6 ways to organize digital photos

Does it ever seem that no one has pictures to show friends and relatives anymore? Discover ways to organize and share your precious snaps.

From time to time I find my daughters gathered around the computer screen, staring with rapt attention. They aren’t searching YouTube or sending messages to their friends — they are giggling over the screensaver slideshow of family photos.

As my husband and I have been less than diligent about printing out the photos we’ve taken, the girls don’t have too many options for viewing snaps of themselves as babies. The same situation arises when grandparents and guests arrive. People are limited to watching the digital picture frame we’ve put in the family room or the few pictures we’ve managed to print and place in conventional frames around the house.

In fact, it seems to be a common complaint these days: too many digital photos and no sense of how to organize and display them. And now the holidays are arriving and families will be snapping pictures like mad. But when January comes, will those photos be stuck on the computer (or worse yet, still be on the camera’s memory card)? To avoid that situation, here are six ways to bring some order to your digital photo clutter.

Download, date and label. This can’t be repeated enough. As soon as you’ve finished taking pictures (or right when you get home), get the photos off your camera card and onto your computer. Then, use either the program that came with your camera, iPhoto, (which comes with Mac computers) or Picasa (a free online service program created by Google for PCs), to date and label your snaps. Even if you do nothing else with the photos, at least you’ll know when you took them and who was in them. When we took baby pictures of our kids, we thought it was obvious who was featured, but years later there are a few pictures of adorable blue-eyed bald baby girls that continue to cause disagreements over the dinner table.
 

Edit ruthlessly. Digital cameras have made it easy to snap literally hundreds of shots of a single event. But not all will be worth keeping. Delete the ones that are out of focus, blurry or those where you have cut off the top of someone’s head. Editing is important because, over several years, all these substandard photos can eat up valuable hard drive space and make the sheer number of pics you’ve accumulated seem overwhelming.
 

Make back-ups. Photos in albums may fade, but we can be reasonably sure they will still be around in 50 years. That’s not necessarily the case with digital pictures. “There is a lot of stuff produced in digital formats that are not as secure as we might think they are,” cautions Dr. Matt Soar, associate professor at Concordia University’s Communication Studies department. “You only need to have a scratch [on your CD or DVD] for it to go wonky, and then it’s all gone.” He suggests putting the images you cherish on at least two different external hard drives, with one to be kept at a friend’s or relative’s home. Web savvy families can create a private, password-protected website for keeping photos, he adds. 
 

Update formats over time. As computer technology changes — remember floppy disks anyone?— make sure you update how you are storing your photos. “The challenge is to keep digital photos so that they can be used and viewed in 50 and 100 years time,” explains Dr. Soar. In addition to making backup copies in different media (such as CDs or DVDs), he suggests storing digital photos in an external hard drive, which can be easily plugged into a computer. 
 

Display your work. Don’t feel burdened by the need to print out all the good photos and put them in albums. Most stores that offer digital picture processing also offer a digital photos book service. You choose your photos and the format, upload the photos to the company’s website and a week or so later, you receive the printed book. You can get this same service done through many reputable websites, including photobookcanada.com; easypix.ca or kodakgallery.ca. Also, don’t overlook digital frames, which allow you to upload a selection of photos (this can be as easy as plugging in a cable or flash drive) that can then be displayed in a slideshow. 
 

Share your pictures. Sites like kodakgallery.ca, shutterfly.com or snapfish.com let you set up password-protected sites to display your photos, to which you can invite family and friends. They can then select and print some of the pictures for themselves. You can also use these sites to create beautiful, professional-looking photo books that will look much nicer on the coffee table than those old-fashioned albums with the sticky pages. These also make a great gift and keepsake.

Still overwhelmed? Help is available

Ronit Amsel knows a lot about parents who are overextended. Through her work as a consultant for Creative Memories, clients come to her to organize years of family pictures, videos and film. She has seen her share of overstuffed shoeboxes filled with fading prints and hard drives filled with unfiled digital pictures. Amsel says many people have ambitions of neatly organized family albums or scrapbooks, but few have the patience, time and inclination.

Tara Wilke, a psychologist and mom of two young kids, contacted Amsel to help her sort through the mounds of pictures. “I still like to do the artsy stuff (like scrapbooking), but I was overwhelmed by having to pick the pictures,” Wilke said. “She got me cracking on that and had all sorts of tips and tricks to make it easier.”

Amsel charges $70 an hour to organize and sort your pictures and find ways to effectively display them. “Everyone loves to go through memories, but it can be very distracting and time-consuming if you keep stopping to remember and reflect about each picture,” she notes. She helps clients focus on the project for an hour or two (or she can do it on her own).

Wilke says she hired Amsel for an hour and a half and it helped her get her project on track.

“It’s so nice because now I’m excited to work on the project,” she explains. “It’s no longer this overwhelming pile of pictures on my hard drive.”

Ronit Amsel • (514) 953-5934 • www.CreativeMemories.ca