How to Organize Archived Photography Sessions

Jul 30, 2012

Leah Remillét

The size of digital files are increasing all-the-time; add to that the option for raw + jpeg and keeping the originals, the edited and the psd layered files – and, well – it’s no wonder that we find ourselves going through more hard-drives than Emeril Lagosee goes through “Bam!” spice.  

This leaves us with quite a dilemma.  If we keep all that data on our computers, we begin getting lovely messages like “disk full” or “scratch disk full” that make us (okay, me) want to stab our eyeballs out.  Or we notice our computers, which we happened to pay a pretty penny to have upgraded to contain the most ram, most space, most everything – running slower than our grandmas (okay, me again).  We know we need to archive our images, but at the rate that we’re creating these image files, our house is going to be full from basement to ceiling of external hard-drives in 3.7 years.  What to do, what to do? 

Here’s my own take on how to handle the archival of past photography sessions…  

We have several options for archival and storage, and I think they each play a purpose in one form or another.  Just like everything else, you have to find the right balance for you, your business, and your client needs.  Archival can be overdone or, of course, underdone (which is way more often the case, it seems).  And we never realize just how frightening the possibilities are until we hit the awful crisis-moment when we actually need those files.

INTERNAL HARD-DRIVE: In my experience, keeping your internal hard-drive (or your computer) as free’d up as possible will make the rest of your life a whole lot easier to handle!  I’m serious!  Is there anything more infuriating than sitting down with a few precious minutes to work and having your computer be incapable of keeping up with you because it’s too bogged down?!?!  I try to keep my internal hard drive free of all photography sessions, except for the current sessions that are still in workflow.  All other sessions are archived.

*Curious about that awesome desktop organizer for photographers? It’s FREE on the Go4Pro Photos Facebook Page! 



EXTERNAL HARD-DRIVE:  Having an external hard drive connected to your computer will save you from that bogged down, “disk full,” scratch-out-your-eye-balls scenario I mentioned earlier.  You’ll still have easy access to pull up past sessions, and this won’t become the slow and painful death of your desktop.  So before doing anything else, first move your sessions over to a 1 TB external hard drive.  For easy access, all my sessions and projects for the current and previous year are on this hard-drive. 

It’s probably important to note that since they were previously on my desktop, they are also archived via Time Machine, as Time Machine backsup my computer every day. 



CD’s or DVD’s:  Once your external hard-drives start getting too full, it’s time to find a new, semi-permanet residence (see Lifespan of Discs, below) for all of those wonderful client sessions which you just maybe, could possibly (although most likely never will) need again.  But all the same, you just have to keep them – if for no other reason than to prove to yourself how much you’ve improved when you look back in five years.  This is when it’s time to burn to disc for a slightly more permanent archival solution. You have 2 options.

Option 1: If you prefer keeping each session (or family) separate, then archive them individually onto CD’s.   So if you need the ‘Smith Family’ files, find the ‘S’ Tab for 2011, and just behind the ‘Sanders Family,’ you’ll find the Smith disc. 

Option 2: If you’d rather see more sessions fit onto each disc (and are happier saving space in your closet as opposed to maintaining a super obvious and easy storage system) then use DVD’s.  You’ll be able to fit a lot more data on each disc, making it possible to store several sessions per archival disc.

Lifespan of Discs:  CD-R’s are estimated to have a life span of 5 to 10 years. DVD-R’s are estimated to have a lifespan of 10 to 30 years, depending on the manufacturer of the disc and how they are stored.  All discs should be stored in a cool dry place (just like photos).

*Tip:  I purchase all of my rewritable CD’s and DVD’s on Black Friday! I can get them for a fraction of their regular cost – so that’s when I stock up for the year.


ONLINE STORAGE:  I don’t use online storage for the specific purpose of backing up archived sessions, so I really don’t have too much input to share on this one.  It seems that using a simple cloud storage system in which you could save all of your most important data (not just your photography) would probably be the best route.  

I do use MediaFire and DropBox to store, share and collaborate on sessions and projects, though both sites state that they are not meant or intended for archival storage.  I did, however, find this article, titled; ‘Top 20 Photo Sharing and Storage Sites‘ by


What I personally do…  I know so many amazing photographers who backup and then archive and then backup their archive.  I’m just seriously nowhere near that level of awesome or dedicated – or maybe both.  I keep the sessions that are currently in process on my desktop.  As soon as the final order is delivered, that session is moved form my internal hard-drive on the desktop to my 1 TB external hard-drive connected to the computer.  I only save the final JPG images, everything else is purged.  So if I shoot a session and take 100 pics, I will cull and choose – let’s say 30. Those 30 will be saved and archived and the rest are purged.

At the end of each year, I take all of the sessions from 2 years prior and burn them to disk.  They are filed alphabetically by year and are then purged completely from my hard-drives.  I also state something along those lines in my contract.

I know it’s SUPER hard to erase past sessions (it feels so permanent!), but there is NO WAY we can keep up with them all on our computers.  We will need backup computers for our backup computers if we don’t each create our own workable and manageable archival system.  At first, I held on to all of them because I just couldn’t bare “emptying the trash.”  But then I realized that I hadn’t even looked at the ones from 5 years ago for the past 3 years.  At some point, we have to be comfortable enough to let go.

Do you have a question that you’d love to have answered? Ask it on our Facebook Wall and you may just see an upcoming post outlining my version of an answer! 

  1. mary

    August 1st, 2012 at 7:20 am

    um…FANTASTIC post…literally either you jinxed me (as I got the error messages tonight) or it was ridiculously prophetic.

    I will admit that it’s like hand shaking scary to empty trash after moving to the external hard drive…I literally asked the computer “are you sure you’re not lying” about those images being there now? But your post gave me the push I needed. Thanks!

  2. Leah Remillet

    August 1st, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    That’s so awesome Mary! I know what you mean… Last night… Mine went scratch full which I thought was hilarious since I had just posted about it yesterday!

  3. Nakesha

    August 6th, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    I totally relate to Mary!!

    Also, I use an online storage, I know there are a bunch out there, I use BackBlaze. The really cool thing about it is it’s only $5 a month per computer (I have two), but any hard drives plugged into your computer, it will also back up for free! (Except it does not back up a hard drive that has time machine on it).

    So I have two externals always plugged into my computer. The first is a small (old) one, 500 GB, and that does the time machine for my computer (in case I need to find old files). Then I have a second one that is 2 TB, and that’s what I load all my sessions to. So since it’s plugged into my computer, it is also backed up in my BackBlaze account. I really really love having the online back up. I haven’t had to use it and I have had it over a year. But it really gives me piece of mind that no matter which way you slice it, I am covered. So even with hard drive failure, I still have my images.

    I just wanted to let you know what I found that really works for me! 🙂

  4. Leah Remillet

    August 8th, 2012 at 12:19 am

    Thank you so much for sharing Nakesha!

  5. Alyssa

    April 23rd, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    I love this! Is there anyway to get the file for the organizer again?

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