Sorting Things Out: How to Get Organized Before Starting (Part 1)

Thankfully for most of us, the vast majority of our printed photos are well out of the way in storage and are not something we have to worry about very often these days—unlike in the past, when we seemed to always be developing, hunting down negatives, and running out to get albums to store our never-ending supply of photographic prints.  These days we hardly ever think about all our prints and I am happy that now instead of sorting prints I have the much quicker and much more straightforward task of importing or uploading digital images for use in our photo book projects.  Still, since I was an avid photo-taker before things turned digital---and because I’ve been the one in our family to inherit most of the old family photos—I seem to always have a lot of organizing and scanning to do before I can actually use many of these photos in my digital projects.  Here are a few tips I hope will help others like me who are avid photo takers and documenters of everyday life and who want to use some of those print photos in current digital projects.

Bins:  I am a big fan of boxes and bins, and encourage you to quickly sort print photos into a series of bins before scanning and digitalizing your images for use in photo books, canvas prints or posters.

I like the small-steps approach.  No need to file by year or month or branch of the family tree just yet—simply sort into bins or compartments, using whatever criteria you like.  For example:

Sort by family (i.e. split photos into “mom’s side” and “dad’s side” of the family tree), then continue to sort by decade or special event.

Keep aside the photos that belong in more than one category or that you know you want in more than one photo book project—once these are scanned they can be used in several projects.  Hooray for not needing those duplicate photos my parents always used to get made every time we sent our photos in to get developed!

Sort by location or event instead of by year.

Don’t be afraid of throwing away photographs!  Prints may capture the times we lived in and the places we’ve lived, but it’s fine (I give you permission!) to scan some, store some, and also throw some print photos away for good.   If you are new to doing this, start with photographs that clearly have errors—with focus, lighting, and so on—and then work at discarding the ones that mean the least to you—or that feature people or places you can’t identify or don’t have the interest to find out more about.

Save the rest, and then sort through the photographs in each compartment again, pulling out photographs you’d like to scan and use in your digital projects.  Those who are hyper-organized might also like to use photo labelling pencils to write on the backs of photographs—to add notes and to make sure prints go back into their piles once all the needed prints have been scanned.

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