UHeart Organizing: Digital Photo Organizing & Printing

I used to love to create scrapbooks and photo journals years ago, and to be honest, I slowly gave up on it because there was one factor I couldn't keep up on.  I have since realized that it is not just my scrapbooking life that was impacted, it was much bigger than that.  Thanks to Instagram and Project Life, I am slowly getting back into journaling and keeping our favorite memories documented with photographs, but I think we can all agree that the process of organizing and doing something with all of those digital photos can quickly become overwhelming!  Sarah has been stopping by as a contributor sharing her strategies and tips for scrapbooking, and today she is here to focus on the key ingredient of it all; the photos!  What I love most is that her tips can be applied to anyone looking to organize and print digital photos, whether for scrapbooking, using Project Life, creating family albums or printing for your hallway gallery wall.  Here she is now to share more about her photo organizing process.

About 4 years ago I decided to take my scrapbooking to the next level and splurged on a DSLR camera and a great telephoto lens.  And it was love at first click.

I take tons of photos.  One of the joys of digital photography is that I am able to take as many pictures as required to achieve the perfect photo and tell the story of my experience.  But it can be overwhelming to arrive home with hundreds or {gulp} thousands of beautiful pictures and have to decide which ones I should print to use in my scrapbook.  It would be too costly and environmentally irresponsible to print all those photos and I would never finish a scrapbook if I had to work with that many pictures.

So how do I take all those pictures and scale them down to a reasonable number of must print photos?  I’m so glad you asked!  And the answer: I use organization, of course!  This process doesn’t offer as much eye candy as a pretty room makeover, but I promise the results are lovely.


My first step is to get my computer set up for the photo selection and editing process.  On our home network I have a folder called Pictures, which is where I save and process all my photos.  Each time I have a new set of pictures from a trip, season or event, I create a subfolder within the Pictures folder and label it accordingly.  For example, following a brief California Coastal cruise my husband and I took over the Thanksgiving holiday, I created a folder called “Cali 2013.”  Then within that trip folder, I created my standard set of three subfolders: Taken, Edit and Print.  This step took less than 5 minutes.


Once I have the folders set up, I download all my pictures into the “Taken” folder, which is where the originals will permanently live.  We have a secure, backed up network in our house, which avoids the risk inherent in saving to my computer’s hard drive.  However, I do always save a backup of every set of photos on a USB drive {I just copy the trip or event folder to the USB, which allows me to copy both the photos and the organizational structure}.  And I never, never delete pictures from my camera until I have received the printed photos.

Before I start working with my pictures, I think about the end product I want to achieve with my album, so I can evaluate my photos through that lens {no pun intended}.  I think about whether I want to give an overview of the experience and select a couple of key photos that really convey the feeling I’m trying to create or if I want to tell a detailed story, delving into each experience and punctuating it with a lot of photos.  I often look at any journaling notes at this point, to refresh my memory of the experience, which is especially helpful if I’m not processing my pictures right after I return home.  My Year in Review scrapbooks tend to fall into the “overview” category, while my vacation albums are much more detailed.

My California Coastal cruise is somewhat of a hybrid between the two.  We’ve been on a number of cruises, so I don’t really need to explore the cruise experience.  And the length of the trip does not call for a scrapbook of its own, so the finished pages will be included in my 2013 Year in Review book.  That being said, my husband and I had a number of special experiences on this trip that I want to remember in detail, so some of the events deserve an entire layout.


In my initial review of my photos, I open them to full size on my computer screen so I can see the photos in detail.  This sometimes reveals a story that I didn’t realize I captured or inspires a unique spin on the story.  It also helps me see which photos can be further enhanced by cropping or other photo-editing techniques.  At this stage, I go through the photos fairly quickly with the objective of mentally grouping them into categories or sets of layouts.  My review of my California Coastal cruise photos helped me initially identify about 9 groupings of layouts.  This initial run through of the photos took me about 10 minutes.


My second review of the photos is to make my initial selection of the keepers, i.e. the ones I want to print for scrapbooking.  I say initial because I’m likely to further reduce the pile before I begin the photo-editing process.  I review each grouping of photos, evaluating them based on the layout categories I identified and selecting the ones that best tell the story for each category.  If I took several versions of the same subject {and let’s be honest, I did}, I select the best version.  For example, I took about 30 pictures of this sweetheart.

How could I resist? She was literally eating out of our hand!  But printing every photo would be far less powerful than picking the most striking images of the beautiful Kiziwanda and our amazing interaction with her.

