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Organization Series: How to organize your travel photographs

As requested by reader Michael, here’s how I organize my travel photographs.

You can also read on how I organize files in general here: Organized Data: How I name files and folders


If you have it, you could certainly use Adobe Lightroom. It is what all professional (and amateur) photographers use.

I use a Macbook Pro, and I find that Picasa is the best software I’ve found so far to organize my photographs. It’s also FREE.


I like that when you go to rename a folder in Picasa, it updates the actual folder on your computer rather than it just updating in the software but not touching the actual folder name itself.

I also like that it automatically finds your photos once they’re added to your folders, and you can refresh the folder and so on. Not only that, you can also find a photo in there, right-click, and “Find it in Folder”, and it’ll direct you to exactly where the picture is located, even if it’s named IMG2841530.JPG

Most of all, it is great to have a visual thumbnail that you can adjust the size of (super small to huge) so you can quickly flip through your pictures.



  • Organize by city, country and year – The year is optional of course, some choose just City/Country
  • Organize by folder subjects that make sense to ME – Food, Transportation, Sights, etc
  • Keep originals in a separate folder, and make a duplicate set of folders for me to modify


  • Delete any photographs unless it is truly unusable — e.g. blurry but not in an artsy way
  • Name each individual file — I’d rather slot them into folder subjects that make sense to me


I organize in the following fashion:

Country, City (Date)


Depending on how you already have your files set up, you might have these folders in your root folder on your laptop, or under another folder labeled “Trips” or “Travel”

Alternatively, if you are NOT traveling and these are just regular photographs, you can continue to follow this naming convention and name it by your home city such as Canada, Toronto (2013), or you can choose any way you want to organize it.

You can do it by categories such as:

  • Family / Friends
  • Food
  • City Life
  • Events — Birthdays, Anniversaries, Christmases, etc

..and add folders / topics as you see fit.

I move around a lot, and travel a lot (sometimes to the same cities), so my “home city” doesn’t really exist.


I know it sounds redundant, and you are TOTALLY FREE to not do this but I don’t like just modifying originals and leaving the modified photos in their wake.

I keep 3 folders of every set of photos I take, and number them so that they line up nicely:

  • 1.Originals
  • 2. Selections for Viewing (people want to see photos, sometimes I blog these pictures too)
  • 3. Modified / Photography (e.g. touched by Picasa, Photoshop, and the like for Photography)

I don’t keep 3 copies of each photo, the process happens like this:

  1. Go through and delete any photos that are blurry and unusable
  2. Save the final set of photographs as Originals
  3. Originals get backed up into their own untouched folder
  4. Make a copy of Originals folder as “Selections for Viewing
  5. Go through Selections for Viewing, and start deleting photos I don’t want to show
  6. From Selections for Viewing, I choose a few for Modified / Photography [Optional Step]

The only folder that’s kind of redundant might be your Modified Photos folder, but I like keeping versions and having copies of all the changes made as well.

I also sometimes modify photos that I don’t necessarily want to show as part of some Tourist Slideshow, I just wanted to play with the picture.

You never know when you want to back out your changes to about halfway through, rather than back to Square One (The Original Photograph).

I also like the Selections for Viewing folder, because people don’t want to see repeats of your shots in the cities you visit (if at all!), they just want to see ONE shot of something, which is what this folder is for.


Each of the above folders (Originals, Modified, Selections) has exactly the same structure by topics and subjects.

(Stands to reason, I copied it like that)

For instance, my trip to Beijing China looks like this in each of the three folders above, the one shown is “Originals


I am normally a huge fan of sticking to only 3 levels at a MAXIMUM, but in the case of travel photography, because I have it split by Originals, Selections for Viewing and Modified / Photography, that extra level is required for me, but are essentially copies of each other and necessary.

Otherwise, I would have definitely stuck to the 3-level rule.

Each Subject (e.g. “Food”) is then broken down into their topics, or “sights” as the case may be right here:


The reason why I do this is so that I remember where I saw each photo, and if someone asks me: Where was that taken?, I can tell them immediately.

It’s also nice to remember where these places were, because my memory fades over time.

More examples of how I broke down each category (these make sense in my head):

And that’s it!

This is the general structure I use. Feel free to do whatever you want as a riff on this idea. You could even just slot everything by year if that makes sense to you, or by events only.

Whatever it is, try not to go more than 4-levels deep, and make sure what you set up, suits your needs.



  • CorianneM

    Great post! I’ve been trying to come up with new ways of organizing my pictures, but it’s hard. Your post (and especially the very detailed descriptions) definitely gave me some new ideas and options to do this.

    (I also recently got a new computer, which is always a stimulus to reorganizing for me, hehe)

  • squasher55

    Excellent article. I have been using Picasa for several years, and the other item I like is that it counts all of your photos for you…automatically. Right now I have
    46 764 photos on this computer. Because I am also into Genealogy, my photos date from this year back to……wait for it……1641. How is that possible?

    Since my relatives were much wealthier than I am, they had oil paintings done, and they are now digitized. So I have 3 photos of relatives back in 1641, including one with his dog. My preference is to categorize my photos by the year taken first, and then other sub-categories. Your suggestions above were great.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @squasher55: WOW. Year 1641 😀

      I am a tiny bit into Genealogy as well but mostly because I don’t know my extended family. I had my DNA tested by 23andme to see if I could find any cousins.

      Wow. Oil paintings. Digitized. These all sound so lovely.

      I hope the system works for you! Let me know how it goes and if you can improve on it 🙂

      It makes more sense to have it by year if you are into Genealogy.

      When I came back from Asia, I had 19,000 photos from 2 months. 19,000!

  • SarahN

    Great to see how someone else does this. When I lived overseas in 2006 I settled for folders by date then place (this would be the second level file name). It’s worked ok but since then I’ve also done a physical scrap book with ticket stubs and the like to show people which I prefer to a slide show. Of course nowadays many photos are on facebook so I’ve scrapbooked less.

  • Michael

    You’re awesome saverspender! Thanks again for making this post; I really appreciate it! 🙂

  • Tina

    I got my first digital camera in 2004 in anticipation of my year abroad. Being the newb that I was, I printed out the photos and deleted the digital images. It’s a decision that I greatly regret. Now I keep all the images on my computer using iPhoto, but I need to explore better systems.

  • Leslie Beslie

    This is about the same for me! For “Folder Level #2” I use these three categories: Originals, Prints, Web — that makes it easy for me to know the level of quality in each photo and which one to send via email or send to the printer.

    Great tutorial!

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