Photos tell the story of our lives….but how we can turn our images into a lasting photo legacy?
A “legacy” is a gift that is handed down from one generation to the next. For example, the president of a company might leave a legacy of integrity, honesty, and grit.
Instead of just handing down a random collection of unorganized photos to future generations in your family, wouldn’t it be great to add the details in your photos, so the stories aren’t forgotten or lost?
Creating a photo legacy involves taking some active steps to organize and manage your photos, so they are easily found and identified.
Without the stories and identifying details behind the photos, your images are at risk of becoming items from the past with no apparent meaning – merely a collection of items. If you think of your photos as part of your family legacy – with the stories, accomplishments, values and challenges they represent – then they become part of a legacy that future generations will cherish.
In this post, we’ll identify the things that could stop you from creating a photo legacy, how to get past those potential roadblocks, and how to take the steps to ensure the stories in your photos are preserved for future generations.
Roadblocks That Prevent You From Creating a Photo Legacy
Roadblock #1: You can’t remember the people who are featured in your photos.
It can be frustrating when you’re looking at older photos that aren’t labeled, and you can’t identify who’s in the images.
If you’re not sure whether your photos represent anything of value (because the stories and details aren’t included), you might not feel like your images are really a part of your family legacy.
The good news is that there are clues in old photos that help you narrow things down. Check out this post for some excellent tips on identifying people in your older photos.
Family resemblances can also give you clues about the people in your photos. For example, does your grandfather look very similar to your brother? If so, that resemblance can help you sort out the “Who’s Who” in your images.
Roadblock #2: We don’t know how to make our photo collection into a photo legacy.
You might feel like you’re not sure how to create a photo legacy…but the good news is that it isn’t that difficult. You just need to know what steps to take!
Here are some tips for making your photos part of a legacy collection that people can enjoy for generations.
How to Create a Photo Legacy
1. Make sure your photos are preserved and stored properly.
As a photo organizer, I’m a stickler for making sure you preserve your photos, so they’ll last a long time.
When possible, always preserve your original prints. They are a historical example of something members of future generations don’t get to see or touch very often – and that makes them important!
If you don’t want to keep your old heritage photos, sometimes museums or historical societies will accept donations of items like this. I get really sad when I think about prints (especially old heritage ones) being thrown away!
Designate a family historian to be in charge of the photo collection, and let your family know who that person is! This may seem obvious, but you need to tell people who has the photos and where the images are being stored (physically and digitally).
You can make your digital files a part of your estate, and share login details so they don’t get lost – just make sure you keep these details updated if you change login and password details.
If you are using a library system or a shared site, you also need to make sure someone is maintaining that system. The family historian or the person responsible for the estate needs to keep things current, and be aware if a site has become obsolete.
Wouldn’t it be awful if you thought you had your photos safely stored online, only to find out the company or site has gone out of business – and your photos were gone? That’s why I recommend keeping it simple, and storing photos on a device that’s easily accessible.
2. Be mindful of technology changes.
Digital file formats can change, and I recommend keeping your file formats current. For examples, your home movie reels and tapes should be converted to digital files.
I recommend making that files formats are current as formats changes, and ensuring that your files can be read by current equipment and software.
I just read a recent article on the possibility of Apple making some changes to their file formats. It is always important to be aware of changes like these, to keep your collection current with trends – otherwise you may end up with file formats that your devices can’t read or play!
If this sounds daunting, we can help – managing file formats is something we do for our full-service clients.
3. Share the stories.
Try to keep photos of a series together, including photos from the same event or day. As the stories unfold, these images will tell the story of what was happening at that moment.
When you’re taking photos, use your camera to take pictures of moments that tell stories.
You can also create a family timeline to document events, dates, etc., so you can use it to identify and label your pictures. A family timeline will make the job of the family historian a lot easier!
For more ideas to on getting stories out of your family, check out these tips from one of our recent posts.
You can also use photos to help you document the meaning behind sentimental items. Photographing these things can help you let go of these items, or just document their meaning – which is especially important if you plan to bequeath them to a family member.
