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Storing and Sorting Photos-Tips and Ideas

Updated on May 5, 2021
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Professional scrapbook artist, paper crafter, and author, I have taught people how to make family memories into legacies for 20 years.

Sorting Through Your Family Pictures

Recently, my daughter and I were cleaning out the home of a deceased uncle/brother in law of ours when we came across several cardboard boxes of old photographs. As we spent time looking through them, a flood of family history and memories came out of those boxes, Of all the things that we inherited, this was one of the most precious to us.

Are you suffering from photo overload? Are there pictures everywhere in your home? Do you have pictures that you have inherited and have no idea who is in the pictures, where or when they were taken. Is your cell phone overloaded with selfies and other pictures and you just don't know what to do with it all? Well take heart, we are here to help you get it all sorted out once and for all. I promise, this will be one of the most important legacies that you can give your family

If you have the space and are able, set up an area like a dining room table or a craft table where you have space to work. You will want space to spread out your photos.

Make it a family night project. Involve your children and make a fun night or weekend project. They will love going through the pictures with you and hearing the family stories. Making this a family project will be worthwhile time spent

If you do nothing else, make sure that you get your photos out of those magnetic albums ! They will yellow and ruin your photos over a period of time ! If you are unable to remove them, try loosening them with a piece of dental floss. Gently, work the dental floss behind the photo. Or scan the pictures into your computer to save them. They can always be reprinted !

Humidity is important to preserve your photos for generations
Humidity is important to preserve your photos for generations

Battling Humidity To Keep Your Photos Safe

Humidity is one factor that can ruin photos over time. The National Archives And Records Administration recommends how to store your photos to keep them in the best possible shape. They suggest that you keep photos in an area with higher than 15% relative humidity and less than 65% relative humidity.

In very dry areas, the paper that your photo is printed on can become very brittle. Attics are a place where your photos may become too dry.

More common are areas that have high humidity rather than lower. Places like basements can cause mold to grow. The pictures will often stick together in damp places. The ink will actually run over a period of time. And you can get insect infestation on the paper.

Temperature is an important consideration when storing photos
Temperature is an important consideration when storing photos

Temperature Of Your Storage Area Is Important

Of course, when you think of temperature when storing your photos, you would think that the lower the temperature the better. And that's true. Lower temperatures will keep your photos pristine longer because the paper will not segregate. There is less chance of insect infestation also.

You always want to store your photos at temperatures less than 75degrees.

Try to avoid temperature fluctuations whenever possible. Places like garages where the temperatures fluctuate with the seasons should not be considered when it comes to storing photos.

The best place to store your photos is in a place where you can control both the temperature of the space as well as the humidity.

How Light Affects Your Photos

Keeping your photos in a dark environment will defiantly help preserve them in the years ahead. Darkness keeps the inks and pigments from fading.

Light in general, but especially UV and fluorescent lights break down images with time.

Keep Pests Away From Your Photos

Insects and rodents love paper, so keep pictures out of areas that contain these pests.

How To Handle Your Photos

Whenever you are handling your photos make sure to have clean hands without any lotions or cremes on them.

Always try to handle the photos or negatives at the edges. Your fingerprints contain oils and other chemicals that can permanently leave a mark on the photos or negatives.

How To Remove Photos From A Magnetic Album

Photo Sorting Supply List - What you need for this project

No matter if you are sorting through printed photos or digital photos you will need a few supplies to get through the job. Having the right supplies, makes the task easier and less time consuming. Basically you just need a couple of things to get started. Some photo boxes or photo storage units, a photo marking pen,and some index cards,( I like to use the colored ones)

The very first thing to do is to weed out all the bad photos. Any that are in bad shape, yellowed or ripped could be tossed. Any out of focus, blurry or photos that have damage could likewise be gotten rid of. This one action should make your piles smaller

Step 1- Gather Your Photos

If you are like most of us, you have photos all over the house ! They may be in drawers, boxes, in the closet-almost anywhere. So your first step is to take a few hours and have a treasure hunt in your house to find any photos or photo albums. If you have children get them involved in the project. They will love finding those hidden treasures ! Gather them together and put them in a box ! This is the first step to getting your photos organized !

Start With Your Most Recent Photos

Easier Start For Soting Family Photos

Starting with your most recent photos is the easier start for most scrapbookers or anyone just looking to get their photos organized.. Start with your most recent photos and go backwards. Your recall is better and the photos are more relevant. As you go through your photos, mark on the back with a photo marking pen who, what where and when the photos were taken

Strep 2- Separate Your Photos

There are quite a few ways to get started sorting your photos. It's really up to you how you want to organize them. You can divide them by the type of photo- heritage photos, professional photos, negatives and even photos to toss. Or you can divide them by topic- vacation photos, school photos, family photos,ect. It's really up to you and what works best. We have suggested several ideas for different ways to divide your pictures.

