo files individually, because I feel like having the folders well organized is all I need. But again, this is personal preference. My husband likes to have the files named individually according to date + event. This would be a great time to tackle that stage as well.

Now that you’ve sorted through all your photos, you may choose to go back and organize even further into events. Again, that’s up to you.

4 | Rinse and repeat

That’s it! It’s really not rocket science. It’s just a matter of creating a file structure that makes sense for you from the get go and sticking to it.

Create a timeframe that makes sense for you to consistently go through and make sure your photos are in the right place. I do this every time I transfer files from my SD cards. I put them straight into the correct folder and then again if I do any edits to the photos in the future.

5 | Additonal folder structures for video projects and photo edits

Here are a few quick examples of how I structure more complex photo and video projects for my professional work.

1 – Photoshoots

I start with the family’s last name or the company name. Then I have two folders – one for raw files and one for edits. I simply open up the raw files in lightroom all at once. Once I have finished my edits, I export them straight into the ‘edits’ folder. That way I maintain all of my raw files in case they are ever needed in the future. Sometimes I’ll break down even further into two or more folders into the ‘edits’ folder – for black and whites, colors, and favorites in case I want to share some as a sneak peek on social media.

how to organize folders for professional photos

2 – Video Projects

Here’s an example of how I structure a basic video project. You’ll have to adjust and adapt a bit according to your project, but in general I always have these basic folders. It’s ok if they are empty for certain projects. It helps the project run so much smoother when I am structured and organized throughout. Not to mention, when you start moving elements around into different places halfway through your project, adobe premiere will be very upset. Just trust me.

how to structure folders for video projects


I know it seems like a lot to take in at first, but give it a try. Let me know how it goes for you in the comments below. Or if ever you have any further questions, I’m always happy to help!

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2 thoughts on “Best Way to Organize Digital Photos and Videos”

  1. Hi,
    Thank you for the interesting post.
    I have a curiosity. If you have both photos and video from the same event, do you keep them together or in separated folder, photos in the photos folder and videos in the videos folder?

    • Thanks for the great question. I would create one folder for the event and then within that folder I would create two new folders: one for video and one for photos. Hope that helps!


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