How to Organize Your Photos

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You love snapping those pictures and then flipping through the newly
developed packet of captured memories or scrolling through your digital
images. But you may not love the next step--doing something with
all those photographs. Start today to create a picture-perfect system
for containing and protecting your photos.

Prints

  • Gather photos from every corner and closet of your home. You'll end up with a pile of stray photos and lots of packets.

  • Flip through the packets, note the event and date on the outside top edge, and put them in a shoe box. If it will be a while before you do anything with the photos, remove them from their paper envelopes and put them into labeled acid-free and PVC-free envelopes (such as those at RetrospectBySmead.com).

  • Buy several plastic recipe boxes with tabs. Create a list of categories such as "Summer 2002, Trip to France" or "Family Reunion." File all your loose photos into one of these categories or simply label the tabs (or boxes) by year for speedy sorting.

  • Choose a system to store and display your photos. Shop online at Exposures.com, Organize-Everything.com and other stores for acid-free albums and archival systems. Select a wooden photo box, insert a favorite photo into the glass lid, and slip hundreds of 5-by-7 photos inside--without hassling with plastic sleeves.

  • Cut yourself some slack if you think you should be making scrapbooks for photos but don't have the time just now. Protect the photos first, and reserve the option to create scrapbooks later.

  • Develop the habit of labeling and storing photos in albums as you process each roll of film. You'll always be able to pull out photos for projects and duplication as you need them.

Digital photos

  • Decide what you want to do with your photos. Do you just e-mail them to friends and family? Do you ever print out or blow up favorites? If you never print any, save your images to the 72-dpi size and free up massive amounts of room on your hard drive. If there's even a chance you'll want to print them, burn largerresolution images to a CD and keep thumbnails (tiny screen representations that you can easily scroll through) on your computer.

  • Back up your files frequently. After you download the photos and trash the duds, burn the files onto a CD or DVD. Label the discs and store them on a spindle or in jewel cases or a CD book.

  • Store photos in a folder on your computer, or plug in an external hard drive and store them there to free up space on your system. Or buy an iPod and an adapter, and transfer digital photos on the fly from your camera to the iPod for 20 or 40 gigabytes of instant storage.

  • Transfer the digital photos from your camera to your computer and devise a consistent naming system. Create a folder structure, organizing the pictures first by year, then by event. For large events, such as weddings, you may need subfolders.

  • Take advantage of digital asset management software to make fast work of organizing and cataloging all of your digital photos. Macintosh users will love the incredibly easy-to-use and powerful iPhoto. Other programs such as Picasa (free from Google .com), Cumulus (canto.com), Portfolio (extensis.com), Adobe PhotoShop Album (adobe.com) and Paint Shop Photo Album (JASC.com) also have a dizzying array of features. Check platform requirements and consider what your needs are when weighing the costs of any asset management system. Alternatively, sign up for free (or cheap) services such as Shutterfly .com and Ofoto.com. Upload photos, create albums and share pictures with unlimited online storage as a bonus.

Tips & Warnings

  • See 137 Organize Movies, Music and Other Media.
  • Buy the type and color of album that you like in quantity. A cluster of identical albums is much more visually appealing on a bookshelf than odd sizes and varied colors.
  • Create some albums around themes such as vacations or holiday celebrations.
  • Toss out prints and delete digital images that are blurry or badly exposed. Don't clog up your system with photos you don't want to see or share.
  • Investigate a variety of software programs such as iView Media Pro that let you create top-quality digital slide shows.
  • For fast and safe transfers, buy a digital-card reader that fits your particular type of camera and media card.
  • Transfer negatives to labeled sleeve protectors (available at photo-supply stores or CenturyPhoto.com). Keep the protectors in an archival, acid-free binder or an expanding multipocket organizer. Include index prints, which show a thumbnail of each shot on a roll. APS-processed film comes with index prints; for 35 mm negatives, you can have an index print made for about $2.
  • Always make sure a CD is readable before deleting images off your hard drive.
  • Never use a ballpoint pen to label photos or CDs.
  • Heat, cold, humidity and direct sunlight will degrade photos, negatives and CDs. Store photo boxes, albums and other archives in areas where temperatures stay between 40 and 70 degrees F (4 and 21 C) and relative humidity stays below 60 percent. Avoid storing photos in basements and attics, or near vents.

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