Step 3-Label Your Photos

Never label a photo with a pen or a felt tipped marker ! Instead use a photographic permanent marker ! These markers are not expensive. From experience, I can tell you that you will ruin any photo that you use the wrong marker on. Label your photos with as much information as you can. Not only will this help you while you are sorting, but as time goes on, those precious details will be important for generations to come

Photo Storage Units - Options To Store Your Organized Photos

You can chose a storage option for your photos depending on a couple of things. First the amount of space that you have put your storage units. Will they be in a closet, a cabinet, a top shelf? The second thing to consider is how many photos do you have to store? Here are some of my favorite storage units for you to consider.

What I love about the cardboard boxes is that they generally come with filing cards already inside that you can write on when you file them.

Albums Instead Of Boxes

Even if you are not a scrapbook artist, once you have your pictures sorted, you can place them into a photo album. Much like we do when we create scrapbooks, photo albums can be created by subject matter or year. You might want to have a photo album for each of your children and grandchildren, your vacations, your home or whatever kind of album strikes your fancy. These can be displayed almost anywhere and will be a legacy to future generations

Sort By Decade And Then By Year

Chronological Sorting

If you have stacks of old photos and just looking at the large amounts of them discourages you from getting started, then take heart. Take some small bites rather than a huge meal. Start by taking your photos and sorting them by decade (every 10 years). Try to group photos by the decade unless you have dates, places and times documented. If you have more information, you can get the photo down to a certain year. I tend to work on them while I am watching TV or have a few minutes to just pass the time sorting through them. It's fun to work on this with your children and take time to talk about the pictures you are sorting. Finally if you have gotten it down to a specific year and then can get it down to the month, you may be able to jog your memory about the who and when may have been in the pictures

Don't forget to scrapbook your own pictures ! Sometimes we get so busy with our family photos, we forget about ourselves. Telling your story is important too !

Sorting By Occasion Or Theme

You can sort easily through your photos by occasion. Birthdays, holidays, weddings, births can all be ideal ways to sort your photos. Sorting your photos this way makes the process easier. It's a perfect way for beginner scrappers to get their feet wet.

I inherited a number of photos from my Dad with no notes or dates on them at all. These are pictures that he had thrown into a drawer. Since I have no way to know much about them, more than likely I will group them by occasion or subject.

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Sorting By Individual Or Person

More Time To Do, But Nore Rewarding

When you have multiple grandchildren and even great grandchildren, there seems like more photos and less time to do pages that you would like to create. I have a photo box for each grandchild. I take the photos that I get or print and put them in a box with a post it note on the back with a notation about the photo. That way as I have time to create the pages on some of my favorite people, I have them right at my fingertips, all sorted out.

If you have lots of pictures of your Dad for example as I inherited, you may not know the times and dates of each photo. So, what I am doing, is taking segments of his life and working on those areas.

Photo Box Storage Tip

Overfilling a photo box can cause many of the same problems as an overfilled album. An underfilled photo box means that the pictures move all around and curl on the edges or get frayed or damaged. If you do not have a full box, use something photo safe in the box, such as archival quality dividers, to keep the photos from shifting around too much.

Storing Your Digital Photos

I am always storing photos of family and friends off of Facebook and my other social media locations. I wind up with pages of digital photos that take up a lot of space on my hard drive. Then I wait for a sale on one of the photo places to print out the photos. I recently needed to speed up my computer and found a good storage idea for all my digital photos. So, another way to organize your photos in the digital age is to get them off your phone and your computer and store them on a photo keeper till you decide what to do with them

Here are More Storage Photo Tips

  • Do not use tape or glue to affix photos into an album or scrapbook
  • Do not mount or affix photos to anything but archival quality paper
  • Do not hold photos together using paper clips or rubber bands
  • Do not store photos in envelopes, especially if the envelopes are not made from archival quality paper
  • When possible refrain from writing on photos, since often this leaves indentations on the photo, but in addition, the ink can smear or get onto another image in the stack. If you're going to write on a photo (as opposed to writing information on a separate scrap of paper next to the photo) use an archival safe photo pen, and still don't press very hard.

Have duplicates? Why not send them to a person in the photograph with a nice note. They will really appreciate your thoughtfulness

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