Tagging Tips:  How to Organize your Home Photos and Videos

About 10 years ago, we had a computer that held all our photos and videos.  It was on it’s last leg so I first transferred all my photos off to a hard drive.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten to go back and get my videos before it finally died.  We took it to several computer specialty places and it was unable to be recovered.  Fortunately, I had kept a family blog and was able to recover my favorite videos from there but this event sent me into back-up over-drive!

Fast forward 10 years and I have multiple external hard drives but no consistent way to organize my files.  In 2018, I started consolidating and perfecting the best system for me.  This system can be time consuming and overwhelming to begin with but once you get a few under your belt, the future time savings will be huge!  So let’s get started…


Folders vs. Tags

There are a lot of varying opinions out there on which is better.  I’ve tried going only folders and only tagging and it becomes really difficult to quickly find the photos you want.  These days we take 50 photos of the same thing and never want to delete anything.  How do you quickly pull up the best of the best? 

The best approach is for folders and tags to work together.

A Folder is a way to group files and other folders.

A Tag is a keyword assigned to a piece of information (such as a digital image)

Here are some examples of how you could use a Folder and a Tag: 


  • Date
  • Vacations
  • Documents
  • Home Improvement
  • Work


  • People/Names
  • Favorites
  • Sport Highlights
  • Scenic/Panoramic
  • Animals

Establishing your System

The key to being successful here is to be consistent.  It’s easy to create so many different folders and tags that you end up completely forgetting what you were trying to do in the first place!  Here are a few tried and tested…

  • Figure out your Hierarchy.  What are ways you search for photos?  For me, I do most of my searching at the end of a year or by child – mostly for the purpose of creating a highlights video or photo album.  So my folder hierarchy is by Year – Month – Day and then I have tags to search for “Photo_Video_Worthy” , “Sport_Highlights” , “First_Last_Day_School” , etc.
  • Stay disciplined in your naming.  It’s easy to get carried away and lose track of all your tags.  In the beginning, I tagged everything but wasn’t consistent.  For sports, I would use “Sport_Highlights” , “Goal” , “Lacrosse” and “Team” when in reality, the only tag I needed was “Sport_Highlights”.
  • Keep it to 1-2 words.  Yes, my examples here are up to 4 words but they are easy for me to remember.  Whatever you choose, it needs to be something you can easily recall.
  • Use real names.  This was my #1 issue when I first started tagging.  I would use nicknames or grandparent names but the challenge with that is usually there is more than 1 Grandma and searching becomes difficult.  If you are tagging with names, make sure there is only one of each and you remember the difference.
  • Be critical of your Favorites.  The whole purpose of tagging is to narrow down your search.  For me, it’s a way to keep all the photos I take but really be specific in which are truly my favorite.  For each set of pictures I try to only pick 1-2 that are tagged as “Photo_Video_Worthy” because at the end of the year they all add up!

Setting up Tags

Now that you’ve established a system, it’s time to start tagging!  First things first is to get your files into their appropriate folders.  Once that is complete, there are 2 basic steps to start.  I am working off a Mac but if you have a PC a quick google search for “Tagging Files on a PC” should give you what you need.

ONE.  Create a Shortcut

  1. Open Systems Preferences
  2. Go to “Keyboard” and choose the “Shortcuts” tab
  3. Select “App Shortcuts” from the sidebar, then click [+] to create a new shortcut
  4. In the “Application” menu choose “Finder.app”
  5. Under “Menu Title” enter “Tags…” exactly
  6. Click within the “Keyboard Shortcut” box to define the keystroke for tagging files in Finder.  I have chosen to use Command + T, then choose “Add” when done
  7. Exit out of System Preferences

TWO.  Select a Color and Order

  1. In Finder go to “Preferences” to see a list of all the tags.
  2. Select the [+] to add new tags
  3. Select the Circle to apply a color – I only use color on my most important tags
  4. Drag a tag to re-order
  5. Right-click to re-name or delete

Auditing Tags

Even with the most basic and disciplined tagging it is likely that at some point, you will need to audit.  The best way to do this is 3-4 times a year go through all your tags and make sure you still agree with them.  This way you can clean-up tags that may not be as good as you thought or you need to consolidate.  Early on, I would tag anyone in a photo – even if it wasn’t a great picture of them.  Now, as I go through and audit, if it’s not a good picture or they are not looking at the camera, I take their name off the photo.

Organizing Folders and Applying Tags

Now that you have the facts and how to organize it probably seems quite overwhelming to get after.  For me, it’s important enough to go back and get my files in order because of the lost hard drive.  Once everything is organized and tagged I take the most important and back-up on my cloud, put on a CD and will create a book to have on hand. 

If the thought of going back and doing this is too much, perhaps a good place to start is with anything new going forward.  When you want to go back and look at these photos, you will greatly appreciate the simplicity in finding what you need!

If you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out!