How to best organize a lifetime of family photos?
June 14, 2011 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Elderly parent has boxes and boxes of photos which are not in any particular order. Some are loose, some are in albums, and a few are on CDs. I have offered to assist in the organization and scanning of some or all of these photos. What would be the easiest way to accomplish this?

This is such a large project that I'm a bit at a loss as to how to proceed. For example, should I take everything out of the albums and picture frames? And if I do, should I buy all new albums so they would be a consistent size? Also, would you recommend I have everything scanned or just the best shots?

Any tips from folks who've undertaken a similar project would be much appreciated.
posted by mintchip to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Take the photos out of the albums and pay to have them all scanned by a decent photo shop. Scanning them yourself and/or picking and choosing photos will be "penny wise, pound foolish" with your own time (and money as well, if don't already own a quality scanner).

You will need to take the photos out of the albums/frames in order to scan them.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:04 AM on June 14, 2011

I first suggest putting them in some sort of order first, cause I once scanned everything and figured I'd organize it later but never really did. And it's been 10 years later now, I got tied up taking new pictures and organizing those instead (which may be another reason I take little pictures as possible now, hmmm).
One of the main problems with mine was having so many file folders I scanned them into; I know there's atleast 5 duplicates of the same picture in other folders. So if you straighten things out before hand, you weed out duplicates therefore saving time not scanning photos unnecessary.
I had a scanner that would let me just scan one after the other and when I was ready it would save all of them in a batch, naming them pic001, pic002, pic003. I went back later to rename some, re-cropped many, and reorganized some, so that's another reason why I suggest doing it the right way the first time. Cause trying to go back can be confusing cause you know you worked on a picture but aren't sure and may do it again and end up making more duplicates. It made the scanning process easy but the job still wasn't "done" if you know what I mean. So doing them individually can save a lot of time in the long run.
I went ahead and scanned everything, even photos I didn't like. Cause they say one day you'll miss the really old pictures you wished you saved even though at the time didn't seem like keepsakes. I'm kind of gad I did that much cause photo's I thought I like I don't anymore, and those awkward photos I didn't like are actually really great!
posted by udon at 7:08 AM on June 14, 2011

When my mother did this, she got a large number of boxes, and ordered the photos in the boxes roughly in date order. On the back of the photos, she wrote the date the photo was taken (best guess) and the identities of anyone in the photo. A little while after she was done, I came along and scanned the good ones. (i could have done them all, and some day I may go back and do just that. The boxes of originals arent going to go away.)The filenames went something like year-month-event-peoplesnames. I then uploaded them to my Flickr account, using the events and peoples names as tags to each photo - so they're now searchable by either.
posted by talitha_kumi at 7:27 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had mine scanned by a photo shop after sorting for duplicates but not organizing or naming names in photos. If I had it to do over again, I'd have done the organization first instead of trying to do it in iPhoto after they were all scanned in.

If you're a Mac person and will be using iPhoto, there are utilities that will check your library for duplicates. I'm not sure that second scans of the same photo count as duplicates. Also, the facial recognition will help some but it's not a huge help, especially with pictures of youths over the course of childhood and adolescence and then adulthood.
posted by immlass at 7:50 AM on June 14, 2011

Another task that's really useful to do while the parents are alive is determining who's in the pictures and when they were taken. Lightly pencil the info on the backs of the photos.

I cherrypicked family photos, spent a bunch of evenings scanning, sorted by date, and burned to cds one year for a Christmas gift. It's a huge task, and will be appreciated many years later.
posted by theora55 at 9:33 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sort them into boxes/bags based on who would want them and/or who is in them: these should be your best sources for figuring out who is in the pictures. Then scan them and tag the pictures -- which, if done in iPhoto, can be automated with the Faces feature.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:39 AM on June 14, 2011

I would also suggest getting a couple of family members around and have them identify everyone in as many pics as possible. Then place them in boxes based on the familial relationship that wenestvedt suggested. A good scanning service should be able to name them based on the box ID.

Good luck!
posted by bach at 12:32 PM on June 14, 2011

Keep an eye on the original order, they could already be grouped roughly by date or by who took the picture. Of course I don't know the exact layout or conditions of the box, but take a look through them first, keeping the original order and see if you see any patterns or similarities.

When we get old papers out of a courthouse or an office, we put them in boxes in the order they were in the drawers. They're often in some kind of order that made sense to the person in the office, even if it just with the newest stuff in the front of the drawer (a very common filing system I've come to realize).
posted by marxchivist at 6:52 PM on June 14, 2011

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