Your Family Photo Stories is my photo organizing and family history business. Here are some tips for photo organizing:
This page is about the practical. It is about the tools to begin working with your photos–sorting, scanning, and storing.
Since I began exploring my family photos I have been asked many questions about how to organize , sort, and digitize family photos. The questions are often by others in my age group who recently inherited their family photos, but it’s also by my friends parents who want to organize the photos so they can be easily distributed been children and grandchildren.
Digital photos are easy to work with–until you have too many. Maintain control of them!
It takes time to sort and scan photos and slides. You can pay to have the images scanned. This is usually easiest if have 35mm slides. If you’re working with a range of media, as I do, you may have to do most of it yourself.
I think of this as “Exploring” family photos because it is like an archaelogical inquiry. You have to name the people, places, and dates. This is how the family history fits in. To many this may be daunting, but I was surprised at how easy it became once I got started.
In dating pictures you can often give a specific year by looking at cars, clothing, or a piece of furniture it couldn’t be before or after a certain date.
For identifying people if you know the basic cast of characters you have those choices to work from. You gain more insight by asking questions. Contact other family members for their input. You’re not discovering unchartered territory – you’re working with material that some family members may know more than you. With email it is easy to send the picture and gather information.
What my mother gave me was boxes of pictures, most I had never seen before. My father was a pack rat. The photos were found in various drawers and cabinets. About 15 years earlier my parents made copies of many photos which I put into albums, but I had no idea how many more pictures there were. Because he was a Photo Mate in the Navy; loved cameras, and owned a camera store his photos were in many different formats–transparencies and negatives ranging in size from 110, 35mm, 126, 127mm, 2¼” x 2¼”, and 4″x5″. The film and the prints were both black and white and color. Some were Polaroids. There were also hundreds of photos that were taken to test customers cameras or used equipment.
I sorted the photos by format; by subject; event; or chronology. In some cases I didn’t know the subjects, but I knew that they were family members or friends.
Sorting takes time. I didn’t throw anything away until I sorted through everything three times. Then, before anything went into the trash I went through it again to make sure that I didn’t accidentally toss something I wanted.
- a large light box–invaluable to look at negatives and transparencies
- A good quality photo loupe and magnifying glass
- canned air and a photo brush–to clean the surface dirt
- 100% cotton gloves–to avoid adding finger prints and oils. (Throw them out when they get dirty.)
- Archival boxes
- print, negative, and transparency archival storage pages or archival envelopes.
I started by using Adobe PhotoShop Elements. I now use Photoshop Lightroom. Yes, computers have software that can store photos, but you need something more to correct color shift or to crop images. Because of the number of pictures I have I don’t do the fine correction to remove spots or foxing.
Because of the various formats I was working with I got a photo quality scanner that had a 4″x5″ light box. You can now get a 35mm transparency or negative scanner that’s a fairly simple thing and under $100. You can also use services to scan the images. These are relatively inexpensive, but you have to send the pictures so allot one to two months for them to be scanned.
If you do it yourself allow even more time. I’ve only done a few hundred images, and I’ve been working on it over nine years. I sent the rest to a service to be scanned.
For storage you go back to the supplies listed under sorting. Store only in archival materials–this included archival photo albums. Create a system that works best for you–storing by format or by subject. There will probably be many images that aren’t as important to you. Those can be stored in smaller photo boxes.
Don’t destroy your paper photos–they are more permanent than digital. Digital images can be shared easily and if stored in cloud storage or on a hard drive in another location they with withstand a disaster such as fire, storms, or theft.
Even after you create the digital images, print them on archival quality paper using archival printer toner and a photo quality printer. Yes, this can be expensive, but we know that the paper images will last through time, whereas technology keeps changing.
Store digital images both virtually and on a backup drive. If you use a virtual storage system you know that you’ll have copies should your computer be stolen or damaged.