Home > Tech > Idiots guide to sorting your massive photo collection

Idiots guide to sorting your massive photo collection

I thought it would be useful to post the findings of my recent research into easy ways to sort and categorise the millions of photos that pour in these days.

If you’re anything like me and you simply can’t do with disorder, having piles of disorganised photos called IMG_123456.jpg etc. simply drives you round the bend. Yes, I know that there are some nice import wizards that will pull in pics from your camera and do a reasonable job of sorting them, the trouble is, they never seem to quite do it the way I want or I simply don’t trust them. Plus there’s additional challenges thrown in now with services like icloud photostream and dropbox sync that are useful but if you’re not careful, simply end up duplicating the mess.

So. I thought I’d summarise my current best advise on this topic in case you fancy tackling your own disordered mess.

Step 1: put all your pictures in one folder

This might not be possible depending on the names as you might have different files with duplicate names. I mention a bulk file rename can help you out if this is the case. Once your files are in one place you can do bulk stuff to them.

Step 2: orient your files

Simple for pictures, just right click and rotate:


Video is trickier. I believe most Android phones output properly oriented video so you shouldn’t have to do much however iPhones don’t and if you haven’t had the foresight to hold your phone in the correct orientation when shooting then you’re going to have to rotate the video. Fortunately I’ve written a script which does this for you and you can link it to your send to links.


Check out my iRotate script

Step 3: check for duplicates

Don’t do this manually, download Visipics. I eyed this with a bit of scepticism initially but I’ve warmed to it a lot. Simply add your sources, set your filter (I use basic) and let it go. Don’t worry, it will just suggest duplicates which you can mark for deletion. Try it, it works.

Step 4: rename your files

You need to be able to see your photos in the order of date taken, strictly speaking you could do this without renaming but I personally find it just neater to give your files a name that accurately reflects when they were taken. This could vary for you depending upon how your camera records the date taken metadata within the picture file, and there are some useful tools that will read this EXIF data should you wish.

The method I found the best is to use a tool called Bulk Rename Utility. I’ve used this tool for years now, it’s surprising how often it comes in handy.

Do this first. Launch Bulk Rename Utility (BRU)

Select Additional Features | Options Menu | Extract | Exif Data


Now launch BRU and rename all your files to the following format based on date Taken (Original).

Note. Depending upon how your camera records the Exif data you might have to use another method. If Exif data is not present you can use Modified date.


Feel free to experiment, you may be able to find a better alternative, but essentially you want your files to be sortable in date taken sequence.

Step 5: sort your files into subfolders based on Year Month

You might want to order them different but personally I find putting my pictures into folders called “2012 04– Event name” to be the most effective for later retrieval.

Install “Files 2 Folder”, more on this in a moment.

Now, order your files in Windows Explorer by their new file name.

It should be east to lasso, or SHIFT+Click a range of pictures for any particular month to highlight them.

Now right-click them and click Files2Folder, type the name of the folder in this fomat “YYYY MM” and voila! Your photos are now safely tucked away in an ordered subfolder.


Repeat this exercise for all Years/Months in your working folder until you’ve file them all.


Nice! We’re getting there.

Step 6: group your pictures by event

Go through each of your new YYYY MM folders, review the thumbnails of the pictures, then lasso, or shift-click, or ctrl+click to select them by event. Now repeat as above:


Click Files2Folder

Name the folder according to the event, i.e. “Christmas Dinner”

Repeat until all your photos are in Event subfolders.

If they don’t fall into a specific event category just create a Misc folder.


Getting neater by the minute!

Step 7: add the YYYY MM prefix to the event subfolders

Using BRU you want to Add a Prefix of the YYYY MM folder to each of your newly created Event folders:



Step 8: move your folders into you main picture library

You’ve done it. Pictures are renamed, ordered and categorised. You can now use Windows Explorer to drag the folders to your central pictures folder.


I hope you’ve enjoyed my thorough, if somewhat fiddly guide to sorting your photo collection. Yes it’s still a bit painful but if you follow the steps through carefully you’ll be surprised how BRU and Files2Folders really helps speed things up. Once you gain confidence with VisiPics, you can also use this against your main photo collection, you’ll be surprised how many duplicates you missed!

Ordering photos is a necessity if you ever want to stand a chance of finding and enjoying your family pictures now and into the future. If you’ve got any other tools/techniques you’d like to share I’d love to hear from you.

Worthy mention

A tool that looks promising but I haven’t had time to fully explore is PhotoMove2, I’ll report back when I’ve had chance to properly try it.

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  1. May 26, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Great post about sorting photos. It’s very comprehensive and well done. It’s too bad, isn’t it, that sorting photos is such a job?

    I noticed your post because you linked to my PhotoMove 2 page on my site. If you’d like to do a review of the Pro version of the program just let me know and I’ll set you up.

    I can see you’ve really thought out organizing and sorting your photos. I’d value your opinion.


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