Cathi Nelson, the founder of APPO, the Association of Personal Photo Organizers, who just published her first book, Photo Organizing Made Easy: Going from Overwhelmed to Overjoyed talks to Eric Niloff, founder and CEO of EverPresent. Join us as they cover everything from organizing printed photos, the future of digital photos, Cathi’s inspiration for the book and the value of preserving your photos and home movies with a professional.

1. Why people aren’t starting their digitizing and photo organizing projects
2. The problem with digital photos
3. The human element in photo organizing
4. Bringing back the joy to family photos
5. The book! Photo Organizing Made Easy: Going from Overwhelmed to Overjoyed –
Cathi’s inspiration and what’s inside

6. When to outsource your family memories to professionals
7. The future of digital photos

Why People Aren’t Starting These Projects

Eric Niloff: I think that when people hear that APPO has a thousand professionals around the country and a company like EverPresent has over 20 studio locations fully devoted to family memories, it gives the impression that everybody is taking care of this project. Has that actually been the case from what you’ve seen?

pile of albums and loose photos and digital photosCathi Nelson: Isn’t that interesting? You would think that, but no. Every single family, every home, every apartment in the in the world really, almost certainly the United States, has a lifetime of family photos, videos, and memories that are sitting in boxes, or carefully tucked away in drawers and other places. So there are significantly more people who still need assistance and there isn’t anything close to the resources or companies to help them all.

Eric Niloff: We see the same thing. When you’re in the hustle and bustle of a busy work day here, it feels like everyone is digitizing and organizing their photos and videos. But they aren’t. When we actually look at the numbers we find that nowhere near even 10 percent of American families have even begun this project and don’t know the best way. Why do you think that is?

Cathi Nelson: We’re all running as fast as we can in our day-to-day to family events and things that keep needing to happen and our lives have also certainly accelerated with technology. It’s really hard to stop for a minute and slow down and think about, “What do I want to do with all these photos that I care about? Or the videos and memorabilia that I care about so deeply?”

It’s actually the one thing we always notice when there’s a house fire or the natural disasters like hurricanes or flooding. These disasters happen and of course, news media picks up on the one thing that everybody’s most upset about losing, which is usually all those keepsake family items that they never took the time to do anything with.

camera and rolls of 35mm film

We used to have more visual cues. You see your roll of film sitting on your desk, or you go to grab your camera and realize you’ve run out of film, and you know you have a roll somewhere still to be developed. That was the mental cue that you had to go take these things somewhere to actually unlock the secrets that was inside that canister of film.

Today, because we’re taking digital photos on our phones and it feels like we’re snapping all these memories, but we’re really not. People are just busy and our cameras are in our pockets and then everything becomes out of sight, out of mind. I think that makes it especially hard with the digital photos. There’s no cue to tell us that “Oh my gosh. You know, I don’t have access to that” or “What should I do with the pictures did I take last month,” or “What was it that happened my family vacation last year?”

The Problem With Digital Clutter

Eric Niloff: If they don’t know how to organize old family photos they can’t take on their digital photos mess. Do you think at this point that people’s disorganization with their digital photos has become just as big a challenge as with their old prints and slides?

Cathi Nelson: I actually think the digital photo problem is worse than the old prints and slides because old prints and slides have that physical property to them. So you can touch them, and you can actually see the piles getting smaller when you do something with them. It’s that kind of visual realization that you need to do something with them.

We’ve actually reached a tipping point though in terms of average consumer versus when I first started doing this. Six or seven years ago, when we were talking to people about their digital assets or the digital files they’d get back from digitizing, they still looked at you kind of puzzled.

Now there’s not a person I have a conversation with today about what I do, including experts in the field, that doesn’t tell me they need us.

I am on the board of the Imaging Alliance and I’m there with Canon and Nikon and a lot of camera manufacturers, and they’re all looking at me and saying “Come help us out” and I think that’s the tipping point we’ve reached where people are realizing that they have just lost control.

EN: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. The difference we find is that, five years ago, most people were very willing to admit that they might need help with scanning their older photos because of all the technology and equipment involved. Only recently are people really admitting that they have a problem with their digital photos. People feel more like it’s their fault that they’re falling behind. The true story is that it’s just an overwhelming amount of media.

CN: Yeah, that’s the key. I think for the women, in particular, they tend to mostly gravitate to this idea that it’s their fault. There’s this guilt that people assign to themselves when they think that somehow other people have it figured out and they’re the only ones who haven’t unlocked this mystery.

I always try to calm people down and tell them that it’s really not a problem that they created, it’s a problem that technology has created without any solutions.

Nobody was looking ahead and anticipating that this was going to become the issue. There are lots of people trying to solve it, but if their solution is just “Oh, you throw all your photos into Google photos or Dropbox, or connect to the cloud,” then you’re just recreating the same mess. It’s just the shoe boxes of the future but for a much larger amount of data than was ever possible in a physical form, so it’s no less of a problem.

