Finding old photos is pretty much impossible unless you have some way of finding them. Remember the saying ‘a picture is worth a 1000 words’? Your old printed photos have 0 words on them, they are physical, and in a shoebox in a dark closet. Words are what we used to describe our photos, and that is exactly what is needed to find them later. Thankfully, with digital photos, it can be a lot easier and faster to find photos than with physical ones. For starters, every digital photo comes with a timestamp of when the photo was taken. You’d never get that on a physical photo unless it was embedded in the print, obscuring your favorite pictures. Now with a sizable chunk of photos being taken with a mobile phone, a lot of these photos have their location on them as well. This data is key to finding photos, without data, it is near impossible to find a photo. After you take your photos off you camera now, a variety of desktop, phone, and online software will analyze your photos and tell you who is in them (face tagging) or if is a picture of a dog, house, boat, or any variety of other objects. Granted, the software that will find all your photos of cats isn’t mainstream yet. I have no doubt that in the not too distant future (5 years?) a lot of the metadata that can be applied to photos will be come more automatic and done close to the time you take the photo rather than after you run it through some other program. Google glass is a good example of an internet connected camera that will apparently tell you who someone is when you look at them. Xbox Kinect is another example.
Adding all this metadata to photos manually is a lot of work, it is a chore. With 2 kids, I don’t have time to add metadata to my photos. I’d much rather look at photos from our last trip, or when we were at the playground last year. In lieu of waiting years for software to add all the metadata we could ever want to our photos, there are a couple of very simple things you can do to make it easier to find them again. In far fewer than a 1000 words, I am able to very easily get to most photos I’m after in < 30 seconds. A large chunk of the times I want to find a photo or set of photos, I can typically want to use any combination of date, names, location, and activity. An activity can be something like vacation, going for a hike, visiting friends, dinner, etc. Unless you want a gigantic mess of photos on your computers, I imagine you have some sort of folder organization system for them, not too unlike the shoeboxes you likely have for your printed photos. When I import photos to my computer using Adobe Lightroom, I have it put photos into folders based on the date they were taken. Most photo software will do this for you. I then rename those folders using the few pieces of data I mentioned above. For example ‘2010-01-23 – Skiing at Crystal Mountain with Ellie, Michael, and Maria”. I am going to name the folder something other than just a date anyway, so it doesn’t feel like any extra work beyond the most basic level of work I would be doing already to keep my photos from becoming an complete mess.
There are a handful of other not so obvious reasons I use the folder name for this information. While I do use Adobe Lightroom to manage my pictures, sometimes it is easier to just search for photos in Windows Explorer or Finder (on mac). For the most part, the operating system file browsers aren’t very intelligent when it comes to photos. Having the basic metadata I want with my photos as part of the folder name gives me the option of using the operating system browser to find photos, or a richer photo aware program. In your favorite photo management software, a photo is almost equivalent to an album or set, depending on the terminology you use. Another benefit of this is that I am not having to manage a separate physical structure (photos and folders on my hard drive) from logical structure (albums in my photo management program.) Less work and simpler to manage!
If you are at all like me, you probably want to look at your pictures on your phone, your computer, your wife’s phone, your wife’s computer, your friends computer, on a random computer while you are traveling, etc. The point is, you want to be able to view your photos from anywhere in the world, any time. In 2014, that is trivial to accomplish. I can use Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive among many others on all my devices (phone and computers.) These services have web sites that allow me to access my files even if I don’t have one of my own devices with me or prefer to use a different one. These are all cloud storage services which basically act like your hard drive in your computer or your phone. You view all your folders and files. So just like I can search for my photos using the folder name on my desktop computer, I can do the same using the software these services provide because I have all my photos synchronized to their service.
The date portion of the folder name is particularly useful as well in the specific format I use. Using this format of year-month-day means that whenever I am viewing a folder full of picture folders, they will be in chronological order simply based on the naming scheme for the folders.
While this organization structure doesn’t cover all scenarios where I am looking for old photos, it does get me a long way with maybe only 10-15 words while performing a task I am going to do anyways to store my photos. So give your photos some love by adding words to them, even just a few, and you’ll be able to enjoy them again and again.