Preserve Pictures Properly

I’ve met with a number of new clients lately (a great thing!) and I love that people are turning their attention to a lifetime of memories.  When I evaluate a collection of photos – whatever form they are currently in – I look to see which ones are most in danger.  While every photo isn’t important, you want to stop any deterioration as soon as possible.

One client said her slides were offsite in a storage facility.  It makes sense when you think of how rarely you pull out the equipment to view family slides.  However, those storage units are not usually climate controlled, and extreme heat and cold are damaging the slides year-round.  I encouraged her to get the slides at her earliest opportunity so we can see what state they’re in and get them digitized.

Another client had a collection that spanned from archival boxes to sticky albums.  I told her I didn’t want to leave her house unless I had all those sticky albums in my car.  Even better, I said I would return with the photos but not the albums themselves as they were headed for the garbage.  Most people have sticky albums with 1970s and 1980s pictures in them, but the chemicals that make them sticky are harmful to the photos, as is the plastic that seals the chemicals in.  Even though the temporary box I’m using to hold the pictures isn’t acid-free, they’re much better off in that box than in the albums as we begin organizing that collection.

My most recent client talked about the family’s historical collection of memorabilia in an old family home.  Items were stored all over including barn, attic and basement, which brings us back to the climate-controlled issue we had with the slides with the other client.  Also, newspaper clippings and other paper documents are mixed in with photos which means the pictures are not in an acid-free environment.  After digitizing the collection, we will make sure the photos are stored in containers with papers and boxes that are acid-free so they will not fade or discolor further.

In some ways, photos are a pretty hardy format over time.  A 100-year-old photo can look almost as good today as it did when it was first taken.  It is important to remember that pictures are really just processed paper, and will last much longer if handled and stored properly.


Plan Ahead for Photo Taking

While sometimes it seems like we live in a time of too much information, most of the time it’s nice to have so many things to reference to prepare for a big day.  I check Wikipedia, IMDB (Internet Movie Database), YouTube and more to find quick facts on song lyrics, when movies came out, how to change the air filter on my car, and lots more.  I’m a librarian so I’d never base a research paper on Internet searches, but that information is almost always good enough to satisfy a quick question.

One site that’s more useful than many realize is Pinterest.  From going to an 80s-themed party to going to the beach, you can find many helpful suggestions for what to wear, what to bring, and what photos to take once you get there.  When the occasion is over, Pinterest will help you find the perfect quote to put over a favorite photo.

When my sisters and I hired a photographer to do a photo shoot at a nearby park, we had to figure out what to wear.  We wanted to coordinate as sisters, but also have a different look for my married sister to have a separate set of photos of her family.  Pinterest offers lots of suggestions for coordinating colors and styles for group photos.

When my goddaughter was graduating from high school, I thought it would be fun to do a photo shoot in her cap and gown the day before graduation.  I didn’t want to rely on spontaneous poses (though there were certainly some of those), so I checked Pinterest for ideas.  This allowed me to grab a few props as well as plan for pictures I didn’t want to miss taking.  I just pulled out my phone a couple of times during the photo shoot to check my list and capture those special shots.

If you have a special event coming up where people from different areas are getting together, plan ahead to get pictures.  Before the party starts, consider the groupings or pairings that you really want to record.  Include yourself in some of the planned pictures and ask someone else to take the pictures so you can be one of the cousins or nieces or other category of people coming together.  If possible, take these pictures right away at the start of the event so nobody is too tired, messy, or inebriated to make a good picture.

Whether you’re traveling somewhere new, having a reunion with people you don’t see often, or marking a special time in someone’s life, a little planning will ensure you get the best pictures to enjoy for decades to come.

Organize Your Recent Photos Before the Old Ones

I’ve said before there’s no right way to organize your photos.  I’m going to amend that today, because there are definitely reasons to do things in a certain order.  You can do them however you want, but why would you make an already-long process longer?

If you’re like most people and you have thousands of photos that need attention, where do you even begin?  You might have slides, negatives, print photos in albums, loose print photos, and digital photos in a number of places.  It’s definitely tempting to start with those fun old slides and photos that haven’t seen the light of day in decades.

Photo organizers know the best practice is to start with digital photos first, then work backward.  You’ll get a feel for the folders you want to use to organize the pictures already on your computer.  Once you digitize your print photos, there will already be a structure in place to add those old photos.  The other benefit to starting with more recent photos is that you will be able to more easily identify the people, places, and things for tags and stories for your notes/caption field.