As I go through the photos, I jot done the number label of each photo I want to keep {at this point, the photos still have the number they’ve been assigned by my camera; I don’t name them until later in the process, to make the best use of my time}.  I find that writing down the numbers is a lot more efficient than moving them to the “Edit” folder as I select them. If I choose a picture and then later come across a better version of the subject, I just cross off the reject and replace it with the number of the better photo.  This is much easier than moving photos back and forth.

This winnowing down to the essentials took me about 30 minutes for my California Coastal trip, but those events and vacations that warrant thousands of pictures typically take me an hour or two since there are so many photos to look through and evaluate.  After photo editing, this selection step is the most time consuming part of the process.


Once I’ve reviewed all the pictures and selected my keepers, I reference my list of photos and copy them from my “Taken” into my “Edit” folder.
Here’s what I’ve found to be the easiest approach:
  1.  Hold down the ctrl key and then click on each photo separately {holding down the shift key selects all the photos between the first and second one you click on, so if you want to randomly select photos throughout the file, you must use ctrl}.
  2. Once all the photos are selected, hit ctrl + c {for copy} on the keyboard.
  3. Click into the “Edit” folder.
  4. Hit ctrl + v {for paste} on the keyboard. The pictures will paste into the folder.

Remember to copy, not move. I want the original versions of my photos to always live in the “Taken” folder.  Because I’m not going to print the photos that didn’t make the cut to the “Edit” folder, I don’t {spoiler alert!} edit them.  This is a huge time saver, and I can always go back and edit from the original if I decide to print an unedited picture at a later date.


Once the photos are all in the “Edit” folder, I name each one according to the photo group/layout it will be part of, giving each group of photos the same name but distinguishing them by number.  For example, all of the Giraffe pictures were called Giraffe_1, Giraffe_2, etc.

I personally don’t give each photo a unique name that identifies the subjects, locations, etc.  Because of my file organization system, I find it super easy when I’m looking for a specific photo to just click into the appropriate folder.  But if it’s really important for your system to have those specifics, I recommend starting with the general subject/layout label and then adding the details on the end.  For example: Giraffe_1_Eric & Kiziwanda_San Diego Zoo Safari_2013.


Using a naming structure that identifies the layout topic first really helps with this photo selection process, because it allows me to sort and quickly review the photos that will be part of the final layout.  And that, in turn, allows me to see if I’ve selected too many photos.

For example, despite the fact that I winnowed down all my fabulous giraffe pictures to 17, that was still just too many.  Because they were named as a group, I was able to quickly look through the giraffe pictures again and it was immediately obvious that I still had a number of duplicates, so I was able to remove 5 photos that I didn’t need.  Because the versions in the “Edit” folder are copies, all I need to do is delete the photos I don’t want to use.  No moving necessary.  Using this process on my California Coastal pictures allowed me to reduce the number from a total of 303 pictures taken to start with to just 70 to print.  I was able to reduce by number of photos by over 75%!  And 12 of those photos will be printed as a photo collage rather than full size, so I consider that a success.

The name groupings also helped me plan my final scrapbook.  I realized as I looked through my giraffe pictures that I had a couple of different layouts in the mix.  I had some pictures that supported an overall story of our visit to the San Diego Park Zoo and the variety of animals we saw.  It was also important to highlight the Caravan Safari experience we had and to put particular emphasis on our time feeding the park’s beautiful Uganda giraffe Kiziwanda, including this great “photo bomb” moment.

I went through the rest of the pictures, following this same process:
  1. Name the photos.
  2. Look through them to identify any duplicate or unnecessary photos that can be deleted.
  3. Identify the layouts that are emerging from the remaining photos and modify my layout list as needed.
  4. Rename the photos to be more specific to what layout they will be part out.


    At this point I’m still not ready to actually edit, because making great edits requires a general idea of the design each set of photos will become part of.  This may mean picking a layout design from my Inspiration Binder, determining a color story by selecting the perfect papers for the subject matter, or even just deciding what the title and journaling will look like.  For example, for my Kiziwanda layout, I knew I wanted to scraplift Latrice Murphy’s design from the April 2014 edition of Paper Crafts & Scrapbooking.

    {Source: Paper Crafts & Scrapbooking}

    I love the design: the natural wood accents lend themselves nicely to my nature themed layout and I think it will be adorable to replace the dinosaur accents with some giraffes.  Plus, it can be easily modified to extend over two pages and include the 5X7 photos I want to use.

