How to estimate when a photo was printed

As I’m invited to handle more family collections of photos, I see more shapes and sizes of prints from years gone by.  It is also interesting to see the variety of sizes of photo albums that were created to house these old photos.  The 4×6 print has been a standard for so long, it’s easy to forget how long it took to get there.

How do you sort old photos in chronological order?  If you’re lucky, they are in photo albums labeled with dates to help you figure out when the pictures were taken and developed.  More likely, they are loose or pasted into scrapbooks and magnetic albums where various sizes reside on the same page.  You probably already know to look for clues in clothing, hairstyles and backgrounds (, but you may be able to get close by looking at the photo itself.

Unfortunately, the evolution of photographs resulted in many sizes being available depending on the camera and processing used.  Rectangular or square, tiny or large, photos have been printed in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.  This timeline may help guide you in finding the likely era of your photo:


1839-1860 – The daguerreotype image is formed on a highly polished silver surface.

mid-1850s to 1900 – Stereoscopic photographic views (stereographs) were immensely popular in the United States and Europe

1860-1900 – Tintypes at first were presented in cases surrounded by narrow gilt frames, but by the 1860s this elaborate presentation had been abandoned, and the metal sheets were simply inserted in paper envelopes, with a cutout window the size of the image.

1860s – Carte-de-visite, named because the size of the mounted albumen print (4 by 2.5 inches) corresponded to that of a calling card.

1860s – Cabinet prints were 5.5 ins x 4 ins photos mounted on cards 6.5 x 4.25 ins. with the photographer’s name and address on the back of the card (or occasionally below the photo on the front of the card.

1870s – Minettes were photos about 1.5 ins x 2.5 ins mounted on cards 1.625 ins x 3 ins.

Early 1900s – Panel prints 5.25 ins x 1.75 ins

Early 1900s – Popular roll film

  • 2 ins x 1 ins (120) for Kodak Brownie 1900
  • 3.25 ins x 2.25 ins (120) for Brownie2 – 1901/2
  • 2.5 ins x 1.625 ins  (8 exposures) OR 1.625 ins x 1.625 ins (12 exposures (127 film) 1912

1950s-1960s – 3.5 x 3.5 inches square

1960s – color photos reach the masses, used by late 1960s

1970s – Polaroids most popular this decade (small resurgence in the early 2000s)

1980s – 3×5 prints

1990s – panoramic format (4×8, 4×12)

Storing different-sized photos

So how do you store a photo collection that’s made up of so many different sizes?  Not easily.  You can store photos loosely in an acid-free box, place them in photo-safe scrapbooks by using acid-free adhesive to attach them to paper, or separate them by size and find appropriate albums to store them.  You could also digitize them and reprint them in a more standard size to keep them together.

Your old photograph collection has character, but it can present challenges.  Enjoy the process of sorting out your pictures and figuring out when they were taken.  Then protect them for future generations to enjoy.


Do your photos have historical significance?

Most of the photos in our collection hold little significance outside our circle of family and friends.  Birthdays, holidays, everyday silliness – these are the things that make us who we are.  But what about those few that might matter to a larger group of people?

This past summer, Detroit recognized the 50th anniversary of the 1967 riots.  For many months leading up to the planned summer events, there were calls for personal photos and home movies taken during those weeks of unrest.  They were compiled and shared with the city in many ways to mark the occasion.  Do you have family photos from a major local or national news event?

What about historical photos from an even larger global scope?  I recently scanned slides taken in Vietnam by a military man stationed there in the early 1970s.  Those rediscovered pictures are important not just to the family, but potentially to textbook content, authors of other nonfiction books, news outlets and more.  Put together with what’s already known from that time, these pictures could add new insight or detail previously buried by time.

Genealogy is a widespread hobby, and the internet has made it easier than ever to find information.  The major websites that offer subscribers lots of information in one place often allow people to upload pictures to go along with entries for people and places.  Wouldn’t it be a wonderful surprise to find that a long-lost cousin posted a picture of your great-great-grandpa?

