Identify the Details of Your Photos

Last week, my aunt and uncle had me over for dinner and to look through photo albums.  My dad’s oldest brother knows my passion for family stories and protecting photos.  By the end of the evening, I convinced him to let me take several of his photo albums with me to digitize and organize.

Knowing the basic details about each picture was so easy for me.  My aunt and uncle, and my grandma before them, penciled in information on the back of almost every picture.  From the neighborhood kids to extended family from the other side of the state, almost every person was identified.  The year the photo was taken (or at least kids’ ages) was noted on the back.  Sometimes there were other clues as well, like occasion or location.

While I often talk about adding tags to digital photos to capture this kind of detail, I was reminded when giving a presentation recently that we should do the same with print photos.  If you don’t have a place for notes in a photo album or you’re not making a scrapbook page, it is okay to write directly on the back of the photo.  The important thing to remember is not to use a ballpoint pen (indents the picture) or marker (bleeds through or onto the photo below).

Photo-safe pencils are available in art stores, craft stores, and online.  They are often marked for use on wood, glass, photos, and other mediums.  The lead is softer than a No. 2 pencil which makes it safer to use on a print photo.  These pencils shouldn’t cost more than a couple of dollars and are the best option for marking the backs of photos.

My favorite part of having organized photos (and other people’s photos merged into my collection) is finding similar photos taken at different times.  Because both sets of photos were marked so well, I know that the photo of my cousins on the amusement park ride was taken three years before the photo of me in the exact same car.  No guesswork was involved to pair our families’ similar vacation day memories.

Whether you’re doing it to digital photos or print ones, make sure you attach the who, what, when, and where facts to each photo.  Anyone who comes across your pictures in the future will appreciate having the basic details.


How Much is Too Much?

Having my photos digitized and organized is a wonderful thing.  I can search on any person, place, or topic of interest to me and see all of the pictures I have related to those keywords.  The downside is that I know exactly how many pictures I have (a lot) and how many I have of different topics.

Can anybody tell me why I have 1100 pictures of the cat who is sleeping on the couch across the room from me?  Why 471 photos are tagged “flowers”?  Or 261 tagged “snow” (when none of them are winter sports)?  As much as I love photos of all kinds, there may be such a thing as too many.

Just because we can take endless numbers of pictures doesn’t mean we have to keep them all.  Weeding out your photos is an important part of maintaining a collection you enjoy.  A collection where you can find a good photo without clicking past dozens (or hundreds) of lesser-quality pictures.

Duplicates and near-duplicates are an easy place to start.  The burst feature on your phone’s camera takes many pictures quickly.  There is often little difference between the photos, so you only need to keep one of them.  If you noticed a blink or strange expression when you clicked your camera and quickly took another, make sure you delete the first one.  For print photos, many of us always ordered doubles.  If you didn’t give one away or use it in a project, it’s time to let the duplicate go.

What can you weed out in your own photo collection?  The trees turn pretty colors every autumn – do you really need hundreds of pictures of colored leaves?  You have dozens of pictures of your nephew blowing out the candles on his birthday cake – surely you can narrow that down by half.  Keeping every single picture may be too much of a good thing.

Name That Relative

After digitizing my family’s collection of slides and photos, I realized I didn’t have a very good handle on either of my grandfathers’ families.  Exactly who – and in what order – were their siblings?  What were their parents’ names?  Somehow, I knew this information for my grandmothers, but not my grandfathers.

Fortunately, my parents (and aunts and uncles) are still around to help me out.  I don’t want to take on genealogy as a hobby, but I do need to understand the more recent generations above me.  These are the people most likely to be in my photo collection.  Their children are people I may run into or be contacted by if they are doing their own genealogy research.


In addition to creating a basic family tree, use the older generations that are still around to identify people in photos.  Facial recognition software and your own knowledge can only get you so far.  People can look very different from childhood to young adulthood to old age, and it’s the people who knew them who can best identify them.  Don’t put this off for “when you have time” because that time can pass very quickly and you might find it’s too late.

I often hear about people who have boxes of photos and they don’t even know who is in them.  People say their kids won’t care about their pictures because they don’t know the people in them.  Even if it’s too late to get the stories about the pictures, you can still start with identifying your relatives.  Use a photo-safe pencil to write on the back of print photos or use the tags or captions fields on digitized photos to include as much information as you can.  You – and future generations – will be glad you did.

