Yes, I’m a photo organizer…and up until very recently, my own photo collection was a mess.
My family includes baby boomer parents and millennial children, and I think our photo collection was pretty typical of most families like ours. We had:
- Print photos from the 1950’s through approximately 2004, including some heritage images inherited from both sides of our family.
- Print photos and corresponding CDs of the images, starting around 2003.
- Digital images from our SLR camera, from about 2008.
- Recent smartphone images, from the last few years.
- Finished photo albums and unfinished photo projects. Any photos used for completed projects were either glued in scrapbook albums, in magnetic albums, or loosely placed in heritage albums. We also had collections of images in photo boxes, or scrapbook albums with prints ready to be used but that were pulled out of context from their events.
- Scrapbook projects that weren’t necessarily my best work. Many of these had hideously cropped photos (remember when we thought it was creative to cut around people to make silhouettes of them on the page)? There was also lots of stickers that seemed cute when they were in style, but they now seem dated and distracting.
- Reprint copies and negatives galore.
To make things even worse, our digital photos were in multiple places, devices, and platforms. My husband uses a PC for his main computer, I’m loyal to my Mac, so we have multiple devices in our home, on different operating systems. Like many of our clients, we each had copies of a lot of the same photos on our computers, because we didn’t have an efficient and easy way to share them with each other.
Our backup system was confusing, and we often ended up creating duplicate backups of the same pictures. Plus, it was difficult for me to view the most recent backup of our photos at any given time, which didn’t exactly inspire confidence in our system!
Does all this sound familiar?
Each time I tried to wade into my photo collection to try to make progress on organizing everything, I felt overwhelmed. Whew! I realized this must be how my clients feel, and I gained a newfound appreciation for their angst over their photo collections.
My Very Own “Motivating Event”
Since I’m a photo organizer, most people would assume that I could keep my OWN photo collection organized. However, with a busy family and a growing business, I didn’t have any spare time to get my own photos organized, searchable, and properly backed up.
Over time, as we added more photos, the problem kept getting worse and worse, until the whole thing was so overwhelming that I just keep avoiding it – much like my clients do with their photo organization problems!
For many of my clients, there’s typically a “motivating event” that inspires them to reach out and get help. This can include things like birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and weddings.
I had the same kind of motivating event! My daughter Molly got engaged in August 2016, I knew right away that I wanted to create a slideshow for Molly and Michael’s rehearsal dinner. To create this slideshow, I was going to need to find photos of Molly from childhood to present day.
The way my image collection looked at that time, I knew this task was going to be really difficult…so that’s when I decided to enlist some help in dealing with my photo mess.
How We Corralled My Photo Mess
Luckily for me, help was within easy reach! I decided to use my own team to help me create a system to organize and maintain my photo collection.
My team and I essentially followed the same process I use for my clients:
- Gather all the photos (both print and digital) in one place.
- Review the photos using what we already know about family members.
- Create a family timeline of key events.
- Eliminate duplicates and blurry photos.
- Get everything centralized and organized onto a family drive.
Organizing My Print Photos
For my prints, we grouped all the photos from events together, and put them in order. Fortunately, the heritage photos from our families had already been organized and digitized, and filed by family and person.
We put negatives back into their original photo lab envelopes, and filed them according to the date they were taken.
I’m thankful that information about when events happened (and when photos were taken) was mostly documented. Occasionally, we had to make a judgement call in certain situations, but our timeline helped us make an educated guess about where photos belonged.
We pulled photos out of magnetic albums and scanned the scrapbook pages. For the silhouette or odd-shaped prints, we tried to find an original version to scan instead. We discarded all the extra reprint copies. If we found prints that were also in digital format (on CD’s), we compared the images to make sure the prints didn’t need to be scanned.
Sometimes we decided to scan these because the photo lab put the files in reverse chronological order on the CD. Since the file name is the date the photo was processed, we would’ve needed to go back and edit all that information anyway, so in some cases it was faster to just rescan some of the images in the proper order and adjust the metadata later. Because we scan in 600 dpi, this re-scanning also ensured the photos were captured in a high resolution file format.
Once the prints were all organized and identified, we scanned them all and stored them in archive-quality boxes, then filed the boxes in chronological order, by year.
Then we edited the digital files of all the scanned images. Using Photo Mechanic, we changed the file date, then we added the “who, what, where, and when” to the file name. We saved all those changes to the file’s metadata.
Note: Look for an upcoming post from us for more information on changing the metadata of your photos!
After we edited the digital files, we stored all the images onto a family external hard drive.
Organizing My Digital Photos
The family drive we used for our scanned print images is also where we consolidated the existing digital photos that we gathered from the computers, CD’s, hard drives, and SD cards.
Even though we knew it was likely we’d have duplicates (especially from the multiple backup copies), all the digital files were copied from each device and copied onto the family drive. This ensured we got every single image at the start of the process.
Then we ran a duplicate program called PhotoSweeper, which checked the entire drive for duplicate photos. I use this program with my clients to pare down digital photo collections and make sure we’re keeping only one copy of each photo. It took several passes with PhotoSweeper to eliminate all our duplicates.
After the duplicates were eliminated, we went through all the final images, added the correct dates, adjusted the file names to include the date taken and the event, and added keywords to make sure all the information in the files was easily searchable.
Then we filed all the images on the family drive by Years and Month. We also have Theme folders for Vacations, People and Places.
The entire family drive is backed up using Backblaze, which stores a copy in the cloud for safekeeping.
Here’s a little preview of what my file system looks like, on my Mac:
Maintaining Our Organizational System
I wanted to create a plan for maintaining our photos and making sure everything stays up to date and organized. I’m just like my busy clients, and it’s easy for other things to take priority, and I wanted to avoid letting things get out of control and overwhelming again.
I created a simple, easy to follow system for maintaining my photos, so it’s not overwhelming to keep up.
Since we don’t often need to view photos that are more than a couple of years old, keeping all the images in one place works well for our family. If we need images for a project (like Molly’s slideshow), we create a project folder with a copy of the images we’ll use, so the originals are always kept safe.
Here how we deal with new photos coming into our system:
- New prints: When new photos come in that need to be filed and labeled properly (like the heritage photos of my father’s relatives that we just inherited), we just scan them, name according to date taken and event, then archive them following the system I’ve created.
- New digital photos: When we take new pictures with our SLR camera and smartphones, those periodically copied onto the family drive. When we move them, we rename the images, adding date taken and event name, so the information is always searchable.
- If I want to view the SLR images on my Apple devices, I’ll import them into my Photos library. Since our family all have Apple phones and devices, we can easily share photos in Shared Albums. This gives us the chance to see each other’s photos having to make new copies of the images on our own individual devices.
- Photos shared by family and friends: When relatives or friends send us images by text or email, we save them to our phones, so those images get included when we periodically copy images over to our family drive. As the images are added to the family drive, we also check for duplicates.
I also have a lot of random screenshots, photos of future purchases, and photos of my grocery list on my phone. These “temporary” but useful images are either saved in albums the Photos app, or are periodically deleted. I also review my photo collection regularly, which helps me avoid keeping images I no longer need.
Using This System to Tame Your Own Photo Mess
So….I’ve confessed! My photo collection used to be a mess, too. Now you know my secret!
The good news is that I was able to get my photo mess under control….and you can, too!
If you’d like to tackle your photo collection on your own, you can follow the steps we describe in this post – or we can always assist you with this process! Get in touch with us today for a free consultation if you’re feeling overwhelmed.