Back closer to home, the county in which I live is celebrating its bicentennial anniversary next year.  The website created for the yearlong commemoration includes a timeline of important things over the last 200 years.  The planning committee is trying to attach photos to as many of these points as possible because the visual helps tell the story.  We may hold scanning events at libraries to add historical photos as well because there are likely some hidden gems lurking in private collections.

Who could benefit from the photos in your collection?  What will you discover by organizing and digitizing your old photos and slides?  Protect these historical gems before they’re lost forever.

The main image for this post is Detroit Red Wings goalie Mike Vernon with the Conn Smythe (MVP) trophy in the 1997 Stanley Cup parade.

Fall is in the air

As the days turn cooler and it gets dark earlier, we start to turn our focus back indoors.  The gardens are done growing.  The pool is closed for the season.  It’s getting too dark out for an after-dinner bike ride.  What projects do you want to tackle indoors?

September is the ideal time to focus on organizing your photos for three big reasons:

Save Your Photos Month

September is designated as Save Your Photos Month (, a time to focus on protecting your photos.  The Association of Personal Photo Organizers and select sponsors are providing webinars and links to events to help you learn to organize and protect your pictures.  Recent flooding and fires have destroyed many belongings and photo organizers want to make sure your photos are never in that kind of danger.

Fresh start

While September is back-to-school time for kids, it also is a time to make a fresh start if you aren’t going to school.  With a mom who has a September birthday and a love of school supplies, September always meant new beginnings and stocking up on fresh crayons and markers, papers and notebooks, and any other fun organizational tools.  Then we brainstormed projects and made lists of things to get done around the house.  As a photo organizer, I’ve taken advantage of seasonal sales to buy index cards for sorting print photos, USB drives to store and share digital photos, and containers for temporary storage.

Prepare for holiday gifts

We are now about 100 days away from Christmas and less than three months until Hanukkah.  If you want to give a gift with meaning, now is the time to select, digitize, and create products with your photos.  Whether you make a photo book, frame a special photo, or create one of the myriad of products with photos on them, it takes time to make a photo gift.  Do it well before the holiday rush and know your gift will arrive on time and looking just how you want it.

Don’t think of autumn as the end of summer, but as the beginning of taking care of things in your home.  Make photo organizing a priority this year and relax knowing your photos are protected from future harm.  Having them easy to access and enjoy is a bonus!


Grandparents Day

“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.” ~Alex Haley

Whether you create a family tree, deep dive into genealogy, or just organize your old family photos, the generations above your parents have a mystical quality about them.  The clothing, hairstyles, and household items you see in old photos look different from today.  The people in the photos spent their days differently than you do.

I was fortunate enough to have three grandparents in my life into my 30s, and one into my 40s.  There’s a certain fascination being connected to someone who can tell you what your parents were like as kids.  You can’t imagine them being kids themselves.


An outing with my grandfather to see the Titanic exhibit.


Now that I have all of the old family photos, I realize the missed opportunity to speak to my grandparents about anything and everything.  What was their day-to-day routine?  How did they feel about new technologies coming into their home?  What stores did they shop at for different kinds of products?  Did they realize at the time what a cool car they drove?

Most important to me would be the family stories.  I don’t remember some of my great aunts and uncles, great grandparents and other people that I see in these pictures.  Who were they?  How involved were they in your grandparents’ lives?

This Sunday is Grandparents Day, a day “…to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help children become aware of strength, information, and guidance older people can offer” according to the 1978 proclamation.  While it may be too late to create photo gifts to give this weekend, it’s the perfect opportunity to get some of that information and guidance from the generation that has so many answers.  Set up some time to look through old photos (and get them out of sticky albums and shoeboxes) and ask your questions.  You’ll both be glad you did.

The main picture for this blog post is one of my very favorites.  It’s my Christening day and I’m surrounded by my mom, both grandmothers, and my two living great-grandmothers.


