Gathering together photos, slides and negatives to figure out which ones to preserve digitally can be an exciting task filled with the rediscovery of old memories. However, this sentiment can also be overwhelming as you try to wade through decades of old images: how are you supposed to cut your collection down by two thirds, a half, or even a quarter in order to get a more manageable collection to scan over into digital format? Thankfully, we can provide some advice on how to go about prioritizing your old collection. We work closely with APPO, the Association of Personal Photo Organizers, and we have taken their lead when giving advice to clients and potential clients.

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Prioritize the photos that mean the most.

These are usually the family portraits and old family photos: anything that might be framed and displayed around the house fits in this category. Wedding photos and baby albums are also good places to start. These are usually easy to pick out and there won’t be an overwhelming number of photos. If you find that you have any question about whether or not a particular photo falls into this category, it doesn’t belong. Put it in another pile that you will sort through later.

2. Remove the “bad” photos.

1289253890_858b0b6aa7_zWhile this does include getting rid of any blurry photos, duplicates or photos where thumbs figure too prominently, it could also mean getting rid of photos where the subject matter doesn’t mean anything.
Do you really need 15 different photographs of the Caribbean from the last family vacation? 14 of the photos can probably be cut out, leaving you with just the best or most representative photos.

3. Your “maybe pile” – making the tough choices.

stack-of-photosOnce the ‘bad’ photos have been cut out and the best photos have been selected, you will have three piles: the Yes pile, No pile, and the Maybe pile. This last pile is where most of the hard work comes in, but don’t let it stress you out! Remember that you have already done a lot of the important work by selecting the best photos and cutting out the worst. Develop a plan for this part and stick to it, but don’t let perfection be your enemy here. For example, if you always went on family trips in July, is it more important to know what year you went where or to have some great photos to scan of all your family trips? In addition, you can always label and reorganize items once they are scanned.

k2448300All the work you have done picking through your archive and finding the ‘definites’ will also help develop a pattern for later. When you are ready to sort through the larger pile that is neither here nor there, the decisions you have already made will help guide you in your decision making process. Maybe you find that you actually have a lot of photos of scenery or pets, and you can cut down on those even more. Maybe you find that some family members are under-represented in the collection, and photos of them might mean a little more. Remember to think about the whole family when making these decisions. You may be most interested in scanning photo albums of your children, but your children will be most interested in old photos of you as a kid. Try to find a balance, and make it a point to ask your children what they want.

Whether you want to tackle the whole collection or just find a manageable number of photos to scan, developing a plan and some guidelines can be a very effective tool. Don’t feel limited by what is described above, if you have a scheme of organizing and prioritizing that has worked for you in the past, go for it! Remember, it’s better to have an imperfect solution to this project than to not start it at all.

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