When my husband and I were getting ready to move to Panama ten years ago, dealing with family photos was far and away my most difficult downsizing task. How could I organize my out-of-control photo collection?
We had photos in frames, in albums, in boxes, and in envelopes from developer.
And somehow, I had to organize them in such a way that we could move overseas without losing any treasured family memories.
At the end of December, I was fascinated to talk with professional photo organizer Marci Brennan. Together with her husband, photographer Chris George, she helps people edit and organize their photo collections (physical and digital).
They shared their tried-and-true approach, and threw in tons of tips and tools you can use to organize your own photo collection.
You can listen to it right here. Just click the big red button below.
Top Tips for How to Organize Your Physical Photo Collection
Pick a date and time for your project, and be realistic about the amount of time you can devote to it. (I set aside about an hour on most days over a 4-month period for my big photo-organizing project.)
#2. Enlist help
When you have a partner, someone you’re accountable to, it’s easier to stay on track.
#3. Gather your supplies before you start
Marci recommends some specific supplies in items #1 and #8 below under Resources.
This wasn’t such a big issue with my hour-a-day plan, but if you’ll be devoting several hours at a time to it, prepare snacks, sandwiches, water, and other sustenance ahead of time. “This can be tiring work, and one less decision makes your brain happy,” Marci points out.
#5. Pull it all together
Gather all your photos in one place before you start. This may mean you’re pulling them out of closets, the attic, basement, or the garage, but wherever they’re lurking, bring them all together.
Marci recommends an ABC method: A is your most important/significant/best quality photos while B is the secondary collection, and C is the discard pile.
Store your A and B choices in proper archival (acid free) boxes and enclosures (see Resources below).
Now’s the time to digitize the images in the A group. If you do it yourself, see Resource items #3 and #9. Alternatively, you can hire a professional to do it, or even hire a pro to coach you through the process.
Tips for Digital Photos
If you have to downsize your collection first, start with the physical photos. If not, you can start with the digital photos.
When you’re organizing and archiving digital photos, build in some redundancy. Make multiple backups — Marci recommends two external hard drives and one cloud account, which you also update and maintain regularly.
- For archival, photo safe, acid-free boxes: Archival Methods (they have a great blog too). Other vendors: Gaylord, Print FIle, and Talas
- For archival print albums – in the event you want to re-house your print photos once freed from the “chemical sandwich” albums: Kolo and Pioneer make archival, photo-safe, acid-free print photo albums
- Free photo organizing advice from the pros: Advice from the Photo Organizing Professionals, a private group on Facebook
- Duplicate removal software: for PCs: Duplicate Cleaner Pro and for Macs: Photosweeper
- Photo organizing software: Adobe Lightroom (paid) and Adobe Bridge (free)
- External hard drives: Western Digital, and other name brands from OWC
- Backup Software: Backblaze or Super Duper. iCloud and OneDrive can act as backups, although they are technically syncing services.
- Print photo sorting supplies: a notebook for jotting down questions, timelines, family history, questions etc. A few soft lead art pencils, cotton or nitrile gloves, index cards, storage bins, post-its, face masks (N95s are good for this as old photos can be moldy). Dental floss and a hairdryer are also handy! (Want to see the floss-and-hairdryer method that Marci describes in the interview? Click this link and scroll to the bottom of the page.)
- Books that can help: Photo Organizing Made Easy by Cathi Nelson and Creating Family Archives by Margot Note.
- Although they didn’t to discuss old media such as home movies (film, VHS, etc). Marci recommends using a trusted service like Dijifi for converting to digital. Old family films are treasures and are quickly degrading so don’t wait! Once digitized, they can be made into highlight reels or timelines with music, narration, transitions, title cards etc. This is something we do for our clients. And best of all, once digitized, you can save space by discarding old media.
- In the interview, we briefly discussed photo books, something else Marci and Chris make for their clients. Once images are digitized (especially those from old albums) they can be a tremendous space saver. They’re less bulky than traditional print albums, and they can hold more photos at varying sizes.
- Last but by no means least, Marci and Chris are a fantastic resource! Check out Marci’s website at pastpresentpix.com, where you can fill out a brief form and get a 30-minute complimentary consultation.
Marci Brennan & Chris George
Professional Photo Organizers
Marci Brennan is a certified professional photo organizer. She lives in Queens, New York, with her husband / business partner, Chris, a freelance videographer / photographer. Together they offer our photo and video organizing services throughout New York City and beyond.
Their goal is to help busy people manage, organize, and preserve their photo and video collections so their valuable images are always at their fingertips and safely backed up.
Your personal photos are a rich and important legacy, worth organizing and preserving for your children and future generations. Don’t wait any longer!
Thanks for the great music! Our theme music is provided by SoundCloud, and we’re featuring artist ItIs Leanne, playing Corta-Jaca – tango brasileiro.
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