Organize family photos and de-clutter at the same time!
Apr 8, 2020 | By: Teresa Berg Photography
Need a good Coronavirus Quarantine project? How about organizing your old family photos?
My father was a photographer. Which means my family has a rich history in great photographs. Trunks full of them. Most of the really good ones document our youngest years and then, somehow, he ran out of steam as time wore on. But when he passed away, we knew we had to preserve them.
Remember that old prints need care. You shouldn't just toss them in a drawer or box without a little bit of thought. Snapshots will have yellowed and color-shifted, even if they were in frames. Something our modern prints won't do unless they are hanging on the wall in the sun. NOTE: In case no one has every told you -- NEVER hang photographs in the sun. So pull your photographs out of drawers and boxes, sort them and put them in good acid-free storage boxes or albums. And enjoy them!
How to get started:
1. Sort prints in to piles. Choose either by subject or timeline.
Like maybe you need a whole album of just vacation photos? Or just kid's school pictures? Or an album from each home you lived in? Chronological makes sense, but you may not always know the dates and you may get bogged down in detective work if you want to be too precise. Although my siblings and I have had some interesting discussions over trying to remember what year we did what.
And side note: If you have old snapshots in those so-called “magnetic” photo albums—you know, the ones with the sticky pages and plastic page covers—you may find it darn near impossible to get them off the page. Take the photos out of the book when possible. If not, scan the whole page and then separate the pictures into individual images. And don't ever use one of those albums again!
2. Toss out the duplicates, or give them to someone else - maybe another family member? It's amazing how we can end up with so many different copies of the same photo.
3. Toss out the negatives. Scary, right? But chances are, unless you're a professional photographer, you will never do anything with them. It's even tricky finding someplace to take them for printing.
4. Store them properly. Whole books have been written on this subject. I'm a fan of both keeping the prints and scanning and keeping a digital copy. Many of my clients order coffee table books for the simple reason that they can just pick up the book and have all those memories in their hands instantly. And how nice is it to be able to sit with another person and flip through a book as opposed to looking at a tiny version of a photo on a phone?
You can scan old photos if you have a scanner. 600 ppi is the setting you want. A cheap scanner that only goes up to 300 ppi is probably a waste of time unless you have a perfect photo to begin with - because with every scan or photo copy, you lose a lot of quality. So if you start with a blurry snapshot, you end up with a mess. Another option for getting printed photos into digital form is to use a scanning app like Google PhotoScan, which allows you to take a picture of the picture, digitizing it with your smartphone. Once photos are digitized, you can use image-editing software to correct color, remove dust. etc.
Digitizing your photos won’t mean a thing if your hard drive fails and wipes out every image, including that one remaining photo of your grandparents’ wedding. To prevent that, be sure to save more than one digital copy. One for the cloud, one for the thumb drive or external hard drive in the drawer or the family safe.
A word of warning: Don’t rely on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram for your backups. The sites downgrade the resolution of your images. So even if you uploaded a great image file, social media lowered the resolution to make it load faster.
Don’t dare toss your pics back in a shoebox! Wood and wood products, like cardboard and paper, contain acids that will cause photos to yellow and get brittle over time, so they aren’t good for storage. it’s better to use acid-free archival boxes. The boxes are a little pricier than the photo storage boxes you might find at craft stores; however, since they’re acid-free, they resist damage from environmental pollutants.
And be sure if you mat and frame a photographic print that you never use a mat that is not acid free. They're only a bit more expensive and they will preserve your photographs properly. Look around the house. If you see some mats that are turning yellow or brown on the edges (even under glass) they are not acid free.
Sorting through old photos can be a lot of fun. Especially if you don't wait until there has been a death in the family. After a loss, the discoveries are still rich, but not as light-hearted. Grab a sorting buddy - like a sibling or a child who knows some of the faces and rediscover your family.