Photographs. Negatives. Slides. Digital Files. Duplicates. Some you’ve taken. Some from Grandma’s boxes. Some from… well, we’re not sure. In the 1800s, photos were unique. Even in the 1980s when photos were not unusual any more, they were manageable. In the past couple of decades, though, the phrase “photo overload” has been rightly coined! Many people now find themselves overloaded with photos in many forms and from many sources. So what do you do when Photo Overload becomes Photo Overwhelm?
Planting a Flag Atop Your Mountain of Photos
The goal is to stand on top of your mountain of photos, not be crushed under it. Here are four helps to get you out from under your mountain– and help you actually get to the top so you can plant a flag there:
- Find out what you have. Organize chronologically by year and month. (You can find several organizational tips at this link.) Until things are sorted and organized, you won’t even know what you’re dealing with. You need to know what you want to preserve and what is extra.
- Differentiate between the backup and the real thing. What you’re going for is PHOTOS, hard copies that can be seen and interacted with and preserved with details and memories and stories. Slides and negatives and digital files are not photos. Not yet, anyway. You probably remember this truth from the “Why it’s Important to Print Your Photos” post a few weeks ago: Backups are to be STORED. Photos are to be SEEN.
- Preserve the photos and store the backups. The great news is that once backups are safely stored, you don’t really have to think about them again! Whether you are storing negatives or flash drives or photos in the cloud, they are there “just in case.” Focus on the photos! From those backup versions of your photos, take the things you and your family need to see again and again, the things that will bring back happy memories, the things that will strengthen relationships and bonds. Print those. Tell your family stories. Share them, too! There are lots of creative ways to preserve and share family stories! Quite a few suggestions and solutions for the “preserve the photos” part of this step are right here on #familyhistoryfriday posts, so click around.
- Don’t be afraid to part with something. If you have 12 photos of your grandfather, you need all those photos. If you have 120 photos of your child’s field trip, you’re going to have to be okay with not printing them all if you want to stand on top of your mountain. Decide which ones stay in digital form and stored (or deleted, if you’re a person who can do that) and which ones get preserved in albums, scrapbooks, or digital memory and photo books. You don’t need to keep blurry photos or photos in which the subject’s eyes are closed unless they are the only ones you have. Parting with photos that aren’t your favorites anyway is just fine– I promise!
Each photo you have, whether digital or printed, needs two things: 1- a hard copy preserved with written details and story, and 2- a backup stored. Beyond this (such as duplicate copies or blurry photos), we will call EXTRA.
To get on top of your mountain, you really need to start with deciding what exactly is EXTRA. Start by sorting. Find duplicates from 35mm film days, find less-than-fantastic pictures (blurry or dark, for example). Do this with digital photos, too. Find which of the 300 pictures you took at the beach are your very favorites.
Ask yourself what benefit each of those EXTRA photos has to you or would have to someone else. You will need to decide the benefit and value of each photo based on your own criteria. Photos in which someone’s eyes are closed, for example, can be valuable if there isn’t another photo from that time period or if it’s one of the few photos you have of that person. Otherwise, maybe not.
EXTRA photos from the 35mm days might mean duplicates. EXTRA photos from digital days might mean 200 photos from one event that could be condensed into 30 or 50. Or even 5 or 100. For now, just keep these photos as EXTRA. Label them. But sort them away from the most important photos. This is just streamlining– a simple reduction in the amount of photos you have to deal with. Set aside the EXTRA.
If you are digitizing (scanning) photos, you’re creating for yourself a second copy (or version) of that photo. If photos are in bad shape, scanning creates a digital backup from which you can get a new hard copy. Just remember that scanning photos to preserve them digitally isn’t the only goal. First and foremost, be sure you are focused on a having hard copy of some kind. That’s the real goal because being able to SEE photos is what makes them important. Preserve photos in an album or book and then store the other (digital) version.
Keep in mind that because technology changes so quickly, experts recommend that you store your photos digitally in two ways, not just one. That means storing them on a CD, flash drive, external hard drive, or in the cloud is great, but you never know when technology will be outdated, files will become unreadable, or an online photo storage company will go out of business. So two methods of digital storage is safest.
You may end up with additional EXTRA photos when you have them scanned.
What to Do with Extra Photos
Once you’ve discovered the EXTRA photos, whether digital or physical, and have set them aside, focus first on preserving hard copies in a book, and next on storing digital (or negative) versions as backup. Now you’ll be sure that your extra photos are really extras!
Here are some suggestions on what to do now with your EXTRA photos.
- For truly worthless photos, throw them away–right now. I’m talking about those accidental ones of somebody’s finger or the ground. Get rid of photos like that ASAP. They’re just in your way. These are fast steps to the top of your mountain of photos.
- You may have some special photos that you don’t really need any more since they’ve been scanned or otherwise preserved but you don’t really want to throw them away, either. An example of a photo in this category would be an original photo of Grandma & Grandpa on their wedding day. Once you’ve scanned it, printed it to preserve in an album or family storybook, and preserved it digitally, that original has become EXTRA– but you don’t want to throw it away! I highly recommend passing photos like this on to someone else— a sibling, a child, a cousin. Let them enjoy and appreciate this heirloom and bit of family history like you have, especially now that you don’t have to worry so much about something happening to it.
- If you have a lot of digital photos that you’ve taken yourself, sorting them and finding EXTRAS is absolutely vital to you being able to get on top of your mountain.
- If you don’t want to throw away photos, that’s fine. Just know that you’re going to need to find a way to store them. If that means bins of physical photos, or if you want to store a terabyte of digital photos, that is perfectly fine. But just don’t forget that storing isn’t seeing. Make sure you’ve chosen your favorites to print, see, and love.
I talk to a lot of people about their photos these days, and I find it interesting how many of them don’t ever even SEE their photos because they have too many to do anything with. Many are just left in digital form on a computer or in the cloud and not ever looked at again. Yet in the same breath they tell me they can’t possibly part with any of their 5,000 photos, so paring down is not an option.
I’m very sentimental, so I understand the difficulty of parting with a photo, but realistically, they have to make their choice: either they keep every photo and stay under their mountain of photos and likely never see any of those photos they took because they’re so overwhelmed, or they have to pick and choose their favorites to print. Think about it: if they’re never going to see any of those great images, it doesn’t make that much sense that they’re so protective of them. They’re kind of thrown away already.
So be brave. Sort. Find the extras. Removing them is like taking rocks off your mountain and lowering its elevation. And by all means, focus on your favorite photos!