Organizing Digital Photos: A Picture-Perfect System

Holidays offer plenty of opportunities to capture priceless moments. We asked the HGTV.com Image Team to share their top tips for taking the best pictures and then storing them wisely.
By: Leslie Judson

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Capture a child’s perspective by kneeling down to his or her level. Photo by Ed Szymczak.

Capture a child’s perspective by kneeling down to his or her level. Photo by Ed Szymczak.

The advent of digital imaging changed the world of photography. Digital cameras allow photographers of all skill levels to take more pictures, to edit them, to create digital albums, to print copies with the click of a button and to organize everything on a home computer. Follow these 10 steps to capture and protect memories for generations to come. And don't miss the picture captions for bonus holiday pic tips.

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Flash isn’t always necessary. Use existing light to highlight attractive features in your subject. Photo by Ed Szymczak.

Flash isn’t always necessary. Use existing light to highlight attractive features in your subject. Photo by Ed Szymczak.

1. The best camera is the one you have with you. Keep your camera ready to fire, especially as you meet friends and family for holidays and special events. If carrying your digital camera is not an option, consider upgrading the storage on your cell phone's camera.

2. Invest in two smaller memory cards as opposed to one large one. That way, when a card fails (and eventually, it will) you won't stand to lose as many photos.

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When chronicling an event with digital pictures, don’t overlook meaningful imagery like this hand-painted ornament. Photo by Ed Szymczak.

When chronicling an event with digital pictures, don’t overlook meaningful imagery like this hand-painted ornament. Photo by Ed Szymczak.

3. Delete as you go. Digital photography allows you to take as many pictures as your photo cards will allow. Deleting less desirable shots as you go will give you more room on the photo card and save time when downloading.

4. Move pictures from your photo card to your computer at the end of every day or every time you take pictures. You’ll have a clean memory card for your next photo op, and organizing goes faster when the shots are fresh on your mind.

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Red eye can be more prevalent and obvious in pets. Try not to use a flash; use additional light sources in the room. Stand farther away from your subject, and shoot from an angle. Photo by Michele Haley.

Red eye can be more prevalent and obvious in pets. Try not to use a flash; use additional light sources in the room. Stand farther away from your subject, and shoot from an angle. Photo by Michele Haley.

5. On your computer, sort your photos in a folder structure that makes sense to you. You could organize by month and year, by family members' names or by event name. A folder named 2009_12_Family translates to December 2009 family pictures, for example.

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For low light situations, set up a tripod and try a timed exposure. Your camera’s manual should provide instruction for this technique. Photo by Ed Szymczak.

For low light situations, set up a tripod and try a timed exposure. Your camera’s manual should provide instruction for this technique. Photo by Ed Szymczak.

6. Consider using a photo-management tool like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Apple iPhoto to edit your photos. Learning the basics of photo editing tool is a good idea if you enjoy photography and appreciate the ability to work with your photos, to fix problem areas, resize, manipulate color, pattern, lighting and much more. Take a class to learn how to take advantage of all bell and whistles of a photo program or practice, practice, practice, and teach yourself.

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When using flash, try to supplement existing light in the room rather than replacing it. Achieve this balance by adjusting the distance to your subject. Photo by Ed Szymczak.

When using flash, try to supplement existing light in the room rather than replacing it. Achieve this balance by adjusting the distance to your subject. Photo by Ed Szymczak.

7. Utilize an online photo-sharing website such as Shutterfly, Flickr or SmugMug. Photo sites are an easy way to share pictures with friends and family; they offer a safe place to move and store pictures when you are away from home, and provide services for creating albums and gifts.

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Use the macro setting on your camera for extreme closeups. On the camera, the symbol for the Macro setting is usually a tulip. Photo by Ed Szymczak.

Use the macro setting on your camera for extreme closeups. On the camera, the symbol for the Macro setting is usually a tulip. Photo by Ed Szymczak.

8. Learn to recognize corrupt files. Preview every image on your computer to confirm that no files are corrupt before reformatting your memory card.

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During the holidays especially, pets have all sorts of new things to grab their attention. Have a camera ready to capture all of their naughtiness. Photo by Michele Haley.

During the holidays especially, pets have all sorts of new things to grab their attention. Have a camera ready to capture all of their naughtiness. Photo by Michele Haley.

9. Reformat your memory card from the camera. This simple step makes a big difference in photo organization. Reformatting cards this way maintains the file number sequence established by the camera, so you’ll never have duplicate file/photo names.

Taking a Holiday Photo

Taking a Holiday Photo

Dad takes a picture of his wife, son and daughter by the decorated Christmas tree, with gifts all around.

Dad takes a picture of his wife, son and daughter by the decorated Christmas tree, with gifts all around.

10. Many photo applications and photo-sharing sites allow users to tag photos with keywords so that you can find photos easier in the future. Also, many online photo-sharing services read these tags and expose them to their own search engines, so that friends and family have help finding photos when they visit your site. Tag as often as time allows.

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