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Organizing Your Digital Photos In A Spreadsheet

Joan Young By Joan Young on
Badge: Editor | Level: 34 | Hobbies & Crafts Expertise:
spreadsheet example of photo listing

After a few years of taking digital photos– a LOT of digital photos– I have finally found a way to organize them so that I have them backed up and can find them (usually).

This article is a bit of a follow up on Hidden Costs of Digital Photography which I wrote a few months ago.

Here are the steps, then I’ll elaborate:

- Treat SD cards like negatives

- Transfer copies of pictures to appropriate files

- List photos in a spreadsheet

- Triple protect important pictures in a 3rd location, such as a disk or CD/DVD

- Optional steps

Treat SD cards like negatives

1. I leave all photos ever taken on these cards. The only exception is that I may delete photos that are too blurred/ dark/ whatever to keep at all. This means that I need to buy a couple of SD cards a year. This is so much cheaper than film ever was that I don’t worry about $40-$50 spent for these.

2. Label the cards. I found that to add a postage-stamp size label cut from an address label to the card does not inhibit inserting it into a card reader. Then I just put the dates that the card covers on it. Eg. Sept 2009- 2010.

3. These little cards are really easy to lose or misplace. All the previous cards need to be stored in one place and you have to be really disciplined to not leave one out somewhere if you need to access it. I have mine in a small plastic box, but I’m looking for a case with pockets, or I may make one.

Transfer copies of pictures to appropriate files

1. I have an external hard drive which is my primary repository for all photos. It has files with structure such as














2. Every so often I make sure that every raw image on an SD card is copied to an appropriate file on the hard drive. I may or may not get them renamed/ numbered at this time, but at least they are backed up.

List Photos in a Spreadsheet

1. I renumber the photos with a designation that makes sense for the category. For example, for my Shawnee State Forest Hike my code was SHW09 (SHW=Shawnee, 09=year). The first picture was SHW09-001sunrise.jpg. This forever tells me, just by looking at the name that it was from the 2009 Shawnee hike, the first picture I took, of sunrise the morning I left home.

2. This doesn’t happen with all my pictures, I’ll admit. But it does happen with pictures from hikes and family pictures. I do this at the same time as the renaming. I create a spreadsheet with the following headings: Hike Designation, Photo Number, Name, Orientation (vertical or horizontal), Date, Quality, Description, SD#

So for the photo in our example those fields would be filled as follows: SHW09, 001, sunrise, H, Sept 28, 2009, excellent, sunrise as I left home (taken from US 31 near Meisenheimer), 3409. I know this sounds like a lot of work. But I use the hike photos constantly to create programs, write articles, etc. You can spend hours looking for one photo you know you have, but can’t remember where. I’d rather spend the hours making sure I can find them all.

Then I hardcopy this spreadsheet! I’ve lost more than one digital list- at least if you have a printout, you can re-create it if necessary. I’ve done that too!

Triple Protect the Really Important Stuff

1. Backup photos you would hate to lose yet again on CD/DVD or another flash drive.

Optional Labeling

1. Use some sort of database functionality to make it easy to sort by categories. You could have created a database instead of a spreadsheet in the first place. That would be great. I could do this. But I’ve been listing my hike photos in spreadsheet format long before I even owned a database, so I just don’t feel like switching it all now.

2. I’ve found that using Windows Image Properties is much easier than creating a database, but allows you to search for images on various tags you have added to the properties. See a tutorial on how to do this Using Windows Image Properties. I sure don’t have this task done on all my images, but it has made it much easier to find nature shots which may be spread among hikes, other outings, etc.

Other Formats

You could easily expand this idea in a spreadsheet, or even a database to track all your photos. Just include columns/ fields for the format, such as slide, print, negative, digital. From events where there were multiple photographers, I’ve always added a column for which camera the picture was from. You could even note where it is currently located: storage unit, displayed albums, guest room closet, etc.


It doesn’t matter if you have 30, 000 great photos if you can’t find them. Speaking from a household which easily has over 100, 000 photos in formats from slides to very old family albums, if you really want to preserve those memories, you must get organized. This system works for me, and may help you too.