This blog post is part of a series featuring how photo organizers use photos in their own personal projects. We hope they inspire you on your photo organizing journey. Photo Organizer Chantal Imbach of Simply In Order shares how she helped her mother sort, digitize and archive her family photos.
A few months ago, I worked on a very personal and special project together with my mum: we sorted, digitised and archived her photo collection. Obviously, this is not a project that can be done in a few hours. To make it even more difficult… I live in Melbourne, Australia, and she lives in Switzerland–not quite around the corner. Here is what we did:
First, we discussed the goal of the project. Not all photo organising projects have the same goal and it was important to be clear about why we want to do this and what we want to do with the printed photos as well as with the digitised versions.
In our case, we decided that mum is going to keep the original family photos and I would take away the digital ones to process them further. We wanted to preserve the best photos for future generations and make them sharable, first and foremost with my two brothers.
The Preparation Work
My only preparation work was to give mum instructions and to find someone who hires out the scanner I wanted to use.
In the weeks and months before I arrived, mum gathered all the photos throughout the house. This included framed ones, loose photos and albums.
Since I can remember she always felt guilty because she never did anything with our photos. The few albums we have were mostly done by other people. The furthest she got was having a shoebox per child (3). Even this was tricky because my brothers are twins and are hardly ever alone in a photo. So, in which box do you throw it then?
However, having mostly loose photos was actually a big, big advantage and time saver. Imagine how much longer it takes to scan photos if they are stuck in albums and possibly difficult to remove. In our case, we could easily use a high-speed scanner with a feeder which made it possible to finish the project in the few days we had.
Once she had all the photos in one place – the spare bedroom – she started to sort them by year. If the capture date of a photo was unclear, it would go in a pile called ‘unknown date’. This is how it looked when I arrived:
The Decluttering and Scanning Process
As you can see, mum had done a lot of work already. The plan moving forward was that she would go through each year pile, declutter and sort them chronologically and by event within the year while I would start scanning.
It quickly became clear that this is not as easy as it might sound. We ended up working together: me holding the photo – she making the decision. That went a lot faster and I have to say, I was actually very impressed with her throwing out so many photos (about 3 bags full in the end).
The best part of this process was clearly the stories that emerged – happy ones and sad ones! She told me stories I had never heard before and we connected in a beautiful way.
Moving on, I then scanned the prepared year piles. Rather than writing information on the back of the photos, we used index cards. We kept it really simple. For example, it would say ‘Christmas 1979’ and behind it all the photos that belonged to that event. Sometimes it would be quite generic like ‘Spring/Summer 1988’. Obviously, because they were family photos I know who is on them in most cases and it’s not absolutely necessary to write it on the back. The index card can hold all the information you need. We simply didn’t have the time to write on the backs and we had decided to keep the originals as a backup only.
I always scanned the index card first and then the photos that belonged to it. This helps in the renaming process later on because I won’t have access to the originals that are now kept at my mum’s house in four archival boxes.
Editing and Adding Metadata after Scanning
Because we didn’t have enough time, I didn’t rename the files or add any keywords or other metadata to the digitised family photos. We tried to do it as we went, by batch, but it would have taken too much time. I started doing this once I was back home and I still need to finish it.
Without the preparation work, it eventually took us about 160 (wo)man hours to sort and scan everything. We scanned almost exactly 4,000 photos including a few documents. The oldest photo we found was from 1900.
As mentioned, I have not quite finished processing all the family photos. Once I have added the necessary metadata, including the stories I heard, they will all be made accessible online for family members so they can download what they want to add to their own collection. Of course everything was and is always backed up at least twice.
Lessons Learned and Tips
What I learned along the way:
- Scenery photos are usually unimportant – in our case, most landed in the bin. The photos showing your loved ones are the ones that matter most.
- The ‘people’ photos are even more valuable if you have a story to go with it. Whether you jot the story down or record it with your phone or even a camera, make sure you record it somehow.
- The peace of mind knowing that the photos are digitised and backed up is invaluable.
- The joy of now being able to share these photos is enormous!
- It definitely changed the way I take photos.
Even if you don’t want to do the scanning yourself, if you still do have your parents, take the time to sort their photo collection with them, to record these stories and to connect. These family photos and stories are an important part of your life, too.
Living in a beautiful but also very fire-prone area outside Melbourne, Australia, has triggered Chantal Imbach’s passion for keeping photo collections safe and organised so they can be passed on to future generations in a meaningful way.
She specialises in digital photo organizing, scanning and slideshows and shares more of her tips in her blog at Simply In Order Photo Organising.