Starting the great photo management project

At last I have started my great photo management project. Aim: to get control of 5,000+ photos. A friend tells me she has 25,000. Maybe you do too. Before now I didn’t have the sheer cheek to share my idea because it was… just an idea. Now I’ve begun, and I think it’s a useful way to tackle the management of this mass of photos.

Step 1 of photo management: create folders

For my project I first made one folder for each decade of my life. Nothing in them at this stage, but how orderly they look!

Folder: photobooks-decades. Sub-folders: 1940s, 1950s, 1960s etc. Folder: womad history.
Step 1 of photo management

Step 2: Don’t cull photos—select photos!

This was my breakthrough. A voice in my head whispered, “Stop trying to cull your photos! You’ll never finish this Herculean labour. The key is not culling but curating.”

For each decade I needed to select 20 photos. The 20 that mean the most to me. Then I’ll curate them: arrange the selected photos into a meaningful whole.

Why 20? Because that’s the norm for a photo book from Diamond Photo (and presumably from other comparable providers).

So for the 1940s I selected… around 36. A good starting point.

About 10 motley old photo albums in a jumble
My old photo albums: a shambles

I began by scanning favourite photos. Or rather, photographing them. (The phone app Scannable treats black and white and sepia photos like documents, with spooky results.)

Page in an old family photo album.  Guides and Brownies, Rachel riding a ram, family playing in the river
One page in an old family photo album
Gathering screenshots and photos of photos

Step 3: Create a photo book with a provider such as Diamond Photo

I’m familiar with so I go back to them. The interface is far from intuitive but when I mess up, the customer service team fixes the problem pretty quickly. The photobooks I’ve had so far are excellent quality, prices very reasonable, but watch for special offers. No doubt there are alternatives that you like.

Of course this step is a big one and it’s fiddly too. I decided to go fast and go hard, so it was all done in a couple of days. Not perfect! But done!

Step 4: Add text and place your order

Soon after I get back from holiday there’ll be one copy of this dear little photo book in my letter box. One decade down and 6 to go.

Obviously the early decades are the easiest: pre-smartphone, we took very few family photos at all. So selection was simple. Most of my 5,000+ photos were taken this century, when smartphones entered my life. But that’s OK. I’m happy that I’ve struck a good solution for my own needs.

Why I want a few small portable compact photo books: old age

Looking way way ahead, I think about myself in extreme old age, the last few weeks of life. Maybe I’m in hospital or a nursing home. I might be alone for some hours of the day, unable to indulge in my usual activities.

These small, easy-to-handle photo books can help me to recall the people who are dear to me, in my past or in another city or country. I’m hoping they will be comforting and also prod my memory. That’s my goal. That’s surely one of the reasons for personal photos, isn’t it?

As for all those musty fusty old albums and those floppy disks and websites and folders of photos in the cloud—good riddance to bad clutter. If my children want them, they’re welcome. But it’s quite likely they will prefer to have copies of my selected photos, edited and curated for their benefit by me.

Meantime I will take more photos this Christmas, and so will you.

27 thoughts on “Starting the great photo management project

  1. Roz says:

    I went through a similar process last year and all the important photos are printed into books now through Snapfish. It was a huge task and I chipped away at it over months but it feels so good to have it done and I hope you enjoy your curated collection. I agree with you about “not perfect but done”, perfection just freezes us into inaction. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That is so encouraging. I need your testimony that it can be done, so thank you!

  2. I really, really need to create photo books of the pictures from my, and my brothers’ childhood. It’s a task that calls to me but so far, I’ve ignore it. “Not perfect but done” will, hopefully, be something I too can say in the future.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      And “started” — I can say this now.

  3. Ambitious project…one I thought all this stay at home time would accomplish, but….
    Great idea – (maybe bad weather of January will be motivating here ..)
    You can do it – go for it!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      One decade at a time! Now I’ll start selecting photos from the 1950s at my leisure, and wait for another free weekend to rush at the job.