I’m not going to rehash the process for gathering photos (see: or organizing digital photos (see:  I will remind you to save and backup your work regularly, just like you would if you were working on a document or spreadsheet.  If anything goes horribly wrong, you should be able to get to a recent backup on an external hard drive or USB to restart from that point.

Once you create the file system you want to use to organize your pictures, it will be easier to digitize and organize the rest of your collection.  Slides deteriorate quicker than print photos, so they would be my next priority – unless you have pictures in sticky albums.  Rescue photos from the chemical mess of a sticky album, then focus on slides.  Both are high-risk situations for your memories.

Finally I would choose to organize loose photos before those in albums.  On the one hand, those in albums are likely in some sort of order.  If you’re lucky, there’s also information nearby with dates and people noted in the albums.  However, it’s easier to lose loose photos and they are more likely handled with bare hands by anybody who gets near them.  This makes them a higher risk than those in photo-safe albums.

Organizing decades of photos is not for the faint of heart.  It’s going to take time.  Like any big project, you should have a plan for prioritizing before you begin.  Follow your plan and your pictures will be in order for good.


What’s a Party Without Photos?

Photographs are a wonderful way to reflect on an event, a time period, or a lifetime.  They also make great decorations for your home every day, and at special celebrations.  When is the last time you want to a graduation party or funeral and didn’t see a photo display?

In the time of Pinterest and hundreds of crafty websites, it is easy to find a type of display that appeals to you.  Whether you use foam board and glue the pictures or build a wooden frame and use clothespins (like the main picture for this blog post), there are myriad ways to display photos at your party.  They can take weeks to build, or come together quickly if you’re scattering picture frames around a room.  Either way, photos are available to be enjoyed by guests.

It is important to use copies and not originals since you will be fastening the photos to the display and lots of fingers will not be able to resist touching them.  Plus the humidity factor for outside parties!  Keep your originals safe and reprint the photos you want to use in the display.

The most difficult part of the photo display is probably the selection of photos.  Start by establishing the time period you want to cover (ex. entire life for a memorial, school years for graduate, married years for an anniversary).  Think about the people and places you want represented in the display (family members, friends, homes, vacations).  While you want to have the best pictures possible, sometimes you need to include one that’s not as great if it’s the only one you have to represent a person or place.

It’s always good to ask others if they have photos you could include.  One person is not likely to have all the great pictures in their possession.  Put the word out among a few people who might have photos of their own that could make your display shine.  It makes people feel good when they can help, too.

One note of caution:  Don’t include every single picture available.  Just like people don’t want to sit through 500 vacation photos, they won’t want to look at mass quantities of pictures at a party.  Be selective, and really choose the ones that best tell the story.  Less is more in a photo display or slideshow.

Whether the display is a surprise for the guest of honor or they are involved in making it come together, it will be appreciated.  Guests will love walking down memory lane and asking questions about photos with which they are unfamiliar.  A photo display is a great conversation starter!

Keeping Your Photos Organized

Getting your pictures organized is great, but you need a plan in place to deal with all incoming pictures or you’ll soon be in the same mess all over again.  Since most of our new pictures today are digital, that means having a clear understanding of your collection.  Establishing your own rules or processes now will ensure you always know where your photos are and that they are properly backed up.

If you organized your pictures up to this point, you created a naming system for the files and folders (see Organize Your Digital Photos).  You should have one master collection of all of your photos.  This collection will get backed up on an external hard drive, USB drives, and/or the cloud, but your additions and changes will happen in your main collection first.  If you find yourself looking for photos with a tag you haven’t used, the main collection is where you go back and add the tag to all relevant pictures.

Just as each photo collection is personalized for the user, you make your own rules for how to maintain it.  If you primarily take photos on your phone, set up a backup plan for the phone and commit to downloading the photos to your master collection once a week or once a month – or something in-between.  If you use a separate camera just for big occasions, make sure you download those photos within a day or two of the event.  If someone e-mails or texts a photo, take a moment to download it as soon as possible.

Where should these new photos go?  Again, it doesn’t matter as much whether you put them in folder called 2018_unsorted or 2018April_ToOrganize or GetToThesePhotosASAP.  As long as your process makes sense to you, and you do take the time to organize them into your collection once in a while, you’re way ahead of the game.  Don’t create a folder as a dumping ground for new pictures and then leave them there for months or years.

Backups continue to be a critical part of your photo plan.  This is important enough to put on your calendar to remind you.  At least monthly, back up your recently added photos to the systems you set up previously (see Back up your photos today!).  If you follow a system, you will only need to add the most recent photos to the external hard drive and cloud site.