Back up your photos today!

Organizing photos is something people plan on getting to “someday.”  Once winter comes and they’re confined to the house more, they will get started on their photos.  When they retire, they’ll tackle their photos.  There are too many other things to do to think about the photo collection today.

What happens if you lose your phone – and all the pictures you’ve taken with it?  What if your computer crashes, never to be restored?  What if there’s a fire or flood in your home?  What if you’re in a hurricane’s path and you can only grab a few things before you flee to a safer location?

Your pictures are important, and they deserve to be protected before they’re lost to one emergency or another.  One copy of an important photo is so easily lost.  The way photo organizers think about backing up photos is the 3-2-1 method.  You should have three copies of important pictures.  They should be in at least two formats.  One of those copies needs to be offsite – away from the others.

Here are some of the best formats for backing up your photos:

  • print – you can always scan them back into digital.  Print your favorite digital photos regularly.
  • USBs – they’re small and easily given to others for safekeeping (the offsite part)
  • external hard drive (EHD) – digital storage gets cheaper all the time and you can back up everything on your computer to a device the size of a deck of cards
  • the cloud – your content is saved on servers in another state or country (way offsite!), but you have to read the fine print to understand how your photos are treated once you upload them

It is important to keep an eye on technology as it changes so you can update your backup storage.  Anyone have files on old floppy disks?  CDs are going away next, so make sure you are prepared to leave that format behind with your photos and files safely on to USBs or external hard drives.  Once your photos are properly backed up, you will have peace of mind knowing you can restore your collection if anything bad happens.

Where to begin when organizing photos

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”
— Plato, The Republic

Before you tackle a big project (and organizing your photos is a big project), you need to have a plan.  How much time do you have to devote to the project on a regular basis?  Do you have a deadline to complete the project (like an upcoming special occasion)?  Do you have space to leave the project in progress while you work on it?  Will someone be helping you with the project?  What do you want the end result to be?

Thinking about all of these things ahead of time will guide you through any decision-making that comes next.  The idea is to ease any frustrations before they even happen.  You have to be realistic – you didn’t take all of those pictures in one weekend and you are not going to get them in order in one weekend.

Once you’ve thought your project through, you’re ready for the first physical step.  No matter whether you’re organizing pictures or anything else, you need to know exactly how much you have.  No more guessing at a number, you are going to gather everything into one physical place and one digital place.

Physical Photos

If possible, find a spot to hold everything you’re about to uncover.  Don’t use the dining table if that’s where you eat.  Find a corner of a room or a closet that can look cluttered for a little while.  Make sure this area is not in an attic, basement or garage where temperature and humidity fluctuates.

Go from room to room and pull out any photos you have.  Photo albums, boxes of pictures, envelopes from the old processing days, framed originals on the wall, and random pictures tucked into cards and address books are all fair game.  Grab them whether you plan on doing something with them or not.  The point is to see what you really have.

Digital Photos

If you don’t already have a pictures folder on your computer, create one.  Within that folder, create a subfolder with a name like Unorganized or ToOrganize.  This is where you will put any photos you find until they get moved to a more appropriate folder.

Search your computer for anything ending in .jpg, .jpeg, .tiff, or .bmp.  Move them to your folder.  Upload any digital pictures from your cameras and cell phones to this folder.  Search for USBs and CDs with photos on them and add those, too.  Look through your e-mail archive for messages with attachments, and see if you need to save photos from them.  Once you are sure you have all your digital photos in one place, back them up to a large USB or external hard drive before you go any further.

Congratulations!  You have made great progress on protecting and organizing your photo collection.  By thinking about the whole project first, then gathering all of your photos together, this will make the rest of the organizing project much easier to execute.

Beginner’s Guide to Learning Something New

It was inevitable that I would become a librarian.  My mom is a reader and she surrounded me with books and magazines from the very beginning.  I started to read early and have always enjoyed quiet time with a book (or four).  At some point, I created my own checkout system for my books so I could loan them to others.

Contrary to popular belief, though, librarians don’t sit around reading all the time.  Librarians help people find the answers to their questions.  Books – and now also databases, the Internet, etc. – are the containers for vast amounts of knowledge.  Just because we went from picking up the phone and calling the library to asking Alexa (or IMDB) doesn’t change the fact that we want answers to our questions and we just need to know how to find those answers.

