Tributes & Video Biographies
Sharing Life Stories, Connecting Generations, Preserving Legacies

How I Save and Archive My Digital Photos

I spend a lot of time flying back and forth between Houston and Los Angeles to visit my family. The flight is 3 hours and last year I made a commitment to spend that three hour time period working on sorting, identifying and tagging all of my digital photos. By the time we take off, get our complimentary beverages, prepare for the descent, it probably works out to about 2 hours but that time I have totally dedicated to this task. I decided to focus this time on this specific task because I couldn’t seem to get the time available elsewhere. I am usually working on clients’ projects or other personal things and this task seemed monumental to me. So I decided that I would keep dedicating this 3 hour plane ride to this task until it got done.

It may sound surprising to you that someone whose entire career is focused on helping clients archive and save their memories, stories and media is only just doing this for myself. But in my defense, I have spent the last 5 years working on not only my stuff, but all the media of my family of origin. (I’ll come back to my own method of sorting later, I just wanted to give you an idea of scope here.)

My project started 5 years ago with the conversion of all the video that existed. This included some 10 hours of old 8mm films belonging to my parents. Out of this, I created an edited, contextual video that identified the time period, location and people in each film section and gave copies to all of my family. Next I tackled all of my own videos, which were in various formats from 8mm cassette, VHS and miniDV. All of that got converted and put on a large hard-drive and I have still not done anything final with it yet although I have started short biography videos on each of my children.

The next stage was to digitize, catalog and organize all of my parents and grand-parents’ photographs that spanned some 100 years. Everything got scanned, organized into folders, and then meta-tagged with information about date and person in each photo. That was put on disks for each family member to have. From those photos, I made several coffee table style photo books for my family that allows them to view the photos, make notes in the margins, and otherwise enjoy the photos without further deteriorating the original images which are safely housed in an archival storage box. This stage was probably the biggest. There were tens of thousands of photos and it took me about 2 years to complete this task. I am still conferring with a couple of my archivist friends for other ways to organize these images but at least they are done.

I still need to scan and tag all my own slides and paper photos, that’ll be next. I have several photo books that I made for each child as well as boxes of memorabilia; report cards, popsicle stick picture frames, medals, and finger paintings that I’d like to digitize. I think ultimately my long-range goal is to create some multimedia projects that mix these items in with the captured video but I will focus on that later.

So this brings me to the most recent task, the three hours on each airplane flight for the past year working on these digital photos. I am like most people who got digital cameras, started taking tons of digital photos, transferred to my hard drive where they sat in folders with names such as DSN05648.jpg for the past 10 years. I had thousands of them and they were all over the place. Sometimes I wouldn’t download from my camera for a couple of months so the folder would be filled with images from different events and locations.

What I did that took many 3 hour plane rides, was to separate each event into it’s separate folder and create a naming architecture for each folder. So my folders look like this: “2010 Sept Perry&Julie’s Wedding.” That way, when I go to the Photos folder, everything is organized in chronological order and I can quickly find items by year. I also have other photo folders for myself, my husband, each of my children and my dog that contain miscellaneous photos that don’t fit anywhere else. (People email me photos of myself that were taken at a party or gathering, what do you do with these? They go there.) Then I renamed all the photos in each folder to correspond with the folder identification. So the above folder of my son’s wedding will contain photos with names like 2010_Perry&Julie_0001.jpg and so forth. Finally, using a program called Bridge that is part of the Adobe Creative Suite, I added meta tags to each of the photos. A meta tag is a phrase that helps your computer find items. So if I associate a meta tag of perry with a photo of my son Perry, then do a global search for Perry on my computer, all the photos that are tagged with his name will show up. You can see the obvious usefulness of this task.

Those of you on the Mac have a wonderful program called iPhoto which not only organizes into events but also has face recognition which works similar to the meta tagging of each person. It will also track the photo events on a map by location so you can see a map of where all your photos were shot. I’m not sure how useful that feature is ultimately but it’s pretty cool. There are other programs such as Aperture which is more of a professional dark-room organizer among others. I’m not sure it matters so much which software you use, just that you do it.

My biggest fear is that with the advent of digital photography, there are millions of photos, sitting on hard drives out there that will disappear because they are not identified. At least with paper photos, you are left with the photo and the task of identifying it. What happens to the computers and files of people who pass on? What happens when a hard-drive crash erases everything and no backup exists? (I think I’m giving some clues here as to why i can’t fall asleep at night. :)

Stefani Twyford is a personal historian and video biographer sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.

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5 Responses to How I Save and Archive My Digital Photos

  1. Leslie Lang says:

    Stefani, great idea to use your flight times. And I found it interesting to read how you have sorted through, made available and stored your family’s many old photos. I am about to start on a project like that.

    My struggle right now is that I end up with photos on both my laptop and desktop computers, and can’t quite figure out how to have a sync-ed/complete photo library on both. I have been trying to keep my iPhoto library on Dropbox (meaning it’s in “the cloud” and I access the same joined iPhoto library from both computers; also it’s a backup) but it’s not perfect. I LOVE Dropbox for everything else though.

    Anybody have a good solution to this?

    How do you back up your photos?

    Leslie

  2. Jan Johnson says:

    Hey-this is cool! Sounds like a lot of work, but an awesome project. I’m going to pass this along to Sally Stubbs who has a kajillion pictures also.

    XOXO

  3. admin says:

    Leslie, Yes, that is definitely a challenge trying to mirror files from one computer to the other and one I struggled with as well until I got rid of my desktop and use my laptop as my sole computer.
    Your photos are probably too big in file size to use .mac. Other than using a cloud as you suggest, you might try using iSync to sync those files but you’d still have to plug your laptop into your desktop periodically. If you’re doing this, it’s probably just as easy to drag the folder over and replace the old folder. iSync is supposed to sync only what’s been changed so perhaps that’s a possibility.
    Good luck!
    Stefani

  4. Karen says:

    What you didn’t say was what you do with them after you have them all sorted. I was hoping you’d have some magical method for archiving and protecting them from hard drive burn out. I tell myself I need to learn to use the “cloud” for backup but first I guess I have to learn to trust it!

    For labeling and organizing my photos I use a method similar to one my daughter started using when she had identical twins. She suddenly found herself taking hundreds (literally) of photos a month and had a gut wrenching fear that when they were older they would develop a complex because their mother couldn’t say who was who in their baby photos. She describes her method here: http://txtwins.blogspot.com/2009/07/systems.html

    Basically, it is being rigorous about naming the files while you can still remember who is who. Since I’m on a mac, I also use the iphoto to metatag the photos so I can sort them into events, people, or keywords.

    When I first started digital photos I stored copies of my photos on CDs and even deleted them from the hard drive yearly. (Days of smaller hard drives) Now I have a box of CDs somewhere I can’t find.

    Now I keep them all on my computer and use a grandfather system for backup onto USB flash drives. Not the best system because it takes time and effort so I don’t do it as often as I should.

    I admire your effort to organize all the family stuff. I’ve started multiple times scanning old photos and keep getting distracted and can never seem to complete it.

    • admin says:

      Karen, Thanks for your comments. I will address your storage concern in my next blog post because it deserves it’s own attention. Tackling projects like these can be overwhelming and other things do come up to distract us. That is why I focused my time on the airplane ride specifically for this as opposed to reading, watching the movie, etc. I knew, eventually, it would get done!

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