Get the Picture and Get Organized
- Susan Ellingburg Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- Updated Oct 17, 2011
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the latest installment of The Single Life, a monthly column written specifically for singles.
Labor Day has come and gone, which means summer is finally over. (The calendar says fall doesn’t officially begin until September 23, but that’s just a technicality in my book.) So how was your summer? Did you take a lot of photos? What have you done with them?
If your answer is “I’ve categorized each photo and placed it into a scrapbook for future generations to enjoy,” then you can just click on another article—what I have to offer is way below your scary level of organization. But if your answer is, “I dunno” or “Wait, I’m supposed to do something?” or “They’re on my phone, duh” then you just might want to keep reading.
Organize? Why Bother?
Let’s say you have an irreplaceable photo on your phone where you can pull it up anywhere, anytime. Awesome. What happens if you leave your phone in an airplane seat pocket or it winds up in a toilet or any other common worst-case scenario? Photos on your computer’s hard drive may be safe . . . or they could be compromised by a virus. Your photos may be on Facebook or some other online holding tank; what if that site gets hacked, shut down by a hostile takeover, or destroyed in a zombie apocalypse? Printed photos aren’t subject to hacking, of course, but hurricanes, fires, hostile exes armed with a pair of scissors, or other natural disasters can erase them just as completely.
That’s just the security side of the equation; there’s also the convenience factor to consider. What if you want to print out or email a photo or add it to your next brilliant blog post? Do you know where it is or is it hidden among hundreds of similarly-named files?
You (pardon the pun) get the picture. A little organization will help keep your photos secure and accessible. It’s really not as difficult as you might think.
Step 1: Weeding
You do not have to keep every photo you take. Let me say that again for the hoarders in the group: you do NOT have to keep every photo. Whether your pictures are digital or physical, step one is to clear out the clutter.
Here’s how: Grab a batch (or open a folder) and take a quick pass through with a critical eye. Blurry? Toss it. Head cut off? Toss it. Fingers in the photo? Toss it. Extremely unflattering? Be kind and toss it. Fourteen images almost exactly alike? Pick your favorite and toss the rest. It’s OK, really it is. I hereby give you permission to go for quality, not quantity. Now that you have a smaller pile to work with, it’s time to organize.
Step 2: Organizing
Old School: Hard Copy Photos
If you’ve got a mountain of pictures, you may want to attack them in stages. Clear off a space (table, floor, whatever works for you) and dive in. There are any number of tools you can use, from archival-quality albums and storage containers to shoeboxes and envelopes. What you choose depends on your budget and personal preference.
If you have an elephant-sized pile of photos, tackle it one bite at a time. Start with sorting them into categories (year, vacations, family, friends, whatever works for you) and storing each category in its own container, marking the container as you go. If time allows, take a photo marking pen or pencil and scribble the year, location, maybe a name or two on the back of each photo. If not, store your pen/pencil with your photo stash, so if you take a picture out of its container, you can mark it then.
You know that weeding thing applies to your digital photos, too, right? Not only do unnecessary photos waste memory, they just get in the way when you’re looking for something. Digital organization is mostly a matter of creating folders and naming files. I like to make folders for each year, then subfolders for each trip/event/group, but that doesn’t always work when I’m hunting for, say photos of food or flowers, so those get their own folders. One thing that does work is to establish naming conventions. For example, if you just want to keep all your 2011 photos together start all the file names with “2011” so when you sort alphabetically they’ll stay together.
Step 3: Back It Up
It’s likely that the majority of your photos would not lead to anguish should they disappear forever. It’s also likely that there are some that would. I have a group shot of my father, brother, and two older nephews taken not long before both my father and brother died. That picture cannot be recreated this side of heaven, so I scanned it and dropped the digital version on a flash drive which I keep in my safe deposit box. Some things are worth a little extra trouble. As long as your precious photos are in at least two locations—and those locations are not close enough to each other to be prone to the same disaster—you should be fine.
Some years ago I used some unexpected “free” time between jobs to organize my boxes of photos. In the process, I ran across a wonderful candid photo of my parents. At the time my father had just been moved into a nursing home an hour away from where my mother lived. I enlarged that photo and gave a framed copy to each of my parents for Christmas that year. It gave them both a happy memory to focus on while they were apart. Now both my parents are gone and one of those framed photos sits on a table in my home. If I hadn’t dumped that box on the floor and started sorting, none of us would have known that picture even existed, much less been able to enjoy it all these years.
If you’re inspired by your photos to take up scrapbooking, that’s a whole other level of organization (not to mention expense and time) but it can also be extremely satisfying. I tend to scrapbook my travels; I like to picture myself when I’m old and forgetful, flipping through the pages of my adventures thinking, “I don’t know who those people are, but boy, did they have fun!”