Digital photo cloud storage - it's just the shoe boxes of the future but for a much larger amount of data than was ever possible in a physical form, so it's no less of a problem. @cathinelson @photoorganizers Click To Tweet

The Human Element in Photo Organizing

mom and daughter looking at photos on computer

EN: Cathi, one of the things that you and I bonded over when we met five years ago was the belief that despite our love of technology, we both felt that human beings had to be part of the solution for family memories — whether you’re doing it yourself or you’re hiring a professional. Why do you think it’s the case that all of the new apps and free organizing software aren’t actually solving the problem for the typical family?

CN: A lot of these companies are looking to create revenue. They have to make money on their product and a lot of times the best way for them to do that is by getting you to store lots of data in their cloud. They’re charging a storage fee that you’re paying on a monthly basis, so it’s not in their best interest to even about how you are actually accessing those photos or which ones you care most about. These companies that develop these products are mostly thinking about how to monetize, and they’re not thinking about how they are going to connect the families back to the purpose of the photo in the first place. But I think that’s something that we both believe in strongly.

You have to stop people and ask them to think about why is it that you take photos? What is it that you’re experiencing and trying to capture? When you reconnect people with the idea that they’re capturing memories that they care about, they can think about the future and what those memories will mean to them.

My son is 24 and he has a girl he’s gotten to care really deeply about. Who knows, maybe he’ll marry her? So the pictures my son takes this Valentine’s Day, we’re going to want to see those if they do because they’re going to love looking back on their first Valentine’s Day together. Those are the things that people care about. And how are you going to access those photos in the future if they’re just going to get dumped into some kind of photo organizer app or some kind of product mixed up with all the other photos you maybe took that day?

taking cell phone photo of girl

EN: As much as companies have advanced the ball technology-wise to make it easier to create more and more digital photos and videos, it’s advancing faster than the technology to organize them and do something with them. And it seems for every photo taking advancement, there’s some new platform that can help you make a photo book quickly, or a photo card. But if you took five times as many photos on three more devices than the year before, it’s just fundamentally harder to get to the point where you’re making that book for your family because you just can’t wrangle the pictures. It seems like we just keep going through cycle over and over and over again.

CN: I wrote a blog post about why I didn’t do a family Christmas card this year and it’s basically the story of the shoemaker who has no shoes. I am a founder of APPO, the Association of Personal Photo Organizers, and I just didn’t take the time all year to sort and tag the photos I love the most. So in the two weeks before Christmas, I just couldn’t even begin to start trying to try to locate that handful of photos that I cared about the most.

The technology has made it really easy to take thousands of digital photos, but it’s also made it much more difficult to ever actually have any access to those digital photos. It’s just a real catch-22 and a lot of people say “well, you know, artificial intelligence is coming.” I hear that a lot. I interact with companies that are developing AI but I still don’t think there’s going to be that personal component that’s always going to make a difference. It’s going to find me my best photos, and use facial recognition and metadata, but because I can look at a photo, and recognize the funny face that my grandfather makes, only I know that’s the one that I really want to capture. So I think there’s always going to need to be a human element involved when looking at photos and finding the ones that you really care most about.

AI is getting better -I think there's always going to need to be a human element involved when looking at photos and finding the ones that you really care most about. @cathinelson @photoorganizers Click To Tweet

We Want To Bring The Joy Back To Our Family Photos

EN: I think ultimately the typical family is happy to spend a few hours making the book or making the holiday card, and if the software makes the process a little bit faster that’s great because that’s actually the part that people enjoy. What you and I have seen is that AI can work great at times – if you actually have the picture. But if the picture is stuck on an old laptop, or it’s stuck in a cloud account you can’t easily access or it’s physically on a slide, you’re out of luck. You can’t look at it anymore, and you won’t even remember you have it. Out of sight, out of mind. You’re ultimately not empowered to use the good stuff. That’s coming from new technology, and I think what we will we see is that our typical clients have their photos in at least five different digital places – because their kids are capturing memories as well. And that’s not even getting into the shoe boxes and albums full of photos from their parents – so people are often just paralyzed when it comes to photo organizing. It is literally an inability to start doing anything fun with their pictures because there are too many of them in too many different places.

CN: Yep, and that’s the key part that you mentioned right there – it’s the fun! What was once a joyful process with printed photos has turned into drudgery. A lot of our APPO members work with young moms with just the photos they’re taking on their iPhones. We hear a lot,

“Oh, I’m a terrible mom, my kids have never seen a printed photo, I don’t photo books and baby books.” It’s not that they don’t want to do those things. They just don’t have the time or the ability to figure out how to even begin that process and as a result, there’s a lot of anxiety and fear about getting started.

The Book! Photo Organizing Made Easy: Going from Overwhelmed to Overjoyed

APPO members help tell stories

EN: So you’ve been doing this for twenty plus years. What spurred you to sit down and say “I need to write a book. I need to get my thoughts on paper available to everyone.” What was the moment that made you make that decision?

CN: I realized that there are people who want to hire somebody else to help them, but there are also a lot of people who feel like this should be a project they can do themselves. So for me, the writing of the book was a way for me to take all the information and knowledge that I’ve learned, what photo organizers have learned, and put all that into a concise format.

