Creating what money can't buy !

Photo Management on the Cheap

budget friendly photo management options

Do you want to get a quick handle on your photos and not break the bank?  Then please read on!  

In this post, we discuss how to manage your photos on the cheap. We discuss the three main areas you need to think about for your photo management — Protect, Organize, and Share.  We also cover these areas in greater detail in separate posts, but this is a great place to start. 

collection vault


Let’s assume that you’ve got tons of photos taken on your phone (cellphone). If so, you are one of billions of people who do — and most have no other camera.  These can be pretty precious images and you don’t want to lose them!  

But what if you lose your phone? Or you drop it and drive over it? Photos gone!  Well, maybe not.  Your iPhone or Android phone is probably sending all of your photos and videos to “the cloud” which is just a nice name for a computer located remotely and managed by your cell provider. When you have this security, the photos are kept safe and sound – no matter what happens.

The cloud should be safe and still be there tomorrow, but if you want to feel just a bit safer, periodically COPY your photos from your phone to a computer (hard drive) or to an external USB hard drive.  This is what we call your Collection Vault. The external drive will set you back a few bucks, but it’s a great way to keep your photos in one place.  And it is very portable.

RECOMMENDATION: Combination of cloud storage AND external USB hard drive (about $40-$60)

When you copy photos and videos from your phone to another device (like your computer), the next time you do it, you run the risk of getting duplicate copies.  Normally your copy method will warn of this but what if you’ve re-organized or moved stuff around in the copy destination? 

The simplest way to avoid getting duplicates is to just delete the originals from your phone as soon as you’ve copied them.  We do this but only after we’re sure we have copies in TWO places — either on a second external drive or full-resolution cloud copies.

Another way to prevent duplicates is by using software that synchronizes files between your phone and the copy destination. We use Free File Sync which is a great program.  It is also the best way to keep a second backup synchronized with your primary backup. 

device inventory


How easy is it for you to find the one photo you want to show to your friend?  Not so easy, most will say!  Enter the world of photo organization.  For this, we need a tool (app or program) to help us out. We tried the “folder method” – established naming conventions of folders and subfolders that hold your photos. That took way too much time to maintain and we still spent time searching — and you can only give so much meaning to a folder name.  And don’t even think about renaming individual photo or video files!  That will drive you crazy!  To fix this problem, a method called ‘tagging’ can be used to give single photos multiple search terms.  

Both Apple and Android phones come with apps that will group photos by person (facial recognition), location (geolocation), or date. This helps you find photos, but if you want to get more specific, like finding wedding events, you will want to use organizer software that will work with photos that are stored on your computer or external drive.  We use Adobe Photoshop Elements but at around $99 MSRP it’s not budget friendly. 

RECOMMENDATION: A good on-the-cheap (free) option is Adobe Bridge.

Adobe Bridge is an organizer that is easy to use and It has excellent tutorials. Adobe Bridge indexes all of the photos and videos that reside in your collection vault. If you need to learn more about the vault, take a look at our post that explains it. If you occasionally move photos/videos around into other folders, your organizer program should be able to recognize the this and keep things, well… organized! 

One downside of Adobe Bridge — no facial recognition.  But you can make name tags and apply them. 


A few words about photo editing while on the ‘Organize’ topic…

Both Mac and Windows computers come with built-in Photos apps.  With them you can do basic photo editing like red eye removal, cropping, and color/lighting adjustments. To go beyond the basics, there are lots of free apps like Pixlr or GIMP, and paid apps like Adobe Photoshop. 

See our post on photo editing for more details. 

Note: When editing any photo be sure you know if it is changing the original photo or working with a copy (which is what you probably want).  Look in the program settings for this! 

cloud storage


This sounds touchy-feely, doesn’t it? Well, it is meant to be! Our life stories are meant to be shared with those we love and preserved for future generations. There are so many ways to do this – social media, videos, emails, gifts. The list is endless. 

But, for the purpose of this post, we will give you some easy ways to share your images quickly through social media and photo sharing sites. 

After you have optimized your images, you are ready to share them. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know how to share in Facebook and Instagram, so we will make an assumption and move on to some that might be new for you.

