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Organizing Photographs

Memories like the corners of my … closets. Photographs and organizing them are always mentioned in my intake sessions with residential clients, but they always seems to be lowest priority, something personal and tedious that, “I’ll handle by myself later.”

With the advent of digital photography, photo organization seems much less daunting. Since we are no longer adding to the boxes and bags of printed images that need to be organized into scrapbooks so they can be viewed and enjoyed, most of us are actually having more fun with pictures. We are creating — and more importantly, sharing — them more than ever.

One of my favorite features of digital photography is the ability to delete them. Blurry shots, closed eyes, boring shots or unflattering ones can and should be pitched instantly. Delete any shots you don’t want right from the camera so that only the best make it on to your computer or back up drive.

If you have the task of going through all of your old print photos, you can pitch the bad shots just as easily and reduce the volume considerably. Consider the purpose of your photo archive — if it is not of historic value and only for the enjoyment of you, your friends and family, why keep photos of people you don’t recognize? A book of the best, most memorable moments, will be far more entertaining.

You can also toss the negatives from print photos since scanners can recreate any shot nearly perfectly. Any extra envelopes (print photos used to come in doubled paper envelopes) can also be tossed.

The only way I would organize photos is chronologically. I have seen someone order a vast collection by who was in the photograph and it was a disaster. Unless you plan to hand the photos down to separate parties (and I am talking about personal, not professional, photography), the “story” is better understood chronologically. Make sure the time/date stamp on your digital camera or phone is set correctly and date the backs of print photos immediately.

I don’t recommend scanning all of your old photographs into the computer as part of the organizing project — it is a time consuming, daunting task. Organize them first, then possibly later you can scan a few at a time. Scanning is  important only if you want to hand down or share the collection with people.

If you don’t plan to create scrapbooks or photo albums, print photos are best organized into boxes created for that purpose. Michael’s Arts and Crafts sells cardboard photo boxes in various colors. You can label the front with the dates and other information.

Photo boxes stack neatly on bookshelves or closet shelves. For a streamlined look, you can buy a bunch and spray paint them to complement your décor.

Try to keep all your digital photos on a single drive and back it up in the cloud. Shutterfly will store your photos for free at their original resolution. Be careful: some Internet services will store your photos, but at a reduced resolution, which means that if you lose your copy, the back-up copy will be inferior.

You don’t have to name each picture or create a bunch of folders for your digital photographs. The date/time stamp will give you a tremendous edge on organization. Windows Live Photo Gallery, iPhoto or Picasa make browsing your photos simple and fun. It’s easy to click and drag your favorites into a few folders, then use a service like Shutterly to create photo albums or upload them onto sharing sites like Flickr or Facebook.

Getting our memories in order brings a lot of peace of mind. And, finally, instead of adding to the tangled mess, technology is making this an easier and much more joyful task.