  4. Sadje says:

    It is a Herculean task. All the best Rachel

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Sadie. These things have their rhythms.

      1. Sadje says:

        You’re welcome.

  5. Anonymous says:

    😆 you mentioned this. I started reviewing old pics on my computer. Damn, I have a lot of pics. To me it may have been at least 15 pics. More like 50. Out of control. My goal to complete before April.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You do make me laugh, Someone. And my heart bleeds for you.

  6. That’s a marvelous way of preserving your life’s photos. You’ve saved your family a lot of time.

    My children are not so lucky. I culled photos as I went along, but there are still hundreds of them. I will one day leave the pictures behind. I’m smiling right now, knowing they will have to make a decision to clean up after me or toss the lot.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      They sure will (decide whether to clean up or dump the lot). And yes, it’s funny! But it’s for me I’m doing it.

  7. A great idea! I never thought about putting them all into years, but then I also always thought I would always remember the names and dates of my old photos. Now I have some from my parents past as well as my own, so my albums have to start in the early 1900’s. As you said, those are few because of the logistics of having them developed, getting family together in the early days of automobiles, and the simple fact of families making it through hard times. There would not be much of a problem until I reach the ’60’s when cameras were easier to use and use them I did. A roll of film each day of my babies lives, 75 views of the same thing over and over (and I’m not exaggerating by much), vacation photos, holidays, birthdays, you name a situation and I was photographing it. Most of the accumulation has been lost in moving over the years, but oh dear, so much has not and is still with me. And on the ones without a date imprint, who knows who some of the people are and who actually cares? I miss some of the old photos, but if I piled them up in my bedroom and put a sign on each bundle telling me who they are and what year it was taken”’ i thought I would always remember but that was when i was young and could even remember my own nam3

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Strange, isn’t it? With such superfluity I wouldn’t even try to pick the best 20 or even my favourite 20 from a certain era or location or whatever: I would just pick a sample on impulse and trust my gut. But who am I to say after doing only one decade and the easiest one at that?

      1. Even with so many in some decades and so few in others it looks like a daunting endeavor any other way. Mine have never been put in any kind of order so it’s like having several thousand photos piled in a box and then working to find just one or two while searching through the box. It is not impossible, but will take longer to accomplish. My own fault for not filing them in the first place!

  8. This is a project I need to do…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I can show you my photobook next year…

  9. Well done Rachel. I’m sure there’s a full time career opportunity here should you advertise your services!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Heaven forbid! Of course you are right. For someone else.

  10. Joared says:

    This is an excellent idea. I should do this with old photos from my mother’s albums, then more current ones. Also have color slides my husband shot I need to convert and could put them in a book. Much to do.

  11. jilliancp says:

    Selecting not culling really sounds like the way to go. Thanks for that advice.I’d love to get mine sorted. I know I have several copies of many of them, in different places. I see these USB photo stick things and wonder if they might be any help. Do you have any experience of them?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Well, I now see it like this: moving photos from your computer to a USB photo stick (or external hard drive or the cloud or a commercial website) is like moving all that stuff you’ve got in the attic to the garage or the garden shed or a storage unit. It’s still there. It’s still a mess. I’m thinking, make little photobooks of the most precious that you can slip into your bag… I’m thinking long term!

  12. annbarrienz says:

    New Year Greetings, Rachel – and Well Done! Lots of good ideas in your post. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Anne: so far so good! Here we are, almost the first to greet 2021. I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt, ad my mother would say.

  13. I am eyeing the ‘shambles’ of my own collection of snapshots. I was going to begin in 2017 and gave up quickly. I see how you are doing this systematically, and it gives me hope. I will persevere! But I won’t count how many I have, that is terrifying and best not to know I think

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Now that i have made one 22-page photobook for my first decade of life, I feel calmer. When I’m done, it won’t matter what happens to the other photos. I’ll have all I need.

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