It will soon become second nature to organize and protect your photos this way.  What a relief to know your photos are findable and backed up at all times!

Enjoy your pictures every day

Yesterday, I brought home two 5×7 picture frames from a department store.  Today, I might bring home more from an estate sale.  Am I made of money?  No.  I cruise clearance aisles and find deals in unexpected places.

Most of us have thousands of pictures we never see.  Our photos are in boxes and albums or on our phones and computers and we’re lucky if we happen to stumble on an old favorite.  It’s time to bring those photos to a more prominent place in your home.

Printing costs have gone way down, even on enlargements as big as 16×20.  You can order prints on a variety of websites or local print shops.  Warehouse stores are pretty good deals for prints and other photo products, too.

Picture frames can be found in lots of places.  Take advantage of coupons at craft stores, visit discount stores that sell overstock, and of course, the aforementioned clearance sections.  If you don’t need to be the first owner of the frame, look at garage and estate sales.  You can get incredible deals on nice frames of all sizes that someone else paid lots of money to own.  If you’re crafty, you can make your own with scrap wood and paint.

When it’s a copy you’re going to switch out every few months, you don’t need the highest quality print for the frame.  As long as your original is protected (and backed up), go ahead and put that enlargement on a sunny wall or in a humid bathroom!  When it fades or gets wavy, print a new picture for the spot.

Think about unexpected places in your home where you can place a picture.  I have frames in front of books in my bookcases, on my kitchen counter, and on the wall in my laundry room.  Often, these pictures fade into the background of what I look at every day, but once in a while, the picture will catch my eye and make me smile.

Besides making you happy (and that’s no small thing), what benefits are there to having pictures more available in your home?  They can prompt questions from younger family members for stories of their heritage.  They make the people in the photos feel loved and appreciated.  They are way more personal to your life than anything store-bought.

Oh, and by the way?  Those bright yellow department store 5×7 frames cost $1.40 each with sales and coupons!  What a fun way to highlight a couple of summery pictures.

Sibling Perspective on the Family Story

“Two different faces, but in tight places
we think and we act as one. Uh-huh!”
— from Sisters, written by Irving Berlin in 1954 for White Christmas

Every home has its own set of accepted behaviors, routines, and traditions.  Siblings often have their own inside jokes because they have the same position in the family structure.  Whether they are close in age or many years apart, sharing parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles gives siblings common ground.

Think about things you and your siblings say because your mom said those phrases so often.  Do you all smile at the thought of a certain candy because an uncle always brought it over to share?  What did you all hate about the vacation spot you traveled to each summer?

Siblings also often share features both physical and behavioral.  My sisters and I joke about our “monkey arms” – though none of us are tall, we have large wingspans.  We commiserate over finding long-sleeved tops that cover our wrists.  My childhood best friend and her sister have lived in separate states for decades, but to hear one speak, you’d be hard pressed to guess which one was talking because their speech patterns are so much alike.

If you don’t already have photos that represent your inside jokes, stories, or similarities, take some time to capture them, if possible.  Another idea is to recreate an old photo to show that despite the years in-between, little has changed.  Photos are a powerful way to visually show the stories you want to tell.

What stories do you have about your brothers and sisters?  What would they say about the same topics?  Pictures from various points of your lives are great prompts for telling those memories today.  Whether you write them down, videotape your discussion, or make a photo book, it’s time to record your stories and memories for future generations.

The Influence of the Photographer

“If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, its already a lot. The instrument is not the camera but the photographer.” — Eve Arnold

We are taking more pictures than ever before.  Technology advances allow us to take beautiful pictures with no training.  But some photos really stand out as special.  How does the person behind the camera affect the resulting photo?

I was fortunate to get a session with photographer Nick Kelsh at last month’s annual conference of photo organizers.  He encouraged us to bring props to represent what we do, so I came in with a favorite mug, my camera, and my planner.  The photo above this post is his vision for the picture.  How many other ways could these props be interpreted?  As many ways as there are people.

When a photo is taken, it’s more than just a click of a button.  Have you ever asked a stranger to take your picture at a tourist attraction?  You really never know if you’ll get your camera back with 3/4 of the picture showing the sky or somebody behind you on a cell phone or weird shadows.  There is some skill required to frame a photo and be aware of distractions in the frame.

A stranger photographing the sidewalk
Oh, look! Red Rock Canyon!

You can also look at photos taken at the same event and get very different results.  The relationship of the photographer to the subject influences the photo almost as much as the skill of the photographer.  The subject’s reaction to the photographer is also a factor.  We see people in different ways, and this can come through in the resulting photograph.