Here are some popular photo sharing websites with FREE entry points – there are many more.  Sharing with others is pretty easy with these services unless noted in the descriptions below. 

  • Google Photos
  • Amazon Photos
  • Apple iCloud Photos
  • Dropbox 
  • YouTube 
  • Flickr

Google Photos is amazing in that you get FREE unlimited storage for photos up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p.  Larger files count against the free capacity of 15 GB (which also includes your emails and files on Google Drive) and the next step up in storage is 100 GB for $19.99/yr which can include members of your family. For Android users, the app is built-in. It is also available as an app for Windows users and for Apple users on iPhone and iPad.  Google accounts are free. 

Amazon Photos is also “cross-platform”, meaning it is available to users of Apple, Android, and Windows devices. Free account users get 5 GB of storage for photos and videos.  Amazon Prime members get unlimited photo storage and 5 GB of video and file storage.  The next step up is 100 GB for $19.99/yr. 

Apple iCloud Photos is great for iPhone users. The free version gives you 5 GB of storage and starts at $12/yr for 50 GB. It’s not so great for sharing photos with Android or Windows users who will need to use a web browser to view shared photos.  There is no app for Android. 

Dropbox is cross-platform and you get 2 GB of free file storage which includes photos and videos. BUT the next step up in storage space jumps to 2 TB (terabytes) for $9.99/mo. 

YouTube cannot be ignored on any lists like this!  It may be the BEST way for sharing videos that you create from a photo collection.   Your videos can be public or private (shared only with people you’ve chosen). And it certainly is cross-platform. 

Flickr is cross-platform.  The free version limits you to 1000 photos (seems like a joke).  Then it jumps to $60/yr for “unlimited” photos and videos.  Reviews of this service are pretty mixed and your files are public unless you go in and restrict them.  Flickr is owned by SmugMug. 


OK, hopefully we’ve outlined how you can have all the tools you will need to do basic photo management without going broke. After you are comfortable with these tools, you may want to consider more advanced ways to edit and share your photos. 

Just think how great you will feel when you can find a certain photo in less then 5 minutes!

How good will you feel when you know your photos are safe and secure and will NEVER be lost?

Just think about all the cool things you can now do with your photos!

How to Choose Organizer Software for Digital Images

photo organization

How to Choose Organizer Software for Digital Images

I think every house in America has at least one container of LEGO bricks. LEGO – one of the best inventions since penicillin! Unless, of course, you’re the one stepping on the bricks or cleaning up the mess.

What is the link between LEGO and photos? It’s the chaos and lack of organization found in both! You know what I’m talking about.

Just think for a minute:

  • What would it mean for you to be able to quickly find the special photos and videos in a matter of seconds?
  • What would it mean for you if you could actually enjoy your photos and videos without the gut-wrenching search process?
  • What would it mean for your budget if you could not only find and tag the best photos, but also be able to share them – beyond Facebook or Instagram?
  • Um… What would it mean to have a LEGO system that the kids enjoyed so much they actually did it? Yeah, I’ve never seen one either.

This  post comes from my own failure to stay on top of our photos and videos until the stash looked like a LEGO pile – crazy, scary, and out of control. I convinced myself I could use structured file folders in Windows to organize my photos. Oh my gosh, what a nightmare. It was labor intensive, was only marginally successful, and too much to keep up with. NEVER AGAIN.

Oh, and then I tried to create folders based on where the photos came from like: Bev’s Phone, Vince’s phone… Again – disaster.

I never enjoyed my photos because I could never find what I wanted, I had to sift through too many folders and, just like the LEGO bricks, the photos were spread out everywhere. I actually thought it was impossible to get a handle on the chaos. Do you know that feeling?

In 2005 or so, we thought our problem was solved and actually, it was! We began using Picasa, a free Google organizing and editing software. Picasa allowed us to edit, tag, use facial recognition, and let me make and share albums. I could find my tagged photos with ease. It made a huge difference in our ability to enjoy our photos and videos. Our struggling was over – WE THOUGHT.

Then in 2016, in true Google fashion, they decided that they’d no longer support Picasa . I couldn’t believe it! We had put our heart and soul into this program and they just pulled the plug (with some lame excuse about “the wonderful” Google Photos taking its place). We can still use Picasa on the PC to organize and edit, but for us, the BIG question was – which Windows update will be so incompatible with Picasa that it will it stop working altogether?  What are the alternatives?