When I began my career as a photo organizer, I knew there were people who have successfully been organizing photos for many years.  I joined APPO, the Association of Personal Photo Organizers, and have used this resource to learn from the best.  Whether I’m reading members’ blogs, asking questions in our forum, or watching recorded webinars, I can get up to speed on any topic related to photo organizing.  I went through the educational training that leads to becoming a certified photo organizer and soaked up chapters of information.


APPO founder Cathi Nelson has condensed all of this knowledge from various places into one easy-to-read paperback book.  Photo Organizing Made Easy provides tips and tricks for organizing print and digital photos as well as home videos.  It explains scanning photos, maintaining your organized collection, and sharing photos with others.  The subtitle of the book, Going from Overwhelmed to Overjoyed, is shown in stories that end the book showing how having access to photos impacted people personally.

It’s good to learn from experts in the field when you are starting a new hobby or project, or when you just want to learn more about a topic.  As people ask Siri or Alexa questions without thinking twice, they may not realize that this reference service is not so far removed from asking librarians sitting behind imposing desks.  As they jump onto YouTube to see how to apply makeup or fix a leaky faucet, they are doing the same research that used to be done by contacting experts in person.  Don’t reinvent the wheel; learn from those who know best to jumpstart your own knowledge on any topic.




New Year, New Habits

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I do like to start fresh with some habits and intentions when the calendar page changes to a brand new year.  The possibilities seem endless as the date re-sets to 1/1.  When you look back at the previous year, you realize some things you can do better.

As a natural organizer, I’ve been a calendar user all my life.  I like to see birthdays and anniversaries, upcoming travel, meetings, and celebrations all laid out in one spot.  I’ve seen how this becomes even more important in a house full of people with all of their individual commitments.  A wall calendar allows everyone to see who needs to be where at any given time.  A regular calendar is a great start for organizing an individual or a family year.

As scrapbooking became less popular, new planners cropped up (no pun intended) to allow people to add photos and stickers to their planning and recording.  Project Life ( is a physical or digital way to record your photos and stories.  I’ve combined their planner pages and pocket pages (for photos) to make a nice story of my year.  Another company that took off a few years ago is The Happy Planner (, which encourages using lots of stickers and washi tape to get organized (craft supplies for the win!).  Both of these combine the planning and reflecting aspects of getting your life organized.

Less on the planning side and more on the reflecting side would be a year-in-review photo book.  January is a great time to create a folder on your computer for the year, with subfolders for each month.  At the end of every month throughout 2018, move your favorite photos into the appropriate folder.  Take a few minutes to write the stories of those photos in a notebook or online document (the event, funny thing overheard, milestone reached, etc.).  After spending 15 minutes a month through the year, you can easily create a photo book at the end of 2018 showing highlights of the year.  That’s much easier than pulling the whole project together at the end of the year.

How will you tackle 2018?  Will you get organized with a planner system?  Will you have a plan for reflecting on the happenings of the year?  Now is the time to lay the foundation to make the year great.

I have not been paid or given products to mention or review the planners in this blog.  These products are ones I’ve used personally and wish to share.

When History Comes to Life

Recently, my aunt gave me a USB drive with more than 1,000 files on it.  She had scanned the letters, postcards, V-mail and photos that my grandfather and his brother sent home to their parents during World War II.  I expected to find some interesting things, especially since my grandfather never wanted to talk about his involvement in the war.

Being a photo organizer and a librarian, I immediately set to work on tagging these files and getting them in order.  Fortunately, about half the items were dated, which was a great start.  My grandfather also put his location on many of the letters and photos – though the censors blocked a few of them out!

Before he left for Europe, my grandfather was at a couple of Army camps in the United States.  The wonders of Wikipedia allowed me to learn more about those camps and put notes on my files.  It also helped me with approximate dates because one of the camps was the staging area for men getting on ships out of the New York Port.

