Back in the old days, before digital photography became affordable and accessible, historians would return from an archive carrying boxes filled with photocopied documents or handwritten notes. This paper-based system took up an incredible amount of space and required impressive organization skills to keep from losing critical evidence. Today, historians can keep an entire project inside a tiny laptop computer, but it still takes impressive organization skills to keep from losing critical evidence.
Photos taken on a digital camera or mobile device are stored as a JPEG files. Unlike a .doc file, which can incorporate many pages into one document, a JPEG only contains a single photograph. Additionally, the content of JPEG files are not searchable. For these reasons, I always convert my photos to PDF files. This can be done by "printing" to PDF. In either Windows or the Mac OS, select file > print and then change the printer to "save as PDF." The file is then re-saved to your hard drive in this new format. By using the Preview application on a Mac or AdobePro on a PC, you can then merge the 100 pages of a survey report you photographed into just one file.
Even better, once your photos have been converted to PDFs you can use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to "read" your documents and make the text searchable! This generally only works for typed documents, so it's not an option for PDFs of handwritten 19th century diaries. Even typed documents do not convert perfectly, but it is AWESOME to be able to type "Washington Heights" or "urban crisis" into the search bar on my laptop and call up all of the documents that include these terms.
I use DEVONthink, my database software (which I will talk about later this week), to OCR my PDFs. There are other free options online, but I cannot vouch for them. I recommend checking out this ProfHacker post for further information on this topic.
Once I've gone through all of these tedious steps to convert my archival photographs into the most productive format possible, I still take pains to clearly label and organize the files within my hard drive. Although I can search for documents by topic or by using highly specific search terms to find a particular document, there are bound to be occasions when the search is unsuccessful (maybe the OCR was inaccurate or maybe the search term is not the exact language used in a document) and you have to find a document the hard way. It's easier to do this when you have neat folders organized by archive, archival trip, or collections.
Again, it's a tedious process... but it does create an invaluable opportunity for productive procrastination. After a research trip I often return home feeling a bit burned out, and I can recharge for a few hours (... ok, maybe a few days) by converting and organizing my files. I do derive immense satisfaction from expertly nested folders, with no stray files harshing my mellow.