Your phone may host 10,000 amazing photos. But your family’s history is more likely to be found in old prints and slides, VHS tapes, and albums passed down over decades. Sorting through and organizing photo prints can feel like a very daunting task. It’s tempting to move it down your to-do list, for years.
Here, some simple ideas and smart resources to begin organizing photo prints and slides.
Invite a relative to help you. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when faced with a monumental pile of prints, when every decision feels like it’s yours alone to get right or screw up. But sitting down at the kitchen table with a sister or cousin lightens the pressure, turns the fun way up, and halves the work.
Set a time limit. Ninety minutes is a good start. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if the task feels less onerous, you’re more likely to start — and finish — the job. Schedule the second session for two weeks later.
Create a three-pile system. This might be “Keep,” “Consider,” and “Cast Off.” Focus on the photos that make you smile (or cry) when you look at them — those obviously go in the “Keep” pile. If you feel an emotion when you look at a picture, hang on to it.
Start with the “cast off” pile. Sadly, not every printed photo is a keeper. Begin by sidelining the easy ones — the blurry, the out of focus, the pictures of a random hedge. This doesn’t mean you have to toss them; just de-prioritize them. In reality, if you have a massive mound of loose photos, you’re probably not going to be getting much enjoyment out of them anyway. Once you see the not-so-great photos next to images that carry real meaning and emotion, you’ll feel more secure about letting go of a few.
You don’t need to consign these photos to the trash: Lots of people collect old, “found” photos — including artists who use them for inspiration or collage — so you might consider donating your cast-offs to the local thrift shop and give them a second life. If you wind-up with a lot of cast-off pictures, you can also sell them on eBay or etsy.
Move on to the “consider” pile. The consider pile is for those photos that you’ll probably keep; for some reason, they aren’t easy to let go. Come back to it in the next session. This pile is often the largest and the most difficult to wade through. And that’s fine.
Set your goals. It actually makes sense to set your goals after you get started sorting rather than before. Once you dig in, you’ll begin to get a sense of whether you want to share the photos with your extended family, create a “greatest hits” album, print some for display, etc. Having a clear direction — even if it changes —will keep you on track and focused.
Start scanning. Once you’ve made some progress, you may want to consider starting to digitize your prints or slides. This will not only protect them and further organize them but also allows you to share the images with family. You can scan them yourself, of course, or you can use a trusted service such as LegacyBox, Dijifi, Memories Renewed, DigMyPics, ScanMyPhotos, even Kodak.
Many of the services that scan printed photos will also scan negatives or slides, or digitize VHS videos and even old 8mm or 16mm motion films. These services return your digitized media in USB thumb drives that you can easily use to import media into Mylio. Then you can correct the date — the files will have the date they were scanned, instead of the date they were created — as well as geolocation and other metadata.
If you prefer to do the scanning work yourself, there are many products that can scan negatives or slides. Lower-priced product usually produce a lower-quality digital file or require more manual labor, for instance, having to do the slides one at a time.
Products made by elgato and others allow you to convert your own movies into digital files using your computer and a regular VCR (which you can find used on Amazon or Ebay).
Consider restoration. If you find an old picture that’s scratched, creased, or faded, you can have it restored to its former vibrance. Set those aside in their own secondary pile. Many photo apps allow you to do some touch-up work. For instance, with Mylio’s editing tools you can crop torn edges, adjust color, correct red eye, etc.
For tougher jobs, you can find specialists to restore, digitize, and return your photo within a week. The going rate is $25 to $50 per picture, depending on the level of restoration you’re looking for. Graphic designer resource Icons8.com reviewed five restorers.
Tell your story. Once you’ve sorted and scanned your pictures, you can begin to make sense of them. Mylio’s in-house expert, J.C. Figueroa, offers free educational webinars filled with tips on organizing and consolidating your photos. You can also check out The Photo Managers’ on-demand course offerings.
Use smart photo tools. If you decide to use Mylio, you’ll find plenty of next-generation tools at your disposal. A few highlights:
• The sophisticated but easy-to-use facial recognition feature allows you to easily tag photos of family members. After a few clicks, it will automatically — and with incredible accuracy — identify a person from toddlerhood to old age. Of course, this makes finding and grouping relatives both simple and fast.
• The Map tool makes it a snap to group photos by where they were taken. For a family that has moved over the years or took memorable trips together, this is another easy classification tool.
• By creating Albums, you can categorize photos by events (birthdays, weddings, reunions), by date, by trips, or any other system that makes sense to you. You can have the same photo in multiple albums without moving or duplicating the original file. Creating albums great way to organize groups of images you’re planning to edit or use for a specific purpose. If you create an Event, that Album will always show up in your Life Calendar view.
• Colored labels and stars can be used to devise a simple rating system that makes finding important photos easier.
Mylio is designed to help set up and support a 3-2-1 backup and syncing system that keeps your photo files on your own devices, with an additional cloud backup if you choose. This adds an extra level of protection in case of a hard-drive crash or another disaster.
It is emotionally moving to hold a photograph that your great-great grandmother once held or displayed on her mantle. These physical artifacts, with distinctive handwriting or even fingerprints, tell stories of their own. By consolidating all your family photos, you’re leaving a legacy that can be enjoyed by many for years to come.
Maggie King is a freelance writer who specializes in photo organization and management.