How many pictures are too many?

How many pictures do you have on your smartphone right now?  Go check – I’ll wait.

Now how many pictures do you have on your main computer?  20,000?  50,000?  More?

How many feet of shelf space do your photo albums occupy?

Photo organizers, like home organizers, encourage people to weed out items that don’t enrich their lives.  When you have too much of any one thing, you lose the things you love among the items you don’t care for as much.  They lose value when you have to look past the less relevant items to get to the important ones.

Since I’ve been organizing my family’s photo collection, I have made many great discoveries.  My sister had a picture taken the same day as a picture in my collection, and now the two pictures tell more of the story than one alone.  There were many photos in my grandparents’ collection I’d never seen before.  Even digitizing my own pictures from the 1980s showed places I had forgotten about.

On the other hand, combining all these collections had one major downside:  duplicate cameras at the same event resulting in slightly different photos.  My grandparents’ 50th anniversary party had a professional photographer, their three children’s cameras, and my camera.  That’s not including more extended family photos that are out there somewhere!  Now that photos from five cameras are combined from this event, I have each pose captured in five different ways.

It’s not easy for many of us to delete photos of loved ones.  This is the time to remind yourself that deleting one photo where your mom has a strange look on her face does not mean you suddenly don’t have any more photos of her!  You will enjoy the photo you kept even more when it’s not buried by dozens of other pictures.

It may be helpful to weed in stages.  Make a first pass through a collection (physical or digital) and make the easy deletes (blurry, nobody looking, too far away, etc.).  Then set the project aside for a day or a week.  When you look through what you have left, you should see more places you can trim.

If you have digitized all your photos, it may be easier to delete the ones you don’t love on your computer knowing the original prints are stored in a box (acid-free, of course) in an out-of-the-way closet.  It’s less scary knowing you can re-scan the prints or even negatives again if you get too wild with the delete button.  For digital-first photos, save them all to an external hard drive or USB drive that doesn’t take up much room, and weed out your computer collection that you access more often.

You will appreciate the photos you have when they are not cluttered by photos that don’t make you feel as good to look through.  Be selective in keeping the clear, close photos over the dark, blurry, far-away shots.  Quality over quantity!

Press Release for Save Your Photos Month

Cheri Warnock
Cherish Your Photos

Take Steps Today to Protect Your Print and Digital Photos

Cherish Your Photos offers advice during Save Your Photos Month in September

STERLING HEIGHTS, MI (August 23, 2017):  Cherish Your Photos ( is participating in Save Your Photos Month in two ways:  free one-hour sessions with new clients and a table at the Sterling Heights Healthy Living Expo.  Throughout the month of September, founder Cheri Warnock will meet with Metro Detroiters to explore the current state of all of their photos (print and digital) and offer recommendations for protecting and enjoying their photos.  On September 14, she will be available at the Sterling Heights Senior Center from 9:00am to 12:00pm to answer questions by Expo attendees and to scan up to one dozen photos per person for free.

Cherish Your Photos founder Cheri Warnock sees two distinct threats to family photos today.  “Print photos and slides sit in boxes and ‘sticky’ albums with the threat of time, humidity, fire, and flood destroying memories forever.  Current digital-first photos sit on phones, cameras, and computers and are at risk of technology failure,” she said.  Instead of getting to it “someday,” making photo organization a priority will ensure precious memories are not lost forever.

Besides safely backing up photos, there are many other advantages to having your pictures organized.  Getting your hands on just the picture you want to use for Throwback Thursday, giving an Alzheimer’s patient a photo book of memories to review daily, showing a child their place in family history, and remembering fun times every time you look at a framed photo are just a few reasons to organize your pictures.  Americans take more than one trillion photos a year (, but we rarely print them and enjoy them.  Begin the photo organizing process today and set up an appointment for your free initial assessment.

