A few weeks ago I gave a presentation about travel photography to a group of women.  I spoke about light and shade, framing and composition, and using their photos to tell the stories of their travels. I also spoke about backing up their photos, and about having a system for downloading and organizing  their images onto their computers. After my talk we had a time for questions, and without exception the questions were all about organizing their images. This was a group of ex-pat women. They travel often, and they live in a foreign country. Their photos are important to them, whether they are a record of their adventures overseas, precious memories of home, or just snapshots of everyday life. And yet, they did not have any system for making sure they knew where their photos are, let alone a way to find a particular photo. They knew their photos could all be lost in a moment, but were not doing anything to safeguard them. Talking about it made them feel anxious, but overwhelmed.

Are you identifying with any of this? In pre-digital days, we worried about photos in shoe boxes and under the bed gathering dust. At least, barring a catastrophic fire or flood, those photos would stay in their boxes and bags until we got around to doing something with them. Our digital images on random memory cards, flash drives, old computers and phones are a thousand times more vulnerable. If I did a straw poll now, I doubt there would be many people who have not lost some digital images in the last 5 years.

So why are we like this? Why don’t we just do something with our photos? Why don’t we have better systems? I’m sure there are lots of reasons, but in my experience the biggest underlying issue is that we are daunted by the size of the task. We’ve let it go so long that the thought of even starting is overwhelming.

I read a quote today, attributed to General George S Patton, which applies perfectly to this situation – though I’m pretty sure this is not what he had in mind! He said

“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

In other words, get on with it. Don’t wait for the perfect time or the perfect place or the perfect plan – just start, do a bit, then a bit more, then the next bit. Keep going and before you know it, you’ll reach the end.

Here are a few tactics that I have found helpful:

  • Start today. Another one of my favourite quotes is a Chinese Proverb which says “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”  Yes, you wish you hadn’t got into the mess you are in, but you did, and you can’t turn back the clock. But if you let that regret prevent you from fixing the mess, it will only get worse.
  • Start with your most recent photos. You know where they are, you know what the photos are of, and you can (hopefully) remember all the details. So get those photos organized and documented first. Keep going with your current photos, day by day, and you’ll never be more behind than you are today. Once you have a routine going, bit by bit you can catch up on the old photos.
  • Keep it simple. Elaborate systems look appealing because they are pretty, and you dream about having everything beautifully labelled and categorised. Be realistic – if you were able to keep up an elaborate system like that, your photos wouldn’t be in the state they are in.
  • Do it in small doses. There’s no set up or pack up or preparation needed. Even if you only have 10 minutes you will see results.
  • Don’t throw out whatever system or systems you have used in the past, even if you feel they weren’t working. Start anew by all means, but only with the most recent photos (see point 2 above). Once you are happy with your new system, include the older photos in small batches. I made that mistake after I attended my first traditional scrapbooking class, and I learned about photo safe papers and adhesives. I went home and pulled every photo out of the “magnetic albums” they were in, and put them in photo-safe boxes. It seemed like such a good idea. But you know what? Most of those photos are still in those boxes, because it was too overwhelming to scrapbook every one. I would have been much better off scrapbooking my current photos, then transferring the old photos directly from the magnetic albums to new photo safe albums & scrapbooks.
  • To be honest, I don’t care what plan you use. I just want you to have a plan and use it.

Next month if you are interested I will write in more details about my system of photo organisation. You won’t be surprised to learn that I use Forever Guaranteed Storage and Forever Software. I don’t say that just because I work for them. I work for them because I really do believe that the combination of photo organisation and long term storage Forever offers can’t be beaten.

I’d love to hear about how you organise your photos. Are you all caught up? Are you overwhelmed? What is your plan going forward? Remember – the plan doesn’t need to be the perfect plan, it just needs to be started.

Apart from the peace of mind that comes with knowing my photos are secure and organised, the best part of having a plan that is achievable is this …


My husband received this text message just now from a friend, after I finished writing this blog – ” Does anyone have a file recovery software? I have mistakenly deleted a large folder of holiday photos (around 200 photos) from an external hard drive.” Losing photos happens all the time in the real world. This is not a hypothetical risk. What is your imperfect plan?

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19 Responses to Blog: The Perfect Plan – or Not

  1. Cindy Rold says:

    I love Historian. I have almost 55,000 photos tagged and labeled in there. All is backed up to a Shadow Copy on an EHD.

  2. sistersunshine says:

    Dear Shelley, Peace & joy. BABY STEPS… and when I fall on my bum… cry a bit then when no one else joins in, dust myself off and put one step forward and try to walk in a straight line. *U* Kathleen PLEASE share more of your mind and thought processes… I really learn best when I have a LOT of information and choices.

  3. Avril Lawson says:

    Moving half way around the world is a good way to force you in to doing something about your photo storage. I moved from NZ to US and I didn’t want to transport boxes of photos so I scanned every one before I left while I had time waiting for my US visa. All my photos are in Historian and I am gradually also saving them to my Forever account. It is a slow process, but I just try to do a month at a time. But, I have to admit to being too scared or superstitious to throw the photos away in the end so they came with me and are in big plastic boxes in the garage and have never been opened in 3 years! One day I’ll maybe have the guts to throw then away?!