My mother used images to document the meaning behind some of the heirlooms that were passed down to her from her mother and grandmothers. It’s so much more meaningful to know the stories behind some of these artifacts, versus just seeing a pretty bowl or serving platter.
4. Use metadata to save the “who, what, where and when” of your photos.
“Metadata” is information that goes along with a photo file, like what camera was used the take the picture, when the photo was taken, etc.. Photo metadata allows information to be transported along with an image file, in a way that can be understood by other hardware, software, or end users.
Storing information with an image’s metadata is a great way to make sure information about the photo doesn’t get lost – but there are a few things you need to be aware of when you’re editing photo metadata.
The best way to edit the metadata of a photo is to save the metadata directly to the image – which you can do with Photo Mechanic or Adobe’s Lightroom. It’s critical that you edit metadata and save it directly to the file, so that information will always travel with the image, if you’re exporting the photo or moving it around from place to place on your computer or tablet.
If you’re using a library application or software (like Google Photos, or Apple’s built-in “Photos” program), you can add metadata like keywords, etc. – but that information is saved in an external file that will be stripped out if you move or export the image.
Folks can unknowingly strip metadata out of their photo files by exporting them from certain programs, so the technical information (date taken, camera settings, camera type) gets lost. That can mean a lot of work down the drain!
If you want to add keywords or tags to your images, the ONLY way to preserve those changes is to save them to the file using a program like Photo Mechanic or Lightroom.
If you use a library application, that also means you’ll only be able to find your images when you’re in that particular app or program, which doesn’t allow you any flexibility for working with your photos. If you save your metadata directly to the file, you will always be able to locate your photos, without being dependent upon a specialized photo app or program.
Adding metadata to images is a service we provide to our clients, because most people don’t want to manage this themselves – but they like that we handle this, so the details of a photo are saved and made available for future generations.
5. Make sure the file details are universal and logical (to anyone).
The simpler your system is, the easier it will be for people to find things – so it’s a good idea to make sure your organizational system can be understood by anyone who might be looking for your photos at a later date.
If you plan to keep things simple and organize your photos in folders with filenames that include the details of the event, etc., make sure the naming is easy to understand and follow. For example, using acronyms or nicknames may not be universally known to future generations. Here’s a great article written by colleague on the best ways to file photos based upon the theme or event.
However, with artificial intelligence, files can now be searchable based upon certain keywords for details such as location, people, and events. This is where the accuracy of the photo file’s metadata comes into play (see above).
I’ve realized this is a more common method for younger generations, or for tech savvy folks who like this system – but you’re likely to pass along your photos to younger generations, so this IS important to keep in mind!
Photo keywords tie events together, but you need to be consistent so that when you search, you find all the files that fit that search criteria. Check out this article for types on best keywording practices.
If you want some recommendations on best practices for naming photos, so the information is searchable, here are a few articles to help you out:
- How to Finally Tame Your Photo Mess (from this blog)
- The Name Game: Why File Numbers Matter When It Comes to Organizing Photos (from The Photo Organizers)
How Having a Photo Legacy Helped Me Celebrate a Wonderful Moment with My Daughter
I’ll share a recent experience that emphasizes the benefits of having photos ready to be part of your family’s legacy.
Our daughter Molly and her husband Michael are currently in Thailand enjoying their honeymoon. Just this week, they had the opportunity to interact directly with elephants while they were on their trip.
Molly was really looking forward to this experience – and it didn’t disappoint!
After seeing this photo shared by her hubby, I realized that this actually wasn’t the first time Molly had been that close to an elephant! I remembered another photo, taken back when Molly was really little, back in 1993:
Because my photo collection is organized, I was able to find that older image and text it back to Molly and Michael within a few minutes. Imagine what it would’ve been like it I didn’t have my digital photos organized, or if I just had a stack of prints hidden in the back of one of my closets! It was such fun to be able to find this image so quickly, and be able to share it with them.
In my next post, I’m going to share all the insider secrets of how I got control of my own photo collection. I’m going to tell you exactly how I was able to find this photo so easily – so make sure to keep your eye out for that post in just a few weeks!