How to Organize and Enjoy Your Family Photos – My method for sorting and organizing family photos and creating a system that will allow you to find and enjoy years worth of memories.
Creating a legacy for my children is at the heart of how I came to be a photographer. I don’t have a lot of pictures of myself growing up and I think that I overcompensate for that now as a parent. 98% of the time, I have a camera on my person for “just in case” and I’ve done so since college. My kids can say a lot about my mothering, but they cannot say that their lives have not been well documented.
Your first bite of solid food? Here you go!
Your 4th birthday party? Yup, I got it.
A lazy Sunday when you were 8? Hold on a sec, I have it right here.
Our trip to Monterey when you were 1 ½ years old? You betcha!
The pictures that I have taken through the years are more valuable to me than anything else I own. There is no worldly possession that I care about more than my family’s pictures. If you watch This Is Us, then you can imagine the panic attack I had on my couch when I watched the Pearson’s family home go up in flames. The pictures! The memories! You can also imagine my delight when I saw that Jack a.) knew where to go to grab some of the family albums and b.) that he knew that it would be important and worth saving.
Disclaimer – I am not condoning running back into a house that is up in flames, ever, but I see you, Jack Pearson. I feel like Jack and I share the same value system.
As you can imagine, I’ve taken thousands upon thousands of images over the years. For many years, I just threw them in folders or onto CDs and DVDs with no rhyme or reason. Trying to find something specific was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It was nuts.
Thankfully, I spent some time (truth – it takes some time, but it is SO WORTH IT) and created a system that I can live with and is organized in a way that I can find what I need in a few seconds instead of hours and hours.
AND, I no longer worry about losing my photos in a fire or flood. I have backups of my backups and I sleep soundly each night knowing that my pictures are safe.
So, what do I do? Well, there are two ways to go about this. Both methods do require some legwork and energy.
(For full disclosure, I was gifted a service that sorts and organizes photos. That being said, I would have paid happily and have paid since then for maintenance.)
I used a company called Everpresent. They are based out of Massachusetts and are WONDERFUL to work with. I had a call with Maddie and we discussed my goals and she helped me make a plan to tackle this project. You can read more about how it works and my experience. Spoiler – it was incredible.
I gathered all of my devices/drives/memory cards/CDs/DVDs/thumb drives, put everything on one hard drive that was sent to me and Maddie worked her magic. Not only was it returned to me organized but the duplicates were also removed and it saved me so much space. I had multiple copies of everything all over the place. The best part is that they are sorted by pixel, not file name, so the largest version of the file was kept.
When the drive was returned to me, everything was organized chronologically because that is how I like my pictures sorted. I didn’t have to use their file management system, it was catered to my needs.
Now every 6 months to a year, I do maintenance. Maddie works on my files remotely and again leaves me with a drive of clean and organized files. It truly makes me so happy.
But what if you don’t want to spend the money and want to do it yourself? I totally get this. Start by purchasing two external hard drives. Yes, you need two. Create folders inside of the new hard drive by year and then create folders inside that one for all of the months. Or set up a system that makes sense to you and meets your needs.
A great resource for this project is from Nancy Ray. In her e-book, she breaks it down step-by-step in a way that makes a lot of sense.
I’d gather all of my devices/drives/memory cards/CDs/DVDs/thumb drives and plug them into your computer along with external hard drive and systematically transfer the folders and files into the newly created ones.
This is going to take a long time, but it is worth it in the long run. As much as I value my photos, I wasn’t treating them like I valued them. The time investment pays dividends when you have everything in a way that you can find what you need.
Remember when I said that you needed two hard drives? Here’s why. Now that you have an organized system with all of your photos cataloged, make a duplicate drive. Yes, a drive that is exactly the same as the one you just created. I actually have 4. I have one that I work off of, one that is in our go bag (all of the important documents that we have for when we move), one at my mom’s, and one in a safe deposit box. Overkill? Maybe. Has it saved me? Yup.
What hard drives to buy?
True story, when we were getting ready to move over the summer, I had Maddie clean up my files and updated all of my drives to reflect the changes. I did this right before my computer was packed by the movers. I left the newest version at my mom’s in a box that I keep there for important stuff in case we lose documents, etc.
This was the last stop we made before we embarked on our epic summer vacation. We went on a cruise and I accidentally left the drive that I was working off of in a drawer in our cabin. I called the cruise line and they did not find it. Instead of freaking out, I had my mom send me the one I had at her house, and when I got it, I made a new copy (and added all of our summer photos while I was at it) and sent it right back to her. All said and done, I lost ONE folder of images. It could have been so much worse, I could have lost years and years worth of folders.
Yes, my system might seem extreme, but let me tell you how much relief I felt knowing that I had all of my pictures safely tucked away in multiple places.
I also am a firm believer that those beloved images should not permanently live on those hard drives. They are meant to be seen and cherished. I have photos printed all the time. I have photos in frames, photos taped to my walls, hardcover photo books, and softcover ones too.
Let’s start with the hardcover books. At the end of the year, I look through the folders from each month and pull my favorites. I make sure to highlight things that happened to use that year, like a big trip, holidays, and important events. I use Artifact Uprising to create and print my book. The software is simple and I love the clean design. The quality is also incredible. I started this late in the game, so I am going back and making two at a time, to catch up from 2004 to 2017.
The softcover books are from Chatbooks. My Instagram account is linked to my Chatbooks account and when I have 60 images, a book is created and sent right to my house. So. Easy. My kids love flipping through our Chatbooks. At $10 a pop, I am not overly worried about them being pristine. I want them to be seen, so I keep them out for them to be looked at. As of this writing, I have 64 volumes. Another thing I love is that you can create books based on hashtags. We use #hesterholiday during Christmas, and I have made books for family that we couldn’t spend holidays with.
When you live in base housing or a rental, there is a whole lot of white. The cheapest and easiest way I know of is to use your pictures to add color and personality. I have been collecting white frames in different sizes and textures over the years and change out the images a few times a year. (Michaels has great buy one get one sale a few times a year.) Command Strips are the best for hanging (arguably the best invention of my lifetime) they come up and down easily without damaging the walls. I also love to have canvases printed because they go straight from the box to the wall.
Where do I print my photos from? Truth, whichever lab is running a sale. Nations Photo Lab and Mpix are two that I use frequently. I have accounts with a few professional labs, and I still order most frequently from these. It’s an easy process and they run a lot of sales on different products multiple times a year. Sign up for their email newsletter to be notified.
While I am ordering big prints, I also order quite a few small prints too. I find that we need them frequently for school projects. I also like to send printed photos to our families that we don’t get to see very often.
Lastly, I have a photo wall in my kitchen that is the focal point of the house. I use an app on my phone called Social Print Studio and order 4×4 squares right from my phone. I use some tacky adhesive (it comes right off without taking off any paint) on the backs and slap them straight onto the wall. These images are from when we boarded the plane to Germany and I will continue to add until we leave. (Depending solely on if I have enough wall space.)
Everyone that comes into our house oohs and ahhs over the wall. I also love that as we sit around the table, we look at the pictures and laugh about funny things that happened or a talk about a place that we loved. I created this wall as an afterthought and it has brought so much joy into our home.
There you have it. My crazy and over the top system on how to organize and enjoy your family photos.
Please let me know in the comments (or send me an email) about what has worked for you. I’d love to hear about your system.