Meet real people who have pursued a career in photo organizing and benefit from their experience. In this installment, we talked to Chris Southard about his journey as a Photo Manager.

In the summer of 2012, Chris Southard went to help his parents clean up after some flooding affected their home. While cleaning out the basement, Chris found a big bin of childhood photos and negatives. His heart stopped as he worried that they had been irreversibly damaged. Fortunately, he was able to salvage them. When he started searching for help on how to scan and protect his family’s photos, he came across The Photo Managers. After a phone call with founder, Cathi Nelson, Chris made the decision to join The Photo Managers in January 2013.


How did you get started in scanning and digitizing photos professionally? 


By researching the best practices on scanning, joining The Photo Managers, and attending the conference, I was able to pull that knowledge together and create a plan. To start, I purchased some scanning equipment. But getting my first clients was a twofold process.

I had an opportunity to meet local photo organizers Becky Hussey and Kerry Butkovich at the first Photo Managers conference. I learned that in their business, they weren’t really concentrating on the scanning part, they were doing more of the storytelling and the organizing. So ever since then, we’ve had a good relationship and I do a lot of their larger scan jobs. A piece of advice I have for those new to photo management is to partner with other organizers. If you’re not wanting to do certain elements, like scanning, you can find another organizer that does that and work with them to get the job done. 

Another way I got started was by working for my family. I even had some extended family that had slides and negatives, that needed to be preserved. This allowed me to get some jobs under my belt, before moving out into the public realm. So I do encourage new photo managers to think about their family’s needs. Some families are huge and there’s a lot of opportunity to work with them and their photos. 


How do you find clients today?


Today, most of my business comes by word-of-mouth from other clients and previous clients that I’ve worked with. I’ve also been lucky to partner with other photo managers like Kerry and Becky, which has kept me going. 

One of the things that I really don’t necessarily like to do is marketing. I’m taking some time right now to put some content from my website in some brochures and flyers so that I can then start advertising more. I want to branch out more to the public, versus just word-of-mouth. 

In photo management, no matter what your level of experience, you have the flexibility to work at it as a full-time job or on the side. For me, I don’t necessarily have to use it to make a living. I know there are people that are doing it, and doing quite well, but in my case, I don’t have to. So there’s not that much pressure on me to find clients that I need to be working with every single day. That being said, there are opportunities out there.


What scanning equipment do you recommend for those just getting started?


I still use my Kodak PS80, which unfortunately Kodak has discontinued. I also got into camera scanning. For the longest time, I had a used A3 flatbed that allows you to scan up to 12” by 18” items. The Epson 12000 XL is another A3 type. There is some investment involved for folks that are starting out. 

A couple of years ago at The Photo Managers conference, Epson was a sponsor and they shared several scanners with the group. The consensus that we arrived at was that the Epson 600 is a good starting point. The Epson Perfection Pro version is the next step up. It just depends on what you’re able to invest in at the beginning. When it comes to camera scanning, it may be worthwhile to consider what pieces you already have, and what else you would need to create your kit. Camera scanning allows you to scan prints, oversized items, negatives, slides, and other media. You can also digitize artwork and framed items that can’t be taken out of the frames. 

Getting the equipment is an investment, but in the long run, it’s worth it. When I first started out, I bought used equipment. You don’t need everything to be brand new.


What do you enjoy most about being a Photo Manager?


I like helping people rediscover some of their lost treasures. When you hand the project back to the client and they can view these images for the first time in years, they really light up. It brings back memories and they start sharing stories. For me, and for many photo organizers, we enjoy that same feeling of warmth. It’s like a “wow” feeling that you get when you’re working with your clients and they rediscover something they hadn’t seen in many, many years. It also feels good to provide our clients with a sense of relief. Their collection is backed up, safe, and they can access their photos even if something happens.


How do you return photos to a client after you have scanned them?


There are a couple of different ways we return photos to clients after the scanning project is complete. As far as our media, we scan everything and put them on either flash drives or external hard drives. Then as far as the prints and negatives and slides, we’ll use Archival Methods boxes. Depending on what they have will create some type of nice storage for them that they can then keep everything together and safe and protected.


How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?


When people decide that they want a photo organizer to help them, it’s usually when they come across something that needs to be preserved, or unfortunately when they need something for say a funeral or even a wedding or celebration. Those are the moments when people realize that they need help. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, when people were being sent home to work early on in the pandemic, it gave them more time to realize the mess their photos were in.

I had one client that actually started in March 2020. Their long-term goal was to go through their photos and because they were able to work from home, it gave them an opportunity to do that. I had a couple of clients that took six to 12 weeks to go through everything. And I worked with them as they went to walk them through the process. The one client had tons of albums and they wanted to pull everything out of the albums and get everything in order by date. I walked them through the process to get the project scan-ready so I can then get the items from them. I think the pandemic gave people more time to go through stuff and realize the mess than needed our attention.


Want to learn more about the equipment, apps, and other resources Chris uses and recommends? Watch the full interview to learn more and Chris gives his answers to questions from our audience.