June 1, 2015

How to Archive Family Photos: help for managing digital overload

Do you have a digital mess on your hands? Taken hundreds or thousands of photos that have never seen light beyond a screen? Wish you knew how to manage them, and maybe actually print, share, or create something with them?

For me, the answers are yes, yes, and YES.

Thankfully, help has arrived. Denise May Levenick, aka The Family Curator, has written a wonderful new book called How to Archive Family Photos. It outlines strategies and ideas for changing the way you work with digital images to better be able to find, preserve, and enjoy them. In just a few days, it’s transformed how I manage my digital photo collection.

Lest that seem overwhelming, Levenick offers a piece of advice in the first chapter: start where you are, with your current batch of smartphone or camera photos, and go forward from there. Once you get a workflow established, it’s easier to go back and bring your older files into the fold.

The whole concept that there is a workflow to managing digital images, and that it can be streamlined for efficiency, was an eye-opener for me. Professional photographers call it Digital Asset Management (DAM). It’s a simple seven-step process that covers everything from capturing the image (taking a picture) to editing, exporting, and sharing it. Levenick provides multiple examples of how to create a customized workflow to suit your particular goals and situation.

I've needed a system like this desperately. When I bought my first digital camera, it felt liberating to be able to take hundreds of pictures on a tiny card, rather than 24 shots on a roll of film. I learned to upload them to my computer, where they routinely appeared in My Pictures folder or iPhoto. More recently, I started doing the same thing with images taken on my phone.

And there they’ve sat. Countless images, priceless memories, adrift in a sea of computer files.

Except that’s not the half of it. As a genealogist, I’ve also digitized old cabinet cards, tiny early 20th century photos, faded mid-century snapshots, and old menus and keepsakes. I’ve taken pictures of tombstones in numerous cemeteries, and made digital copies of probate packets and pension files.

How, then, do I go about creating an organized system out of this jumble of modern events and historical treasures? How do I integrate images captured on my camera, smartphone, and tablet with those imported from my scanner, in such a way that I can quickly find things I want later? And how can I make sure I don’t lose all this stuff as time goes by?

How to Archive Family Photos answers all these questions, along with some I didn't even know to ask. Here are the strategies I’ve been looking for. The book’s straightforward, encouraging approach gave me the incentive and tools to get started on this long-overdue process.

Levenick offers practical advice for every step of the way, including:
  • photo management solutions for both PC and Mac users
  • file naming and organizing strategies
  • online storage and photo sharing options
  • equipment for digitizing, preserving, and backing up images
  • keys to scanning, organizing, and safely storing heirloom prints

In the final chapters, Levenick explores methods of getting photos out of your files and into a form where they can be enjoyed and appreciated. She explains how to create a variety of simple photo projects, including cards, collages, calendars, scrapbook pages, Facebook cover photos, and home d├ęcor. She also discusses many options for creating photo books, as well as smartphone and tablet apps for sharing on the go. I've done a few of these already, and am eager to try more.

For anyone wishing to bring order to a growing digital image collection, gain peace of mind that the collection is securely preserved, and discover ways to share and enjoy favorite pictures, I highly recommend How to Archive Family Photos. It’s a bargain at roughly what I used to pay to get a couple rolls of film developed. I bought my book from Family Tree Magazine's  ShopFamilyTree, and it’s also available on Amazon. There's a Kindle version if you prefer to read electronically.

This is one of those books I know I'll be returning to again and again. It's earned a spot beside my computer, where I can use it to keep refining my workflow and playing with new projects. If you're wrestling with digital image overload, I think you'll find it indispensable, too. 



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