About Cherish Your Photos:  Cherish Your Photos, LLC is a photo organizing business serving Metro Detroit.  Founder Cheri Warnock uses her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science as a foundation for organizing print and digital photos, digitizing slides, negatives, and print photos, creating backup systems, and making photo books.  She is a member of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (

Save Your Photos Month website:

Traditions, Routines, and Family Habits

Every year on the first day of school, my mom took my picture with my hand on the front door.  My dad jingled his keys as he walked in the door after work.  We put our groceries on the belt in a particular order (frozen, refrigerated, cans, jars, boxes, taxable).  There are many things that make your family or household unique.  How have you captured these traditions?

Sometimes we do things because that’s how our parents did them.  The first box of Christmas decorations comes out the day before Thanksgiving so we can eat and drink from Christmas plates when Santa arrives at the end of the parade.  Some things we start to do when we have our own place, starting a new routine unique to this household.  Sunday mornings are for reading the newspaper front to back at my home.

How do you document these habits and traditions?  When you look through old photos, can you show a family routine through historical photos?  What pictures can you take over the next year to document things you currently do?  As always, photos support the story you want to tell.  Whether you make a traditional scrapbook, a pocket photo album, or a printed photo book, make sure you record what makes your family unique with words and pictures.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Cultural (heritage or religious) things you do at certain times of the year
  • Complicated recipes that take a day to make or are done in large batches
  • Things you do before you leave the house or upon your return
  • Brands you buy exclusively (and why) – toothpaste, cars, pasta, etc.
  • Unwritten rules about neatness/sloppiness around the home
  • Names or phrases that don’t mean anything outside your home (“We’re having Emmy dinner tonight!”)

Whether you go apple picking every fall or eat breakfast for dinner once a week, make sure you document what makes your household special for those who live there.  Use photos and words to show what binds you together.  Those traditions are often the heart of your family.

Captions are Critical

They say a picture is worth 1000 words (and I’d argue that pictures can say much more than that), but what about actual words associated with your pictures?  Does the picture above tell you much without the caption alongside it?

2016-12-05 (18) 0027
My grandmother’s bad handwriting (she was left-handed but wrote with her right) on the back of the picture.

When you go through old pictures, you may be fortunate enough to have extra information to tell you what is going on in the picture.  Some people were good about marking information on the back of pictures (though the actual pen or marker was not good for the physical photo itself!).  Others put pictures in photo albums that allowed space to add information about the photos on the page.

My favorite captions are those that give more than the Who? What? When? Where? data and provide insight on the Why or How come.  What was Mom thinking when she took that picture?  What is the meaning of that particular gift?  Why were these people on vacation together?

One thing that makes me sad for today’s kids is the lack of stories attached to their photos.  Since most people aren’t printing photos out or organizing them properly on the computer, these stories are getting lost.  We have thousands of photos of the children born in the age of the digital camera, but they aren’t as meaningful as the handful of photos taken in the 1960s or 1970s in the family’s collection.

Stacy and Cheri (5 weeks)  Cheri sure makes her laugh!
“Stacy – 5 weeks.  Cheri sure makes her laugh!”

I was fortunate to be born in a family that valued photos, took more than average, and added information to them.  As I digitized my baby photos and my sister’s baby photos, I smiled over and over as I added captions in my mother’s words.  Even though there’s a five-year difference in our ages, apparently my sister and I were enamored with each other from the start.  How much does this caption strengthen our relationship now when we see how close we used to be?

Experts say it builds a child’s self-esteem to see family photos.  David Krauss, a licensed psychologist from Cleveland, Ohio, says, “It is so helpful for children to see themselves as a valued and important part of that family unit.” (  How much more meaningful are those photos when there’s a story along with them?

Set aside time each month to caption and tag your digital photos.  Even better, print important ones out and note your thoughts about them.  Use a photo-safe pencil on the back or put the pictures in a photo album with space for handwritten notes.  It’s more than worth the effort to have the story with the pictures we’re taking in this digital age!