Having the luxury of Picasa got us hooked on the power of a photo organizer and we knew we didn’t want to be without one. Especially since doing photo projects is one of my absolute favorite activities, and with the software it was so easy to find what I wanted. Photo gifts had become my “go to” gift. Heck, I’ve gifted family and friends with calendars, videos, collages and even an apron with photos on it. I didn’t want to give it up, but I had to have an organizer.

So, my husband and I began scouring everything we could find on organizing digital photos.  You’ll be happy to know, we found a suitable replacement for Picasa and we’ll share our choice in this post.

JUST SO YOU KNOW – we are not affiliate sellers for any products, so you can rest assured we aren’t pushing for a profit. We aren’t professional photographers and we don’t work for any software company. Our thoughts are just our own.

Choosing a photo organization system (or sometimes called a Digital Asset Management System) is like choosing storage for LEGO bricks.  It takes time to choose the right one based on a number of factors – like space and ease of use.

If it’s not easy, it won’t get used.

Understanding Photo Organizing Software

For those of you not familiar with photo organizing software, it is a workflow manager for all things photo related. The focus is on providing a structure and organization and making it easy to manage large volumes of digital images. Basically, you point the software toward your picture collection (the ONE place that you keep all photos) and the program creates a catalog of all your images and videos. It does NOT copy your pictures, but just indexes them using the exact file structure you use in your collection which we will now call the collection vault

image organizer

After the photos are indexed, you open the program and see a gallery of all your photos as well as the folder structure. The better organizers allow you to manage files from within their program. For example, you can move, delete, or rename form within the organizer and the changes occur in your file folders. It makes life easy!

image photo gallery

Understanding Metadata

The actual organization process begins the minute a digital photo is taken. For each image, a file is automatically created containing a set of data called metadata. Metadata stays with the image and can be understood by other software and computers regardless of the format. That is because with a still photo, there are more than 400 metadata tags that can be contained within the EXIF (exchangeable image file format) metadata.

Metadata falls into three types of information (plus an interesting fact):

  • Utility – information such as the creator, date, and location (many have geotagging and can show the location in map programs).
  • Descriptive – information that describes the image such as captions, ratings, tags, and keywords – all the things you can add to help you search easier.
  • Rights – this is all about copyright, etc. Very useful if you are a professional photographer.
  • FACT: Forensic analysis of metadata is frequently used to solve crimes! Was the photo altered? When was it really taken? Who took it?

The best organizing tools allow you to add tags, keywords and ratings which get added to the metadata in each photo. In fact, some will let you do tagging in batches. We’re talking about the metadata, not to be technical, but so that you can understand the significance of adding tags and keywords. The new information helps define the picture forever.

On the right side of this image, you can see some of the metadata, but  notice, I have a Metadata tab that will tell me loads of things.

image of metadata


A photo organizer is NOT a backup system for your photos. It only indexes (or catalogs) your images. By this, I mean it only gives you a quick way to view your photos.

Five Steps to Choose an Organizer

The goal here is to help you choose a photo organizer that fits your budget, needs, and busy schedule. An organizer is no good if it doesn’t save you time! So how can we help?  By providing you with our personal assessment of some photo organizers on the market and by giving you the exact same tool to use for yourself.

If you follow our step-by-step process, including instructions for using the tool, you’ll see the magic, too. Remember, when you read our reviews they are based on our opinion and what we observed when trying to use the software. For every one we didn’t like, there are many people who loved it. At the end of this post, I’ll tell you which product we chose.

Photo Organizer Selection Tool

Click on the button below to get your free Photo Organizer spreadsheet! 

This tools works best if you have a Google account  because you copy it and can use all the features and even modify the tool!  

If you don’t have a Google account, you can view the tool to see our scoring and click on the links to take you to websites. And, you can also download into Microsoft Excel and modify the table.

The calculations are based on formulas in some cells, so we have locked those cells to try to prevent mishaps.

button Photo Organizer Selection tool

Follow the process to get the best results.  Although, non-Google accounts can’t actually modify anything, the premise can be used for anyone. The better effort you put into the scoring, the better your answer will be for the best organizer for you. 

