As another year draws to a close, it’s time to pull out that list of to-dos we made at the beginning of it. For 2018, we may decide not to bother with some while going after others with greater resolve. There are a few tasks, however, that always make the list but are hard to scratch off it. Organizing and taming an unruly photo collection is one such project. It always seems like a worthy goal for the new year but twelve months later, we are no closer to achieving it.
And that’s perfectly normal.
The reality is that photo organizing is a task that’s easy to postpone. Unlike taxes and laundry, it CAN be put off – without triggering IRS notices or having our clothing situation spin out of control. For the most part, our photos stay where we keep them – uncomplaining and undemanding. They don’t make life difficult for us if we forget about them for a while.
Still, it’s important to stay focused on our photo organizing goals. The more we delay, the more likely that we’ll lose precious memories to degradation or hard disk crashes. Also, by digitizing old prints, we make these memories easier to retrieve or weave into beautiful albums, movies and collages.
It may seem like a daunting project but if we distil it down to a few distinct steps, it’s possible to see how we can get it done – in a month or two even.
Most photo organization experts agree that the main steps to the process include:
Gathering and consolidating: You need a space that you can dedicate to the project until it’s done. So, the kitchen table is not really ideal. Use a desk, the floor of an unused room or some other large workspace where you can spread out all your photos – and leave them for a while.
You can use the same consolidation system on digital photos. Bring everything you have on phones and various hard disks together in one place. This could be your laptop or physical hard disk to start with but you will also need a cloud platform such as Google Photos to continue to store and work with your digital photos.
Purging and more purging: It’s important to be a little ruthless and remind yourself that you don’t need forty photos of springtime blooms in your front yard. This is the time to get rid of duplicates, blurry shots and other pictures that are not particularly meaningful. Do you need to hold on to that lopsided picture of your refrigerator (probably taken by your 4 year old on his first photo assignment with your old point and shoot)? It depends on whether it tells a bigger story for you. If you subscribe to the Konmari method of organizing, you can try holding each photo in your hand to check if it truly sparks joy. Whatever your system, apply it consistently to your photos, both new and old.
Sorting and labeling: Once you go through all your print photos, there are logical groupings that will crop up and reveal themselves. So, just follow that trail wherever it takes you. Store your prints in acid-free storage boxes with tab dividers to mark the main categories: years, periods, events, places, people and more. Digital photos are easier to work with and organize into folders. And many of today’s photo storage apps are designed to automatically sort your images based on the information embedded in them.
Digitizing where needed: When you finally have your print collection pared down to the images that you want to keep, work out a plan to scan and save them. You can do it yourself or with some help from a trusty service. Whichever route you pick, you’ll be glad to have invested in making your old prints safe, secure and easily retrievable.
Creating, sharing, enjoying: With the myriad tools and apps out there, it’s easy to create beautiful and shareable digital keepsakes or stories with our photos. You can also quickly dig up the right photo or set of photos for a special occasion – a birthday, anniversary, reunion and more. As photographer Kevin Gilbert said in a 2012 TED talk: a picture is worthless if you can’t find it. With a little effort, every image will have its own special place in your memory archives.
It may not seem that way but organizing your photos – print and digital – is more doable than you think. Stay focused on the outcome as you go about the process and 2018 can be the year you finally get to cross that task off your list.