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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sorting Saturday - Organizing Photos

Sorting Saturday is a daily blogging prompt used by many genealogy bloggers at Geneabloggers to help them post content on their sites. Any tips on how to go about sorting through a closet or box of stuff, what to do with what you find, organizing, supplies and tools you might need, etc.


So how do you organize photographs? What do you do to keep your pictures organized and safe. Safe photo storage is important! Photo organization is a big deal! If your pictures aren't organized where you can find what you are looking for, then why save them at all. If they aren't safe, you've wasted time and money. Here are ideas on how to organize and store your photographs.

I have hundreds of photographs. I inherited photos and then I've been a family photographer since I was in high school. I thought I was all together because all my printed photographs were in photo albums, the old magnetic albums. (The photos I inherited had been tossed in a wicker chest.) But about 15 years ago I read about how bad the photo albums were for photographs. Back then they were not archival quality and the glues, papers and plastics fade your photos. Shoe boxes, cardboard and cigar boxes have the same problem. Plastic boxes and bags, unless designated as "PVC-free", "photo safe" or "archival", are also not good for photographs. PVC is a common plastic which, because it is chemically unstable, releases a chlorine gas. When this gas settles onto a surface it turns into hydrochloric acid. This acid will cause photographs to fade and discolour.


People used to use rubber cement, photo corners, or tape to adhere to scrapbook pages. These are all terrible for photographs. All tape, staples, rubber bands and paper clips should be removed. Photos should be taken out of the cheap paper sleeves they come in.

"Archival quality" is a designation for paper or inks of high permanence and durability, “Archival” is a non-technical term used to denote material that will last over long periods of time with minimal deterioration because of its chemical stability and physical durability. Anything that touches your photos should be acid-free and lignin-free, including paper, glue, markers and stickers. Why? Because your photos will discolor and disintegrate more quickly than they would naturally. Products that are photo-safe will be labeled as such. Acid causes paper and photos to disintegrate. This aging process is slowed significantly when acid is removed from paper during the manufacturing process. Lignin is the natural bonding element which holds wood fibers together. Newsprint contains lignin—you’ll notice how brittle and yellowed a newspaper becomes after just a few days. Like acid, lignin can be removed during processing to make scrapbooking paper safe. Not all materials are photo-safe, so be sure your paper, glue and markers are labeled acid-free or archival-quality before you purchase them.

If you want to include newspaper articles or announcements in your memory album, photocopy them onto acid-free, lignin-free paper. Copy onto an off-white paper that resembles newsprint for an authentic look.

When purchasing supplies for your photographs look for the terms "photo safe", "archival quality", "acid and lignen free" and, for plastics, "PVC free." Photo storage boxes, plastic storage boxes, albums or any organizing supplies should be safe for your photos.

Many plastics are unstable and give off harmful gases and chemicals that damage photos over a period of time. Do not use plastic baggies for photographs they contain acids which lead to deterioration. So be sure that you use photo safe plastics that are PVC-free. You can purchase plastic photo sleeves, photo bags, photo album refill pages.

Do not store your precious photos in the garage, basement or attic. The high humidity levels and extreme temperature fluctuations will damage your treasures. Keep them out of direct sunlight. Don't store them on windowsills or on a table top that sits in the sun. Don't store them in a sunroom. Don't leave a photo album or scrapbook in the car.

I have kept scrapbooks since I was a child. I lost my first one but it was the old kind that people used to have and I used tape and rubber cement to put things in it. When I used the old sticky photo albums I also used them like scrapbooks and I saved invitations, newspaper clippings and tickets right along with my photos. Since learning how bad these old albums are, I've pretty much cleaned them all out. You can purchase a spray that, when misted on paper ephemera, will stop the deterioration by the acids in the ephemera. For instance, I have a ticket to a concert. Chances are it's not on acid free paper but making a color copy of the ticket just won't be the same. Use this spray to mist the original concert ticket and it should be safe to include in your scrapbook or photo album. There are several companies that make this type spray.

I started paper scrapbooking back when there was hardly any scrapbook supplies. I have a closet full of scrapbooks and now I've almost entirely switched to digital scrapbooking. It takes up much less space. There are no tools, bins of fancy paper, stickers, adhesives, etc. I had an entire room for my paper scrapbooking hobby and now all I need is a good printer, good software and good laptop.

But let's get back to how to organize and store you printed photographs. There is no doubt about it, you are going to have to spend some time sorting through photographs. Do some planning and preparation and then plan to spend a day doing this project.

PLANNING STAGE
* Decide how you want your photos sorted. You will need to come up with some categories. Here are some suggestions:

Example 1: By family member such as Mom, Dad, Child 1, Child 2, Maternal Grandparents, Paternal Grandparents, etc.

Example 2: By occasions such as Birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings, Halloweens, July 4ths, Vacations, Visits to Grandparents, Sports, etc.

Example 3: Chronologically such as 1983, 1984, 1985...2005, 2006, 2007, etc

Example 4: Chronologically by person such as Mom 1983, Dad 1983, Mom 1984, Dad 1984, Child 1 2005, Child 2 2005, etc.

Whatever makes sense to you and would help you find your photos the fastest and easiest way. For me, sorting chronologically hardly makes sense. I could never find a photo of our trip to New Mexico because I simply don't remember the year we went! But you may be really good at remembering times and chronological makes sense to you. Personally I use a duke's mixture of the above examples. I have them sorted by individuals and by major events.

* Another thing you need to plan on is how you want to store your photos. You have to decide whether you want to store them in photo boxes, use plastic bags, folders, plastic photo boxes, albums (many different kinds).

