In the pre-digital era, a photographer was largely limited by the number of frames on a roll of film — 36 in most cases. Those who took a lot of pictures were good at judging how a given photo would turn out before clicking the button. Often, they would take 3-4 shots of the same subject at varying shutter speeds in the hope that one of those attempts would yield a winner. More serious photographers were usually armed with multiple rolls of film. It was not uncommon to see professional photographers with bandolier holders for their film rolls while on long trips or remote location runs.
Fast forward to today and the scene looks a bit different
This kind of measured approach is no longer the norm in photography. A few die-hard film enthusiasts and purists are still attached to the film format, but the average person has moved entirely to digital. In fact, there’s a whole generation now that has never seen or used a film camera. And that has created a different kind of problem for us now.
With digital cameras, people can take photos – lots and lots of them. In 2013, 660 billion digital images were produced worldwide, according to some estimates. This figure had grown to 1.2 trillion by 2017. Phones, tablets, digital cameras, laptops and more are used daily to produce more images and contribute to this exponential growth of digital photos. The aggregate number of digital photos stored across various media is now estimated to be over 4.7 trillion. Given this frenzied pace of photo taking, it doesn’t take long for the average person to max out their personal computer disk space, making digital photo storage a hugely in-demand commodity.
Digital photo clutter is emerging as one of the biggest technological problems of our times. In our individual lives, it’s hard to recognize the scale of the problem unless we step back and look at where and how our photos are stored. If they are distributed across devices and disk drives in a jumbled assortment of single image files and haphazardly named folders, then we know that we have created a monster that will keep growing unless we do something about it.
Begin by purging
Fortunately, there’s a way to rein in the beast and get your photos into an accessible and organized library of memories. Most experts agree that the very first step in the process is to apply some quality filters and start purging our collection of photos that are not worth saving. This is sometimes difficult since we start attaching emotional importance to photos when they are from the past, however recent or distant this past may be. Still it’s an important part of this whole process and something that cannot be outsourced. Assessing the keepsake value of a photo is a task that we ourselves are best equipped to do.
However, culling based on quality is pretty simple when it comes to photos. Start with anything out of focus or blurry. If you have multiple shots, get rid of the ones that don’t have a clear image and presentation. Just by doing this alone, you will reduce some of the clutter without a lot of effort. And since you most likely have multiple copies of most images, you’re not really in danger of erasing any important memories.
Now it’s time to sort them
Once you have the less-than-stellar images out of the way, you can focus your energies on the ones that remain. You have a couple of choices automatically available to you when it comes to sorting your images. The most obvious one involves the time date stamp on your photos.
If you are working on Windows, for example, you can create multiple folders for specific years and then house all of these in a master folder. You can then move your digital images into this larger folder and sort them based on the time date stamp on them. From here, it will be easy for you to move sets of photos into the appropriate year folder. The time date stamp is not always an accurate indicator of a photo’s vintage but it works in most cases.
There are, of course, other ways to sort your images – based on occasion, place, people and more – but chronology makes for a good starting point. And it’s easier then to find a specific photo that you want to incorporate in an album, a collage or any other keepsake. Make sure you back up this newly organized library to some form of external storage as well.
Develop habits to contain the clutter
On an ongoing basis, apply your quality filters to any new photos you take in order to keep your digital piles from getting out of hand again. This doesn’t mean that you need to stop yourself from taking photos; just that you need to develop a daily or weekly habit of going through and pruning the photo library on your camera device.
While you should continue to transfer your images to your computer and back them up regularly, an online photo management tool is another must-have for digital images. Google Photos works well for this purpose, providing secure cloud storage for your memories as well as options for cataloging and editing your images in new and interesting ways. You can upload photos from your phone to Google Photos after you’ve done a round of purging. Alternatively, the auto-upload feature works well if you feel that you may not remember to do this manually on a regular basis..
Clearly, thanks to the technology and tools now available to us, conquering digital clutter is not as daunting a task as we may initially think.
This brings us to one more aspect of our image archives that most of us are afraid to wade into. Our physical photo piles. Since print photos require hours of manual sorting and handling, we often box them up and put off doing anything with them. But the case for digitizing old photos is very strong. Once digitized, you can add them to the master library on your computer as well as to your online backup to more easily view, curate and share them. As photojournalist and memory evangelist Kevin Gilbert said in a 2014 TED talk: ‘A picture is worthless if you can’t find it.’ We need to make it easy to find photos that have meaning for us. This begins with taking control of our digital archives and eliminating clutter. But it also means rescuing memories from boxes in dark basements and placing them where we can easily retrieve them.