Step 1: Make a wish list of features you want in an organizer.

There are features that you will want your organizer to meet. Just know that you will probably not find the “perfect” program, but with the scoring tool, you can identify the one that best fits your wish list. Maybe you’re thinking that you don’t know enough yet to have a wish list. Not to worry – we’ve got you covered.

Our tool has a built-in wish list based on not only what we wanted, but what others wanted too.

Under each wish list item is a weighting number of 1-10. These numbers indicate how important the wish list item is for YOU. For example, for us, Facial Recognition, Tagging, Can Map to Any Drive, and File Management were our most important items and we weighted them as a 10.

In the tool, you have the option to change the weights for each feature. You can have multiple items with the same weight. The magic comes from the calculations done in the tool.

Step 2: Go to the Definition and Scoring tab. Print this if you can.

Each wish list item is briefly defined. There are three levels of scoring 1, 3, or 9 and each score is further defined to ensure that the scoring is standard. The explanations must be so clear that anyone can pick up the scoring sheet and understand how to score.

If you want to change the scoring options (1, 3, 9), you can’t – sorry! The reason: this is a tried and tested methodology frequently used by businesses to clarify their decisions. If the scoring gets too cluttered, clarity will not be achieved.

Step 3: List the Programs to Be Evaluated

We have done fairly intense research and found that there are tons of organizers. Way more than we wanted to review. Feel free to use the list we provide or do your own research. If you only want to look at free programs, they are denoted in our list with an asterisk (*).

You will note that some programs are listed, but not evaluated. We left them in the list for your reference because at some point they were recommended, but we didn’t review them. Feel free to continue our evaluation by opening the links, going to the website, perusing help files, or whatever you need to answer as much as possible.

You can actually add a few products of your own at the end of the list, if you choose.

Step 4: Begin Scoring

This is the hardest and most labor intensive part! You must follow the definitions so that you know the scoring is consistent. My husband downloaded and tested each one he scored, but you can also get many of your answers by looking at the user guides, forums, etc.

Use the Definition and Scoring tool to guide your evaluation. Don’t make assumptions. If you can’t find the answer, just leave the box empty.

Step 5: Decision Time

The last step is to review your results and make your decision! The Ranking is the accumulated score (number of points earned) whereas the Score is a percentage. For example, 93% means that it met our 93% of our wish list.

Have you decided?  Tell us in the comments which one you chose (or are leaning toward) and if you have a minute, tell us why. That’s the beauty – there is no right or wrong.


  • Just like LEGO kits, you have to read the user manual or you’ll only get frustrated.
  • Just like LEGO, you can create some good stuff from chaos.
  • And, just like LEGO, you will be rewarded for a job well done!

image completed LEGO beetle kit


We chose Adobe Photo Shop Elements 2018 as our photo organizer. I purchased it from for about $70 (sometimes they have sales) and I figure I can get 4-5 years of use before I have to update. It’s worth $12 a year to me.  So, I was good with spending the money.

Overall, I have found their help to be pretty good if you know the terms to search for, and often I didn’t. So, I ended up buying a used book (Photoshop Elements 2018 for dummies) from Amazon (I think around $7) to help me learn it more quickly. It is very good! I still get stuck sometimes because it is so feature-rich and I was so used to Picasa, but I’m adjusting nicely.

I get asked why not just rely on Google Photos or iPhotos to get organized. Well, neither is horrible, but I like to have total control over my image sorting and tagging that goes beyond date or geolocation. I also LOVE facial recognition, which is available in both programs — although it can get people mixed up at times. Off the top of my head, I would say that Photoshop Elements is correct 85-90% of the time (this is not scientific, just a best guess).

I also like that I have the program on my computer and don’t need an internet connection (I can spend time tagging photos while we camp or are traveling in the car).

And, lastly – I am skeptical putting all my trust in a third party. I even do my own backups (topic for another post). Just as Google pulled the rug from under us with Picasa, I don’t ever want to be in that position again.

Am I a control freak???  Maybe….

OR, maybe I just like all my red LEGO bricks to be sorted together. ☺