By adding metadata (information about each item) to the letters and photos, I was able to understand the path my grandfather took.  From his “Order to Report” in January 1943 to the “Separation Qualification” in May 1946, I watched a young man serve his country while pining for home.  I now understand how much time he spent in France and Austria and what the ship that brought him home looked like.

ww2 letters 114

I was fascinated by the notes on the postcards pointing out things he saw and places he lived.  Seeing him use the nickname “Doc” (he was a medic in the war but not at all trained in medicine otherwise) was a complete surprise.  He asked his family many questions about what was happening on the homefront and rarely ventured into anything ugly he was seeing.  And, as expected of my artistic grandfather, there were many drawings making light of the situation he was in.

You can read all the textbooks and nonfiction tomes in the world, but reading about daily living handwritten by a soldier in the war makes it very real.  When that soldier is a family member you are even more connected.  I am so very fortunate to have a record as comprehensive as I do of my grandfather’s war years.  Seeing him posed on skis on a mountain in Austria or to have him explaining which window of the house was his in the picture he took with his camera almost puts me there with him.

What documents do you have in your collection that should be digitized and protected to help tell your family history?  Wouldn’t it be great if you could do it while you can still ask family members for more details?  Get your family stories recorded and preserved before it’s too late.

Countdown to Christmas

Part of the fun of a trip or holiday is the anticipation leading up to the event.  I grew up with Advent (or countdown) calendars in my home.  In my adult years, I seem to collect more and more of these calendars for Christmas, Halloween, and even Disney trips.  They come in many forms and I enjoy watching the number get closer and closer to the number one.

Last year, I received a gift from my college roommate who lives across the state.  It was a string of lights with clips under them and a pile of numbered envelopes.  I hung up the lights and attached an envelope to each clip.  What a surprise as each day I opened up a beloved photo to hang in place of the envelope.  My friend had downloaded pictures from my Facebook page and had them printed for the project.  It was such a meaningful gift, and I looked forward to the surprise photo in each envelope as Christmas approached.

Another photo organizer blogged about a similar project last year where she described creating a photo advent calendar tree for an elderly relative (  In addition to photos, the envelopes included notes and memories of Christmases past.  How fun to connect with someone every day despite not being in close proximity.

Use your own creative ideas or get help from a site like Pinterest to get started.  Print 25 pictures on a theme and decide how to keep them covered until their reveal date.  Use binder rings or a stand to hold them all with the current countdown number/photo in front.  Tuck photos in decorative numbered bags along with a surprise treat or gift.  Mount the photo on a piece of cardstock twice the length of the photo and fold over and hide the picture until the reveal date.

While it takes time to plan and set up a countdown calendar, the joy it brings is worth it.  If your photos are all digitized and organized, you can access a variety of historical family photos to count down to Easter, Halloween, vacations, and more.  Photos of people hugging could be opened in the weeks leading to Valentine’s Day.  First day of school photos could be opened in the days before school starts.  How will you use photos to build excitement for an upcoming event?

Celebrate Small Businesses

It’s two weeks until Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.  My traditions include eating cinnamon rolls off Christmas plates, watching Detroit’s America’s Thanksgiving Parade on TV, and looking through every one of the ads that land on my porch with the newspaper.  I know I’ll be getting up at oh-my-gosh-it’s-early o’clock the next day to chase down deals for Black Friday.

One day that has been gaining traction lately is Small Business Saturday.  American Express created the new holiday in 2010 to support the businesses that don’t have thousands of dollars to put into newspaper and TV ads.  It encourages shoppers to spend some of their holiday dollars with local businesses who employ local workers to offer goods and services in the neighborhood.  Small Business Saturday is the day after Black Friday each November.

This month also marks one year since Cherish Your Photos LLC became a company.  Starting a business from scratch is never easy, and offering a service people don’t know even exists makes it even more challenging.  Every time I explain what I do, people exclaim that they need help organizing photos.  I hear stories about lost photos, not knowing who is in inherited photos, and relatives who are sitting on hundreds or thousands of pictures in their homes.

Organizing and digitizing photos and slides is something people think they will get around to “someday.”  It gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list because it is time-consuming and overwhelming.  Why not give the gift of time to someone who is overwhelmed by their photo collection?  Bring old photos back to life in shiny new prints or photo books.  Create peace of mind that photos are backed up.  Tell the stories in the pictures so future generations can enjoy them.

When you create your gift lists this year, consider the goods and services your local small businesses provide.  You’ll be keeping the dollars in the community and will likely end up with a quality gift that will be cherished for years to come.