We really wrestled with the title, but “Photo Organizing Made Easy: Going from Overwhelmed to Overjoyed” was the key part of it.

It circles back to that feeling people have of being overwhelmed, and then they can now move to being overjoyed, and enjoy their photos, by having the photo organizing done.

A lot of it was also just a way to break down the steps. When I first started it writing the book, I found it really difficult to write the material because I started doing a strictly how-to manual. Eventually, I reconnected with the reason I was writing the book.

It’s been laid out in a way meant to reconnect people with the stories as well as why the work we do is important – not just the steps. This is why I talk about some of the stories I’ve experienced. I interviewed ten different people who had done photo projects ranging from a family member who lost a son in 9/11 to somebody discovering her family photos from the Holocaust. I also met a woman who had discovered her birth father from photos.

EN: That’s amazing. What would you say to the people who discover your book and think “You know this would be a great way for me to jump-start this project, but I don’t have time.” How much time do you actually recommend spending in any given month if you just want to really begin making progress?

cathi nelson book coverCN: No matter how big or small the photo organizing project, you start with the “hunt and gather stage”, which is just doing an assessment of everything you have so you have an overall view of it. You can download a form on my website that gives you a checklist of places you may have memories stored. You’ll want to make notes on where your photos are stored. Are they on Google? Do you have any open Google and Dropbox accounts or Flickr or Shutterfly? Where are the boxes of old photos is also one of the biggest places to start.

Once you have that big picture you can start to break it down into small pieces and decide what’s next or what’s first. I think that’s the best way for people to start. And then you can bring that to the professionals who can help you determine more ways to break that down into smaller bite-size pieces.

They say you eat an elephant one bite at a time and it’s the same with photo organizers.

EN: And I know the book is relatively recent, but tell me a little bit. What’s the feedback been like and what kind of folks have found the book most helpful in the first few months?

CN: We’ve had phenomenal feedback from people about the book, and how they’re using it – as a guide to get started the right way. A friend of mine bought the book for her mother for her birthday and gave it to her with two hours of her time to help her mom get started with her photos. I’ve heard a lot of examples of family members buying the book for their parents to get them started and then offer their help. I think photo organizers, and the general public, are finding the book through different resources and they’re just really thrilled that “Wow, there’s actually somebody who’s going to give me some directions on how to get started.”

When to Outsource Your Family Memories to Professionals

use professionals for photo scanning

EN: Certainly, the case with something like photo organizing is that it is absolutely something you can do yourself. It’s also something you don’t have to do yourself. How should an individual family think through what pieces of the project they’re going to enjoy and have the bandwidth to do on their own versus what pieces they may want into bringing in a professional to help with?

CN: To me, the key points to bring in a professional are scanning photos and converting home movies. Throughout the book, I lead people here quite often. I say, “you know if you’re getting stuck here, this is when you can call in a professional.” Your home movies and other memories like that really should be done by professionals. You can absolutely do it, but you have to have the technology, and you have to know how to handle it, which is just so frustrating. What if your technology breaks down? Or your scanner might not be the right one for the project? An experienced digitizer makes sure that things will be converted correctly for you, and it’s going to come back with good quality.

At one point we were converting our home movies to VCR tapes, and now there are no more VCR tapes so you get it on DVDs. Now we’re finding all the new computers don’t have DVD drives! You need a digital file of everything because telling those stories are important. I really think the average person only wants to do the part that gives them the most joy and then outsource everything else.

You need a digital file of everything because telling those stories is important. @cathinelson @photoorganizers Click To Tweet

The Future of Digital Photography

EN: One last question. I know that if people want all secrets in Photo Organizing Made Easy, they’re going to have to buy the book and they’re going to have to hire people like EverPresent and APPO members work with them. But for our readers can you give us one Cathi Nelson prediction for the future of photo organizing and photo technology? What’s coming down the pipe over the next 5-10 years?

CN: Virtual reality is going to be enabling a new interactivity between the viewer and the content they are consuming. I think we’re going to see companies out there who are working hard on trying to find ways to allow us to actually interact with old photos in virtual reality, so that’s probably what’s coming down the road. I don’t know for sure, and I’m still trying to grasp a little bit more of it. Jim Malcolm of Humanized will be doing a presentation on future of imaging at our conference this year.

It’s really interesting because that’s just technology. We know there will continue to be more and more ways for us to take more videos and photos than ever before. We’re becoming more of a visual world every day and these VR companies are really looking at ways to be able to access the information in these photos and videos and interact with them in ways we probably can’t even begin to imagine right now.

EN: Thank you, Cathi. EverPresent’s readers appreciate your time and we all congratulate you on the success of your new book!

For more information on APPO, the Association of Personal Photo Organizers, visit their website.

Visit Cathi Nelson’s website here for more of her thoughts on photo organizing.

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For more raw data on the digital photos problem affecting parents and families, visit The Truth About Parents & Organizing Their Digital Family Photos


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Photo Organizing Made Easy with Cathi Nelson

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