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A daughter/granddaughter’s view
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A son’s view

When you look through old family photos, consider the person behind the camera as much as the ones in the picture.  Did the photographer know the subject or was it a paid portrait?  Was the photo taken by mom, uncle or neighbor?  What influence did they have on the resulting photo?

When you combine photo collections from several family members, you can also see what was important to them.  Did they focus on their immediate family members or see the larger picture?  Are the photos of where the action is or on those who are sitting off by themselves?  Together, all of these pictures tell the story.

A final word – don’t dismiss using a professional photographer because they don’t know your family.  A great photographer will see things you don’t, and use their knowledge to create some incredible art to treasure in your home.  There are photographers who work in studios, outdoors on beaches or in parks, or even come into your home to capture your own environment.  It’s worth the investment to pay a professional once in a while.


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Photo by Capture A Moment Photography on location at Metro Beach


Keep Learning

I just attended the annual conference for the Association of Personal Photo Organizers, held this year in Raleigh, North Carolina.  More than 200 photo organizers gathered to learn from each other, hear about the latest innovations in technology, and talk to vendors in our space.  Attendees came from all over the United States and Canada to celebrate our mission to help people preserve their memories and tell their stories.

When you get that many people with a common interest in one space, you are sure to learn about software, apps, and best practices that you didn’t know before.  Sitting at a banquet table of strangers or walking into a scheduled breakout session, there are lots of opportunities to learn from others.  A conference is a safe environment to ask questions because everyone there has something in common.

You can learn these things outside of conferences, too.  Why not ask friends and family what photo apps they use and why they like them?  If you know someone who always seems to have that perfect photo for Throwback Thursday, find out how they get their hands on those pictures.  There is always an opportunity to learn from each other.

Here are three cool products I learned about at conference:

2018-03-29 (2)Google Cloud Vision API

While machine tagging has a long way to go to be useful, it is starting to do some cool things.  You can have Vision API search your pictures and create tags based on what it sees.  The most helpful, in my opinion, is the Landmark Detection, which tells you the name of that castle in Scotland or the temple in China in your parents’ old vacation slides.


2018-03-29 (1)nixplay digital frames

If you tried out a digital photo frame 15 years ago and it’s been in a closet for the last 14 years, it’s time to try again.  Not only are there lots of sizes and colors available, but the screens are as clear as your television.  The best thing about nixplay is that you can send photos through the cloud, so if your mom has the frame, you can send photos to her living room while you’re still on vacation.



This cloud storage site lets you create galleries of photos that can each be shared with a link or link and password, or kept entirely private for you.  It keeps the full resolution of your photos, unlike free cloud sites, and lets you upload or download your photos from any computer or phone app.  Whatever tags you have on your photos are searchable, too!  Get peace of mind having all your photos backed up offsite.

Learn something new today – there may be a product or idea that can make your life easier or more meaningful.  Share your favorite photo apps, websites and products in the comments!

Spring Clean Your Photo Collection

“All you need to do is take the time to sit down and examine each item you own, decide whether you want to keep or discard it, and then choose where to put what you keep.”
— Marie Kondō, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Marie Kondo makes it sound so easy, doesn’t she?  The bestselling organizing guru tells people to keep the things that make them happy and let go of the rest.  Of course, this is easier said than done.

Let’s look at the first part of that quote – taking the time to do it.  “I’ll get to it someday,” I hear from people regarding their photos.  “I’ll have time when I’m retired.”  So in the meantime, you’re going to look at shelves of unprotected photo albums that have no stories or identifying information attached?  Organizing your photos is certainly time consuming, but no good can come from putting this important task off.

The next part of the quote says to examine each item and decide whether or not to keep it.  This is a tough one, since each photo evokes memories for you.  Once you look at a photo, so many stories come to your head that you may not pick up the next photo until 15 minutes later!  This is where it helps to have someone helping to keep you on track.  An impartial voice can question whether you need yet another picture of ducks in the lake or a blurry one of a child on an amusement park ride.

Finally, Kondo says to decide where to put what you keep.  Do you have a wall display of favorite photos?  Are you enjoying a rotating gallery in picture frames?  If you’re not looking at your photos, why do you keep them?  Create a screensaver on your computer or make photo books that you will pull of the shelf to enjoy your collection.  The bulk of the print photos can be stored in boxes in the closet if you have versions to enjoy in other ways.

I would never call photos clutter, but they can make you feel less than great if they are unorganized or taking up too much room.  Include your photos in your spring cleaning this year.  You’ll be glad you did.