    This design decision step isn’t always necessary, but it helps me determine if any of the pictures need special treatment beyond cropping and color correction, such as adding journaling or title text to the “white space” on the photo, printing in black & white or sepia or printing in larger than the standard 4X6 size.  For example, I decided the giraffe photo bomb deserved a bit of embellishment.

    Leaving the layout decision until after I print the photos doesn’t mean the photos won’t result in a great final design, but it does mean I may spend more time, money and wasted paper on reprinting photos in the future.  Plus, making these design decisions as part of my photo selection process means that once my pictures arrive in the mail and I get my project organized, I can get down to the fun of creating!


    Once I make my design decisions, I update each of the photos in my “Edit” file by including the size in the photo name.  So Kiziwanda _1 becomes Kiziwanda_1_5X7 to indicate I want this photo to be a larger print.
    I have found adding this step to my process unbelievably helpful. Rather than wasting time once I upload my photos for printing trying to recollect what size I intended to print each photo in, it’s 100% obvious.  Once everything is in my cart, I can quickly update the photo sizes before submitting my order.  The timing for this step will obviously vary based on how many photos you have.  For my 70 California Coastal photos, it took me about 20 minutes.


    Now, at last it is finally time to actually do the photo editing.  I know that this may seem like a lot of organizing steps before you get to the fun of editing.  As with any organizational endeavor, though, I find that if I do all the planning and organizing work first really, I don’t waste time editing unnecessary photos and trying to figure out what edits I need to make.

    Even though I have an amazing camera that takes lovely photos and allows me to get my artistic on, I still edit almost every photo I print {note print, not take}.  My tool of choice is Photoshop Elements 8.  I often use one of the Enhance features, such as Auto Sharpen or Auto Contrast, which compensate for any lighting challenges at the time I took the photo.  I also use the straighten tool if I {or more often, the kind stranger I handed my camera too} misaligned the shot with the horizon.  Finally, I crop the picture to make sure my final photo follows the rule of thirds and to cut out any unnecessary or distracting elements.

    For example, this original was pretty good…

    But I like to think this slightly tweaked version is better.

    I typically save my editing changes right in the version I copied into my “Editing” folder.  Since I have the original safely saved in the “Taken” folder and backed up on my USB, I don’t have to worry about ruining the original in case my creative editing gets out of hand. ☺

    I find the editing process is the most time-consuming part, even more so than selecting the photos.  This means for projects where I am editing hundreds of photos — like a two week vacation abroad or an entire season’s worth — I may spend a few hours on photo editing.  For me it’s time well spent to ensure my printed photos are real stunners.  For this project, with its 70 final photos, it took me about an hour and a half to complete my editing.


    As I noted earlier, the final subfolder in my trifecta is “Print.”  While it might seem obvious to print once you’re done editing, having these designated folders helps me keep track of where I am in the process.  Moving the photos to the “Print” folder indicates to me that I have completed the editing and these are ready to be uploaded to my photo processing website for printing.  If items are still in my “Edit” folder, I know I’m not ready to print just yet.


    My final step is to upload the pictures to my photo printing website.  Once they’re uploaded I add them to my cart, select the desired print size —made easy by the size indicator in my photo name! — and await their arrival so the fun can begin!

    While I shared the multiple steps I follow in my quest for organized and beautifully finished photos, you could incorporate any of the steps into your photos organization process.  If you aren’t into scrapbooking, you can still use the photo winnowing and naming process to help you decide which photos to print.  Even the step of adding the photo size to your naming could help if you sometimes like to print larger sizes for framing or giving to family as a gift.  Hope you found a helpful tip or two in the mix and feel energized to go tackle your pile of photos.

    What do you find to be the most stressful part of selecting which photos to print?  Have you come up with a great solution for sifting through all your digital pictures to decide on those must have pictures?  Do you have any secrets for turning a pile of photos into a finished scrapbook?

    "My name is Sarah Eelkema and I live in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN with my husband of almost two years, Eric, and our two adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Hermes and Brontë.  I am a Communications Consultant by day and by night/weekend/any spare moment, I indulge in my passion for writing, crafting and organizing. I am honored to share with all you dedicated iHeart fans my tips, tricks and secrets for organized crafting, which will not only help you get control of your craft clutter but also allow you to make more efficient and productive use of your precious crafting time.  While I am blessed with an entire craft room, I promise to explain how all the solutions I share can be tailored to your specific situation, whether it be a dedicated room, a small storage space or mobile crafting.  In the meantime, Happy Crafting!" 

    * Header image source found here.

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