Who doesn’t want help to organize their photos — which seem to multiply on their own with all those spontaneous smartphone pics? We’ve got you covered with organization tips from our in-house expert, J.C. Figueroa.

An avid photographer who specializes in underwater photography and preserving his family’s history in photos, Figueroa has an ever-growing (30,000-plus) photo library. Like everyone these days, he needs a sensible system to manage it. As Mylio‘s customer champion, he leads our webinars and loves helping learn best practices for setting up, grooming, and protecting your photos.

Photo of J.C. Figueroa, Mylio's photo organization expert

7 Top Tips to Organize Your Photo Library

1. Determine your goals.

If you don’t know where you want to go, chances are you’ll end up somewhere else. Your specific goals will affect how you sort, cull, tag, and manage your photos. Figueroa tells people who are new to setting up a photo organization system: “If you’re clear on your goal, it’s easier to figure out what steps to take.”

Here are five common photo organization goals:

  • Consolidating photos from different sources – laptop, phone, older devices, photo prints, slides
  • Organizing photos from a trip – selecting favorite images to remember and share
  • Creating a scrapbook -perhaps a gift for a friend or family member
  • Putting together a slideshow – wedding, anniversary, birthday, or a memorial or celebration of life
  • Building a family history or legacy album – to pass onto your kids and wider family

You may be trying to do some combination of these things. Whatever your goals, it’s important to be clear about them and make a plan to accomplish them.

2. Organize your photos the way you remember.

“People remember things different ways,” Figueroa said. “It’s best to think about how you remember, and organize your photos so you’ll be able to find them.”

Common ways to remember and organize your photos:

  • WHO, aka people. Mylio’s People view and face-tagging (which is done automatically in efficient batches once you tag a few faces) are great ways to find photos to celebrate each special person in your life.
  • WHAT, aka events. Create Albums for special events and they will show up in your Life Calendar, making them easy to see and find. Adding photos to Mylio Albums won’t change where the original files are stored.
  • WHEN, aka chronology. If you remember photos by when something happened, Calendar view and adding dates to any photos that may lack the date it was taken. Mylio even allows you to add a timeframe to, for instance, scanned-in photos, when you may not have exact dates.
  • WHERE, aka location. If you’re oriented geographically, Mylio’s Map view and geo-tagging are the way to go. You can also make folders or albums based on your travel destinations.
  • HOW, aka camera or lens type. For those focused on camera tech, you can filter and organize by the equipment used to take various photos.

When you organize how your memory works, you’ll be able to find things more quickly when you look for them. 

3. Organize your photos in logical, tiered folders. 

The next step is to organize your photos into sensible buckets, Figueroa said. If you love to travel, for example, create a folder for each of your trips. You can then have sub-folders for each part of the trip. So the top-level folder could be “Europe 2018,” and then the sub-folders would be England, Spain, Italy, and Germany.

Or perhaps you take pictures when your family gets together. Your top-level folders could be the years “2017” and “2018” and “2019,” and each one could have sub-folders for “Grandma’s Birthday” and “Steve’s Graduation” and “New Year’s Party.”

4. Use automatic to-do lists.

Mylio provides you with automatic to-do lists. You just need to know where to look.

Start with People view, where you will see an area called “Untagged.”

Screenshot showing untagged photos of faces for Mylio face recognition

Here, you will find untagged and unconfirmed photos. Open that bucket, and select the Batch Tagging button. For people who have not yet been identified, type in their first and last names. For people who have been tagged, select the check mark (you can also shift-click to select a range of photos, then confirm).

Then go to Calendar view. Scroll to the earliest date and you’ll see a bucket called “Undated.” Click on any photo (or group of photos), open the Info panel, and add a date or date range. 

Screenshot showing undated photos for Mylio calendar view

These are both great photo-organizing micro-tasks you can do whenever you have a spare minute. Waiting for your kid at soccer practice? Tag a few faces. Got a moment in the doctor’s waiting room? Add a few dates.

5. Understand how folders and albums are different.

“A folder is the permanent home. It’s where your original lives,” said Figueroa. “An album is a virtual home. It’s a place you can always find a photo, but the photo doesn’t live there.” He strongly recommends placing a photo in only one folder. But, photos can be in as many different albums as you want. That’s because photos in albums don’t take up additional storage space.

For instance, say someone is a birder and a photographer. Figueroa would advise to use folders to store the photos from a single day of photo-taking (labeling with year, then month, then day, such as “2015-3-14”). Then, the birder could create albums for each type of bird they’ve seen over the years: eagles, hawks, owls, hummingbirds, etc.

Many people who travel like to create a folder for each year, subfolders for each month, and then further subfolders for each trip, he added.

These trip folders can then be turned into events. To do this, go to Calendar view, and select “Show Folder as Calendar Event.”

screenshot showing how to make photos from a trip a calendar event in Mylio

A final useful folder is one that’s just for scans. For instance, Figueroa said he has one folder for all his scanned documents. “I have set it up as the default location for my scanner.” His scans, he says, automatically show up in his designated folder because it’s a source folder. When he wants to organize newly added photos or documents, he looks in the ‘scans’ folder and starts moving photos to other buckets.

6. Find your photos faster with categories, labels, and ratings.

Using a combination of categories, labels, and ratings is a great way to be able to cross-filter to find exactly the group of photos you want. “The goal is to develop your own system,” Figueroa said.

Ratings in Mylio are a one- to five-star scale. In Figueroa’s 30,000-plus photo library, a 5-star rated photo is one of his very best; he has about 50. Four stars is extremely good; he has a few hundred. The lower ratings are helpful for photos you want to keep but may not want to share. When Figueroa wants to find a set of his best photos, he simply filters for 5-stars, or perhaps 4- and 5-stars.

Color labels are another Mylio organizing tool. For example, Figueroa uses a red label to mark photos that need to be deleted, and a yellow label for photos he wants to edit. Once a week, he filters for red labels and presses “Delete” once. Then, he filters for yellow labels and can edit sees all those photos. 

Categories help refine photo searches even more. Figueroa has categories for family, travel, underwater photography, and more. He can filter to find photos he wants, for instance, all his 4- and 5-star underwater photos show up instantly.

7. Use keywords in captions and more to optimize search.

If you want to be able to type in a word and pull up all related photos, keywords are your friends. Figueroa often uses folder names as keywords. For instance, ‘turtle’ brings up all his sea turtle photos effortlessly, and even two PDFs.

A very useful new tool, Mylio’s OCR (optical character recognition) tool scans characters. So you can search for words in documents, photos with signs or lettering in them, and even screenshots of recipes.

Screenshot showing the information panel in Mylio, with star ratings and keywords to organize your photos

The pleasures of a well-organized photo library

Getting as well-organized as Figueroa’s library is takes some dedicated time and effort. But it’s inspiring to see the ease with which he can navigate and share any photos he needs.

One of his favorite aspects on Mylio is that his complete, organized collection is automatically synched on all his devices. So it’s available to him wherever he goes, even if he’s traveling or somewhere without an internet connection.

For instance, he was on a dive boat recently when talk turned to the Galapagos, where some of the divers were going on a trip soon. Figueroa quickly pulled up a photo of a red-lipped batfish that he’d taken on his own Galapagos trip 14 years ago. It was a fun, spontaneous moment made possible by having his whole library on his phone.

Watch Figueroa giving quick demos of his library and organization tips on our YouTube page. To try Mylio for free, download the app now.