Last week I talked about what tools you would need to begin your sorting process. This week I’m going to take you through some basic steps for getting your photos organized. It will be easier on yourself if you have decided whether you want to sort in chronological order, theme, or both before you get started. Note: You can change your mind in the middle if you determine that your earlier choice is not working for you.
I do a combination of both and I thought I’d share what I do. I organized my everyday life pictures of family, holidays, parties, etc into chronological order; BUT when it came to photos that I had a large chunk of (Texas A&M, working at Frontier Camp, mission trips to Kenya, my current job) I decided to sort those by theme and then put them into chronological order from there (when I could figure it out).
If you have your photos still in the photo envelopes that they came in then I recommend sorting envelope by envelope (meaning don’t dump them all out and then start organizing). Many times this can help you with determining approximate dates for photos because you can see what date you had them developed and can also use other photos in the envelope as a reference. If you don’t have your photos in envelopes don’t stress. You may decide that you want to sort by theme (person, vacations, work, etc). Even if you do want to sort chronologically but don’t know what date events were you can sort by the approximate date. I’ve even helped some people sort by decade to get started and then you can get more specific as you go.
Label as you go! If you got all of your tools together before you started then you should have a Photo Labeling Pencil that you can use to label your photos as you go through them. This will be a great tool for both you and future generations. Use it to jot down people’s names, where you were, why you were there…any little notes or things that you think might be important to remember b/c we all know that our memories fail with time and this will be a really great thing to have should you decide to put your photos into an album later or pass them on to someone else.
Weed Out as you go! I know it’s hard to get rid of photos but trust me…you do NOT need 15 photos of the same rainbow or that blurry picture of Aunt Susie (well, we think it is Aunt Susie). You will save yourself time and money if you can get yourself to throw out the photos that you don’t need anymore and then you’ll be able to focus on the photos that do matter to you!
So…what should I do with…
- Duplicates: If you are sorting with the purpose of one day doing an album for multiple people then there is a possibility that you will want to keep some of your duplicate photos and probably sort them by theme into whatever album they would be going into. If you are just keeping them to keep them then I will probably say…let it go! I often have a hard time throwing out duplicates, especially if they have people in them that I still see. SO, I have created a separate sort box that contains ALL of my duplicate photos. Then if I’m going to see one of the people that’s in those photos I try to remember to pull those pictures out and bring them to that person.
- Blurry/Dark Photos: So, we’ve all experienced having photos that are so blurry or dark that you can’t even recognize who or what the photo is supposed to be. These photos need to just be thrown away. They don’t do anyone any good and just take up space. Even when you run across photos that are a little blurry most of the time you can get rid of them because you probably have a better photo that you can keep anyway. The exception to my blurry/dark rule is this: If you run across a slightly blurry/dark photo (that you can still recognize what is in it) and it’s something very meaningful to you that you don’t have another photo of then you should keep it. Example: You may find a photo of your great-grandmother’s farm house where you used to go and play. If it’s the only photo you have of it and is still recognizable in the photograph then it holds a special meaning to you and you can keep it and jot down notes about some of the memories that it brings to mind.
- Landscape/Scenery/Etc: If you’re like the majority of us then you have TONS of scenery photos from trips that you’ve taken (mountains, beaches, flowers, etc). I’m not saying you need to throw all of these photos out but I would recommend keeping only the best photos and limiting that to a somewhat small number. It’s okay to have a few photos to show where you’ve been but they can get overwhelming and don’t mean as much to other people as they typically do to us. Okay, now that we’ve gotten those things taken care of let’s start sorting!
Most people I run across have a desire, at least at first, to sort all of their photos in chronological order. Now, for some people that’s an easier task than others. There are lots of things to consider when you’re sorting in this way.
- Did you actually take these photos and do you have a general idea of when they were taken or were these photos passed down to you from a loved one and include several generations of family history. Even if you took every photo that you have, it’s not always easy to determine the exact date of when a photo was taken…unless you have the date printed across the picture, but even then you have to hope that the date on your camera was set correctly. :)
- Is it going to drive you nuts if you can’t figure out the exact date of a photo? Are you going to completely stress out if some of your photos end up not being in the “correct” order? If you think you are going to spend all of your time stressing about these things then to keep your sanity you might prefer the organizing by theme approach.
- How much time do you have to spend on this? While I really love organizing photographs in chronological order I do have to admit that it does take more time than when I organize them by theme. Figure out how much time you have to devote to this project and how much time you’re willing to spend on it and move forward from there.
Okay, so if you still want to organize your photos into chronological order then I have a few tips for you. Note: I am in no way trying to discourage anyone from sorting their photos into chronological order. This is my preferred method of sorting for most of my photos BUT I do want you to be aware of what it entails before you get started.
Use Timelines – Timelines are WONDERFUL things! I recommend creating a timeline of your life (or if you’re not sorting photos of your life then create a timeline for your vacation, family history, or whatever you’re sorting). I included a sample timeline so that you can see what I am talking about. Don’t feel like you have to create a timeline just like mine. The purpose of the timeline is to make things go more quickly and easily. You will want to list out the key events from your photos (births, trips, parties, graduations, moves, etc). These will help you narrow down the date of your photos and make sorting go more quickly. Also, I recommend using a pencil when you’re creating your timeline (or doing it on the computer) b/c you will probably think of additional things to add or may need more room or to make changes. Don’t be afraid to sort photos into the order that you “think” they go in. When you’re dealing with older photos that may have gotten passed down to you I sometimes will try to sort into decades instead of years to make things go a little more smoothly. What I suggest is to start by sorting in a more general timeline…maybe by year or even decade, depending on how much information that you have. Once you get it sorted by year then you can go in and sort those photos into what you believe is the correct order.
Sorting by Theme
Helpful tip: Don’t feel like you have to know all of your themes before your start. As you go through your photos you may discover photos that you have forgotten about and need to create additional categories.
Start with General sorting – Most people have TONS of photos that they need to sort through and I’ve found it a little more manageable to sort in a general manner and then go back to do more detailed sorting within your initial sort piles. Example: If you’ve sorted all of your Hawaii vacation photos from your children then it’s easier to choose one of those groups and sort those in the order that you want them rather than trying to put them in the order that you want them while you are actually still separating them into groups.
Write down your themes and begin dividing your photographs into the correct themes. It’s okay to have a pile of photos that you put into a (I’m not sure theme) because sometimes you may think you only have a handful of photos that would fit into a specific theme but as you go you may locate more than could go together.
If you decide to sort by theme and you are sorting photos out for each of your children you will probably have some photos that you want in all 3 categories. When this happens you have to decide if you want to make a copy so you can sort that photo into each category or if you just want to choose one that this particular photograph will go in. If you find some photos that you do want to make copies of then I recommend setting them aside and putting a sticky note on the back with how many copies you need and what categories you were going to put them in so that you can do it all at once.
I realize that this blog post was really long but I hope that it was helpful. Feel free to ask questions and I will be more than willing to help you to the best of my ability.
Next week we will discuss the importance of having a backup system in place…