The Impact of Before & After Photos

When most people think of the pictures in their collection, they think about vacations, family gatherings, and holidays.  There are many other kinds of pictures that need to be organized and sometimes retrieved, too.  Photos are a great way to compare before and after or changes over time.

When I bought my condo, I walked around taking pictures of each room.  This served as a reminder for the space I had to fill, the things I wanted to change, and even the types of outlets that were available for large appliances.  Once I moved in and made the home my own, I took pictures because I was proud of the organized closet and the decorated kitchen.  Placed alongside the first photos, I could see the difference in the before and after.

Many businesses use before and after photos as well.  Dentists show how crooked teeth became straight.  Remodeling construction companies show an outdated room becoming modern.  Landscaping companies show an overgrown yard turning into a beautiful garden.  What better way to show the quality of your work than with photo proof of your ability to transform?

Sometimes we use a common spot or pose in pictures to show the progress of growth over time in people or animals.  If you eliminate the magic of Photoshop, you can trust a photograph to show you a true comparison from picture to picture.  In the photos below, you can see how tall my niece gets each year by her height against the stone railing.

Taking the photos is only part of it.  The critical piece is organizing them so you can get your hands on the pictures you’re looking for.  To make the three-picture collage above, I simply searched my photos for Rackham (the name of the fountain) and Elizabeth (the name of my niece).  It took seconds to see the photos I had available because I’ve taken the time to tag my pictures with words that will help me find them again.  It’s much easier to look through a few dozen pictures that contain what you want than it is to search thousands (and thousands) to find them.

People and businesses with piles of photos need to use keywords that mean something to them.  I don’t expect most people to have the keyword Rackham in their photo organization.  This is a word that is important to me.  I use the vague word “car” to identify pictures with cars in them, but if you are part of a Mustang club, I would expect Mustang to be one of your keywords.  Construction companies should consider the room or type of material used as keywords so they can show customers a variety of kitchen remodels or specifically marble countertops if they need to pull up pictures in that way.

Think about the photos you take to show before-and-after situations or the growth over time of someone or something.  How can you organize these photos so you can quickly grab both the old and the new to see the progress?  Photos can be a great help in telling your story if you take the time to tag them properly.

Do Photos Evoke Emotion?

  • A preteen sees photos from when she was younger and understands how much she has always been loved.
  • A senior with Alzheimer’s looks at old photos daily to feel anchored in a world that is so confusing.
  • A couple flips through wedding photos on each anniversary to recall the emotions of beginning their life together.
  • A person who was adopted sees birth family photos for the first time and searches for physical resemblances.
  • A high school graduate pulls together photos from sports and activities throughout his school years and sees how far he’s come.

These are just a few examples of the powerful emotions photos can bring to every kind of person.  The longer I help people with their pictures, the more stories I hear about what photos mean to them.  Clients often get teary just talking about the photos they are about to hand over to me.

Snapshots of the past give you a foundation for the present.  Whether you are looking at old pictures of the city you live in or pictures from your college dorm room, you look up from the picture and see how far things have come.  It gives today’s life more meaning when you see what had to change to make today happen.

Even if you don’t know the story behind the photo, you can treasure a glimpse of someone’s life as seen by the camera that day.  When a loved one is gone, a photo of them is as meaningful as a recording of their voice or a sample of their handwriting.  It is a piece of someone who mattered.

A few months ago, I learned about savefamilyphotos (  This site, and the Instagram account that is its main feed, claims to be “On a mission to save family stories, one photo at a time.”  Sometimes the photos themselves make you smile, or pause to guess the story.  What people tell you about the photos they submit makes you go back and give the photos a deeper look.  The stories aren’t always happy, but you definitely feel something looking at strangers’ photos.

Think about how you can share your photos with others who will appreciate them.  Whether you hand over print copies or e-mail digital files, pictures in your possession could make somebody’s day.  Don’t keep these memories in a box for someone to discover some day.  You never know what emotions you can evoke in someone’s life right now.