* And lastly, how are you going to document your photos. All your photos need to have some documentation such as who is in the picture, where it was taken, year it was and any stories about them. Do you want to write on the plastic bags or dividers, write in albums, on the back of photos, use labels? You can use your computer, a font that is clear and easy to read (like Arial) and print. Print on some labels and attach to the outside of the photo sleeve. (Remember, nothing that contains acid should touch your photo so if your labels are not acid free and the adhesive is not acid free, then place on the OUTSIDE of the photo sleeve where it won't come into contact with your photos.) Or you can purchase acid free inkjet printer paper (most good brands are acid free now but ask to make sure) and you can print your documentation on the paper and then cut it to the right sizes and use double sided tape to attach to the outside of the photo sleeve. You can purchase safe double sided tape in the scrapbooking section of a craft store or at Walmart.

This is the planning stage. Once you've decided how you want to sort them, how you want to store them and how you want to document them, then it's time to go to the next stage of PREPARATION.


PREPARATION STAGE
It's time to buy your supplies. You will need albums or boxes, plastic boxes, photo safe pens, paper or labels, etc. Get everything you think you will need. Don't forget some snacks and your favorite beverage because it will be a long day! Once you have your supplies it's time for the ACTION STAGE!


ACTION STAGE
You've set aside a day to do this project. My first advice is to eat a good breakfast and do your devotions and ask God to help you complete this project. Now put on a movie or some fun music and get started!

You can make piles in the floor or on the dining room table. Or, I found this smart idea:


Throw away any poor photographs. If it's too fuzzy, too light, too dark, or a picture of someone's thumb, you have permission to throw it in the trash can! If it's photographs of people you don't know and Grandma isn't around any more to ask, then toss them too. Boy! That was hard to say! I have a thing about forgotten people. I'm afraid if I throw that photo away, one day I will find out it was a picture of Great Grandpa Whosit and I had the only photograph of him. In fact, I happen to have one photo of a man that no one in the family remembers. I'm scared to death to throw that photo away in case it's a forgotten family member and I still have it. Being a genealogist has it's quirks. And if you can't stand to throw a perfectly good picture of an anonymous person away, then put it in a pile called "anonymous". Deal with it later. Be sure to ask all your oldest living relatives if they recognize them before you throw it away. There is nothing sadder to me than seeing old photos of people at flea markets and antique malls. They were once vital, living people and now they are forgotten. It chokes me up!

Once you've sorted your photos into the categories, it's time to begin the documenting and storage. This will take the most time. Here are some ideas:


Using these type albums (using photo safe photo sheets) has the advantage of keeping dust off the photos. This binder slips right into it's own sleeve.







Color coordinated binders. Yellow for Suzy Q and Blue for John D. You can use photo safe page protectors or photo sleeves.




When using photo boxes you can use dividers to categorize and document. You can also put categories in photo safe plastic bags, document on the outside of the bag and place in the photo boxes.




You can also use photo safe plastic sleeves like this and then document on them.



Using this type album is good. You can label the photo sleeve with your documentation. You can also color coordinate these type albums.



This type album gives you writing space for your documentation. Notice the thumbnails, those are handy to put at the beginning of each album so you can flip to the first page and see if that album holds the photograph you are looking for in particular.



This type album holds 3 photos per page. A 3 up photo album can be color coordinated and documentation can be with labels on the photo sleeve or using a card in the middle photo sleeve. Some people, who don't have time to scrapbook an entire 12 x 12 page, can do a 4 x 6 "page". Choose a colorful scrapbook paper, do your journaling and add a sticker and VOILA! This adds some decoration to a photo album, gives you room for journaling or documenting the who, where, and when.



Here is another type of photo album that holds 3 4 x 6 photos per page. It has some pockets for slips of paper with your journaling or documentation on it.



Maybe you want something that looks more sophisticated or even masculine? Look for some leather photo albums. I've found my best bargains on photo albums to be at Ross.


Don't forget digitizing your photos. There are companies that will do this for you. You can send your photos to them and they will scan them and send your originals back along with DVDs. If you have hundreds or thousands of photos, this makes a lot of sense because you can't spend days feeding photos into your scanner. You can purchase all-in-one inkjet printers that have paper feeds on top. This allows you to put a dozen or so photos in at a time and let the printer scan them in for you. This is not as slow as manually feeding each photo but can still take time.

Once you have scanned or digitized your photos, make sure you keep a copy on a DVD, memory stick or flash drive. I would suggest you make two DVDs as insurance. You can give your backup DVDs to a family member to store for you offsite. Or keep in a safety deposit box. That way, if your house catches on fire, you don't lose your precious photos.

Once you've digitized your photos, do you really want to organize and store the printed photographs? If you don't have room to store them, then digitize and toss the originals. Just keep the DVDs. Organize them the same way you would printed photos. You can buy binders that hold DVDs, use jewel cases and DVD racks or put them in paper sleeves and store in DVD boxes.


As I did a Google search on this subject, one lady was so perfectly organized! She keeps her photos organized in binders with a DVD and the thumbnails of same photos in the front. She seemed to have a perfect system!

What would be your perfect system? Remember to plan, prepare and act!

3 comments:

little homestead in the mountains said...

Reading your post made me very happy, it gave me some great ideas! And I love the first picture, I would love to do that with my stuff, I am a organizational freak!! I think I may even be a little compulsive! Thank you for taking the time to share all that info with us!

Anglers Rest said...

A very interesting post. We have our study at the top of the house on the third floor and at least three boxes of photographs, snaps from life before married, holidays and alike. I also have a huge pile of inherited family photos. They are mixed some have been digitalised and some not, some in albums, the slide in style with space for writing along the side. Your post has given food for thought on storage of the, otherwise what is the point?. Thanks for a great post.

Brawley Storage said...

You're so organized, I'm inspired. Those look like great ideas turned into reality. Our photos are a mess and I would really like to organize them.

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