What to do with all those photographic images?

How to preserve memories, stories, and photos?

I wrote this set of suggestions for how to approach the problem after a friend asked me for advice based on my experience preserving photos, stories and memories in photo-scrapbook albums. As a child, college student, and young adult, I created scrapbooks and wrote in journals, but it was not until the late 1990s that I realized it was possible to combine photos and stories about them in a single album – a photo-scrapbook album. My priority has been preserving the photographic images, but also including information about the photos alongside the images. Several people have asked me lately about how to deal with all the images they find in their possession. I find it helpful to make lists. Here is my advice.

  1. First, make a list of everything you have that you might consider preserving if you had all the time in the world and an unlimited budget; indicate WHERE it all is. Examples:

Electronic photographic images:

  • Photos on phone (approx. how many?)
  • Photos on flash/thumb drives (#drives; #images?)
  • Photos on desktop computer (location[s])
  • Photos in the Cloud (Google Photos, OneDrive, others?)
  • Photos on laptops that are not also somewhere else
  • Photos on external hard drives (#?)
  • Photos on camera card(s)
  • Photos on CDs from a long time ago
  • Photos from Facebook, Instagram or other social media

Photos in print form/slides:

  • Heritage/antique photos from ancestors
  • Prints from pre-digital era (in boxes? drawers? list locations)
  • Slides (approx. #)
  • Photos in frames on display

Memorabilia: including printed documents, report cards, ticket stubs, maps, artwork, newspaper articles, magazines, name tags, brochures, coins, stamps, postcards…

  1. Next, make a list of all the types of albums you might do if you could wave a wand and make it all happen. Examples:
  • Calendar years photos/activities (start with this year and work backwards)
  • Christmas album (which years? or a Christmas album with 2 pages per year)
  • Your most recent vacation (or any other vacation from the past)
  • Someone’s wedding
  • You kid’s Toddler to Teen album (or Birth to Graduation)
  • A work album, summarizing your jobs over the years, or one particular job
  • Your own baby album (your own Birth to High School Grad album?)
  • Your own school album
  • An album preserving your parents’ photos (and/or other ancestors)
  • An album about your house over the years
  • Other projects?
  1. Now, using that second list, put a number by each album project, ranking them by their importance to you. In other words, which album project would you like to finish first? Then you can think about where the photos are located that go into that highest priority album.

 I only use scrapbook albums from Creative Memories but the embellishments might come from anywhere. My favorite source is ScrapYourTrip.com which has paper and embellishments  on any topic imaginable including travel. Creative Memories also has great paper, stickers, die-cuts, other embellishments, and tools.

Some principles about tackling the challenge:

  1. Not every photo needs to be preserved. Duplicates, blurry photos, bad composition photos can be discarded but don’t discard completely until much later in the process. Just in case. Have a Discard Bin.
  2. Years from now, people who look at your albums will be most interested in people photos, not landscape photos. None of us are Ansel Adams. But we are very interested in what people looked like in earlier years, regardless of how bad the photo might be.
  3. Only the best photos might need to be scanned for posterity, but keep in mind that scanning is time consuming; you take certain risks if you give/send your photos to a commercial enterprise to scan for you; think about why you want to scan pictures – what’s your objective?
  4. Identification of the who/when/where/why/what in the albums is critical. Journaling is absolutely necessary, but you can be terse in how much you write on the page. Use your own handwriting. Typing and printing labels is too time consuming, and people really like the actual handwriting regardless of how sloppy it might look to you.
  5. The main issue is not the embellishments on the page, how cute they are, how they coordinate with the photos. The priority is preserving the images and the information about the images. So, when you’re doing albums, don’t get carried away by the impulse to overdo the decorations and stickers. (Do as I say, not as I’ve done.)
  6. Once you’ve decided on the project you want to tackle first, clear off a large table and assemble all the images for that project.
    • Decide if the project will be limited to one album or not (but see below). One CM album can have 40-45 sheets which is 80-90 pages; at 5 photos/page that could be 400-450 photos. The number of photos in my 12×12 albums range from 300 to 450. I recommend limiting projects (vacations, annual albums) to one album. Only scrap the best photos.
    • Determine if you need to scan and make copies of any images for that project.
    • Determine if you need to get slides printed (consider using a service).
    • Do you have enough paper/embellishments? Albums?
    • Assemble all the photos and memorabilia for that project by subsections and store in a Power Sort Box or other archival quality container.
    • I recommend and use CM’s Power Layouts Kit with extra Guides to do draft layouts on the big table before I start attaching photos to a page.
  7. The more albums you do, the faster they will be completed. You will get good at this.
  8. Don’t get distracted by multiple project ideas. Keep notes as you work, if other ideas occur to you about other projects. Focus on the project at hand. Get it done. Leave all the stuff out on the table (maybe toss a sheet over the table if you have pesky cats) but leave it out where you can do a page here and there as you have a minute. Eat somewhere else besides the dining table. Try to do something on your project every day even if you only spend 15 minutes on it. Other days, you’ll have a few hours and you’ll get a lot done.
  9. When your first project is done, leave it out where you can see it and congratulate yourself. Now you can move on to the second project on your list.

These comments and suggestions relate to traditional photo-scrapbook albums, not photo books. The latter are done completely online with digital images. Memorabilia can be photographed or scanned in and then used in photo books. I’ve done some but prefer the traditional kind. But use whichever method you like the best… just get those memories and photos preserved!

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