How would it feel to preserve and protect your family print photo history gathered over the decades for generations to come?
Have you inherited your parent’s print photos and now become the keeper of the family heritage?
Do you feel overwhelmed about your boxes and big plastic cartons full of photos?
Understandably you may not know where to begin. If you were looking for a needle in a haystack, you might feel exactly the same way. Just know that you are not alone. And that it can be done. Starting with one photo at a time.
Six Simple Steps to Organizing Your Print Photos
1. Gather All Your Photos in One Spot
Find every photo you own, whether in boxes, bags, albums, framed or even loose print photos and bring them together in the one location you are going to work on the project. You will need a large workspace, possibly in a spot where you can leave and come back to the project as you are able. If you have the luxury of keeping your photos in “transit” for the duration of the project, cover your work at the end of each session with a sheet to keep dust and/or curious hands away.
Need the table for dinner every day? Then store the organized photos in a Ziploc bag by category with the index card inside the bag, keeping categories separate if possible.
2. Handle it One Small Batch at a Time
Just remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you start and work with just a handful of photos at a time, it will be less overwhelming. Follow this six step process and it won’t matter if the print photos are completely mixed up or still in the original photo store envelope in perfect order. Although from experience I can tell you, not to hope for that as it is rare. Consider it a gift when you do!
3. Build Piles of Photos by Category
When working with print photos, it can be difficult to sort chronologically. At some point photos came with a processing date stamped on them, but over the decades it is more likely that most photos in your collection do not.
Our life is like a book, and like any book it is made up of chapters told by the people, places and events of our life. As you create each new pile, write those categories on index cards in big bold letters so that they can be easily seen as the project grows.
Some common categories are:
People – Family (your immediate family – you and the kids), Children (a category for each child, plus a category for group shots), Grandkids, Parents, Nieces and Nephews, Pets etc.
Places – Home, Cottage, Vacations (all vacations or separate categories by location), High School, University, Work
Events – Birthdays, Weddings, Christmas, Holidays, Graduations etc.
Place each photo in the pile making sure not to cover the category written on the index card because you are going to use the cards to identify the correct pile to place a photo, not the top photo. This will keep you organized and prevent you from placing photos in a category that doesn’t make sense. Believe me, it happens.
When you come across a photo that may fit more than one category, consider the point of reference that you are most likely to search for it. For example, if it’s a photo of your kids and the Grandparents at Christmas, how would you ultimately most likely look for that picture? And don’t ponder too long. There’s no right or wrong answer. If you end up looking for it under the “Christmas” category and it’s not there, your search will be shortened because you will most likely look under “Children” or “Grandparents” next.
4. Edit, Edit, Edit
There are four good reasons to keep a photo.
- It evokes an emotion
- It tells a story
- It has historical importance
- It is the only photo you have of something or someone important to you
It is not necessary to keep every photo we have in our life. If it doesn’t meet the above criteria, you don’t really need it.
Create three more piles in your sorting: Edits, To Be Identified and Duplicates. Edits are the photos that you don’t need and neither will anyone else. To Be Identified are the photos you aren’t sure of and need to consult others to determine who is in the photo and if it meets the criteria to keep it. Duplicates are just that. Do you recall back in the day when you brought your roll of film to be developed, and although you had no idea if the photos would turn out, you went ahead and paid for the duplicates, sometimes even triplicates, to be developed. And even then you kept them all. So what can you do with doubles and triples? Here’s an idea: keep them separate in a box and offer them to family and friends to take home with them. There’s a pretty good chance they have never seen the photos and will be tickled pink you brought the memory back into their lives.
TIP: If a pile gets too big it means one of two things. You need to do more editing, or it needs to be split into sub categories. For example, on of my first clients that I worked with had a “Celebration” category. It grew so high it was in jeopardy of toppling over. After a quick investigation we uncovered a huge amount of Halloween photos. This large family hosted a major party every year for the occasion, thus the Halloween category was born and ultimately their favorite photos turned into a photo book titled “BOO!”.
5. Scan and Preserve Your Photo Collection Digitally
No photo is immune from being lost. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and fire are some of the predators of our print photo collection. So it is important to digitize your photos to preserve them. Do you need to scan every photo? Not necessarily, that’s up to you. You should digitize the WOW photos which are the ones you want to live among you and your family on a day to day basis. Whether they are framed, created into a photo book or wall art, these are the pictures that you love and want to continue to enjoy the moments and share the stories. Then there are print photos that don’t necessarily need to be in your life all the time, but you keep because they are part of your story and should be preserved for generations to come.
6. Storage and Backup
Now that you have digitized your photos, should you keep your print copies or not? Print is still a very good form of backup. If you decide to keep the prints they should be stored in an archival box such as the Legacy Box. This beautiful box stores up to 2400 photos with 10 compartments and dividers in an acid and lignin free environment to preserve then in their current condition and prevent further fading or discolouration. To find out more about backing up your photos check out this blog by The Photo Organizers about the 3-2-1 Backup Plan
Find out more and watch this short overview of How to Save Your Photos on CHCH Television where Daina Makinson talks with Bob Cowan of Morning Live.
Founder of Snap Shot Solutions, Daina Makinson is a Professional Photo Organizer, specializing in digital and print organizing. For the past six years, she’s helped clients organize, preserve and protect their most precious memories with their photograph collection. Daina works one on one with clients to help them with the overwhelming task of bringing all their photos together, organizing them by the people, places and events of their lives.
Daina is a certified member of APPO, the Association of Personal Photo Organizers and has appeared on CHCH and Global Televisions morning shows, CBC’s prime time show Doc Zone, as well as the Guelph Mercury and Globe and Mail.
Thank you for the opportunity to share these tips to bring our old photos back into our lives. It gave me the chance to slow down for a moment a take a stroll down memory lane myself.
This is so helpful to me. I really enjoy your content! I love old photos, have loved taking photos, and now am enjoying taking pictures more than ever, with a young family! I’ve seriously fallen behind on this old hobby of mine, because I need to get back into creating order of a now digital mess, editing unneeded duplicates without feeling like I’m discarding a fragment of my dear children’s childhood, and then actually bringing the photos to life for us to enjoy, via an album or photo book. I just wanted to say that your site is inspiring to me to work through 5 years of disorder, and that I will visit your site again!
I am so happy this has inspired you to start bringing your beloved stories back into your family’s life. Good luck with your project 🙂 Take it one day at a time and I know you will do it!
Where can I buy the photo storage box in this article?
That is our Legacy Box. You can purchase one at https://thephotoorganizers.myshopify.com.
You are a LIFESAVER!