    • Shelley says:

      I haven’t thrown out original print photos either! If you have room to store them I guess it doesn’t hurt to have one more copy. But the older I get the less “stuff” I want hanging around gathering dust, so I’m sure the time will come!

  4. Jan B says:

    Thanks Shelley – I often feel overwhelmed with all the pictures betwen cell phones, camera, c drive, other external drives, Historian and my Forever account. I appreciate the advice on starting with the current pictures – that would make it easier to start getting a handle on all my pics.

  5. Linda DeLaughter says:

    I take the SD card out of my camera (after each day’s photography while on a trip or after a week or so of just ordinary, daily photography) and load the photos onto my computer and into my Historian program. I will delete the photos that are to be culled, and then I will either edit the photos, or just tag them and place them in appropriate files for locating them later.
    The only thing I do not do is give them “stars” for level of importance. I know I should do this, but I currently have 88,000+ photos in my Historian program — all stored on an EHD and backed up to another EHD and a home cloud storage system. I am going to ask for a Forever account storage for my Christmas present.

    • Shelley says:

      Well done Linda, you are very organised. Hope you get your Christmas wish! If you want to star rate your photo, how about just doing them from today forward. Don’t worry about the 88,000 existing pics, just get in the habit of star rating from now on.

  6. Debbie says:

    Great advice! I faced this challenge in 2005 when Memory Manager came out. I was just starting to use a digital camera and it all seemed so overwhelming. I decided as a CM consultant if I was going to sell this software I had to learn out to use it and “from this day forward” was my motto. Before I knew I was organizing my photos on a regular basis and going back in time to organize more. Today I have 173,000 photos organized in Historian AND backed up. Over the years I have lost photos twice. Fortunately, not too many but upsetting none the less. I feel it is my mission to share with others and help them protect their photos. Getting them to spend money on it is another story. Thank you Pixels2pages for your support, ideas and wonderfulness!

  7. adakallen says:

    Great Blog! I wear tooooo many of those shoes.


    I ordered my first box to send stuff to Forever. It hasn’t arrived yet BUT I made a start!

    PS It was the first of the many trips that I have taken since 2001. I can’t find my pictures from 1997 which was my first overseas trip…Israel. I will be looking for them. Hopefully they are in one of the many plastic tubs that I have around here.

  8. tarpfarmer says:

    One of my favorite things about Forever is the mobile app. Just knowing those photos are in my account whether I have organized them or not makes me feel like I have accomplished something.

  9. Cathy says:

    I set up my digital photo storage system many years ago (before I had ever heard of Historian). I store all my photos in Windows folders, chronological by year. I have my camera set up to download and create a file for each day I take photos. These go into that year’s folder. Periodically throughout the year, I go through my pictures and delete the bad ones and duplicates, and add a description of the pics for that day. (ie: 2017_06_01 – County Fair, Flowers). In January/February, I go through all of the pictures from the previous year and clean up & label whatever I haven’t done from the previous year. I group a bunch of days together into larger folders, which I label with the date range and a few highlights of what’s contained. Sometimes I get a whole month in one folder, other times, like a trip or holiday, there’s only a few days in a folder (ie: 2017 04 14-17 – Easter weekend). Throughout the year, I backup onto my externals from my laptop. (My camera cards have a lot of storage, so I tend to leave all the pictures on there and clear them a couple/few times a year when I need to as well.) In January, I burn a copy of the previous year’s cleaned up files onto discs (usually 75-100GB per year) and store off-site at a family member’s house. I also update the version on my external drive(s) to the current (edited and labelled) version.

    I backup my A5 projects on my externals throughout the year (as I work on them, and when complete), and then backup the files (or the jpgs of the pages) on disc and store off-site in January with my pics. I do try to print as I go, so most of my scrapbooks are printed as well.

    Many years ago, I scanned a lot of old pictures from my Mom’s side of the family, and my Dad’s side of the family. Those I store in a folder with that family name, and I have labelled the actual jpg files with the dates and names of people, if I have them (ie: 1952 08 – Sue age 4). I have those scans stored in folders for the decades (1940s, 1950s, 1960s, etc.) so that even if something doesn’t have a date, I can usually pinpoint (based on the age of the people in the picture) what decade it’s from. In some cases, I scanned the back of the photos, if there were names or info written on there that was too long to be in a file name, or if I wanted to preserve that handwriting.

    While I would love to use Historian, and Forever storage, at the moment that seems a little overwhelming to start a new process, so I’m just keeping up with my current process. I know it’s not a “perfect plan” because I should be doing an off-site/cloud backup more often, but for now I’m just happy to never be more than a year behind.

  10. Jan says:

    Great blog, Shelley! I agree – simple systems (that you can remember) are the best. And some system is better than none. Just do it!

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