Sorting Photos A Method to Get You Started

As with Scrapbooking, creating a photo book begins with the process of sorting photos. No matter what type of photo book you are thinking of creating: a travel book, baby book, wedding book, or a celebration of family, the dreaded task of sorting photos has to be undertaken. By photos for the purpose of this article I am referring to printed photos and negatives, as this seems to be the biggest stumbling block to getting started on a photo book project. I have received many phone calls lately from people who are feeling overwhelmed with how to start the process of sorting their boxes of photo memorabilia. I will guide you through the process I use, and I hope it will help to get you started.

Step One - Setting Up

It can be a big challenge to start sorting what can sometimes be generations worth of photos. Find yourself an area where you can work uninterrupted and where you are able to spread out. A big table really helps, and from experience I do not recommend the dining room table. Craft tables are ideal for this project, and can be obtained at a reasonable cost at places like Costco. Other materials that you will likely need are: 4x6 index cards including some in assorted colors, page protectors if you are going to be sorting older photos that are often in a larger size, negative sleeves if you are going to be sorting old negatives, 3 ring binders for storing larger photos and negatives, photo boxes, preferably one for each year if your photos are in 4x6 format, felt markers and a large garbage can. Gather up all your loose photos from all sources: desks, drawers, cupboards, shoeboxes etc.

Step Two - Starting the Sort

When I have a lot of old photos to sort I sort chronologically by year, no matter who or what the picture is of. Do the best you can if you have pictures that you are not sure of. Think of when you took that big holiday, how old your child was in that photo, what house you were living in etc. When sorting older photos you may have to organize by decade 30's, 40's 50's etc. Do not get bogged down with this, you can always come back to these and do a more detailed sort by analysing the photos for hairstyles, fashions, cars etc. I create a white index card for each year of the decade for example 2000 - 2010 and place the index cards in numerical order with the pile of photos growing behind each index card. Once you have sorted all your photos by year you have established your timeline and are ready to start the second sort of pictures. Now you know what you have to work with. If you have photos in older albums you might want to sort them as well, once you finish with your loose photos. Many of us have photos in albums that are not archival quality and you may be shocked at the condition of your photos if you have not looked at these albums recently.

Step Three - the Second Sort

For some this is the most difficult part of the process as you are now ready to start reducing the size of your pile of photos and make decisions on what to do with each picture. When starting recognize that you will not be including all of your photos when deciding what will go into the photo books that you are going to make. You will be purging some, perhaps passing some along to other family members and others you might just leave neatly sorted into photo boxes. Have a trash can handy and be ruthless about discarding photos of poor quality, duplicates or near duplicates, photos that no longer mean a thing to you (what is this a picture of and where on earth did I take it)? As you sort you may come across good photos that you no longer want but perhaps someone else in your family might like to have the picture. Set these photos aside to come back to later. Depending on your age or life circumstance you might have a lot of these photos. When my grandmother was getting ready to move into assisted living she went through her extensive collection of pictures of grand and great grand children, separated the pictures by child and then put the into small photos albums that she sent to each child. She realized that the grandchildren, especially the older ones might treasure such a collection of photos of themselves. If you have very old family heritage photographs perhaps someone in your family is undertaking genealogy work and they would love to have these photos (either the originals or a DVD copy if you cannot bear to give up the original). One word of warning, do not write on the back of any photo in ballpoint pen. Over time this will mark photos, if you have a need to do this special pencils can be obtained at scrapbooking and craft stores for this purpose. If you are using post it notes never apply to the front of the photo.

Step Four - the Final Sort

You should now have significantly fewer pictures in each of your piles. Now you can create more index cards, use the colored ones and use one for each month and sort your pictures accordingly and file them in your photo box (labeled for the year). As you sort you may have a lot of pictures for a particular month (usually December and the summer months). You may choose to create additional index cards to put collections of pictures together (Christmas family gatherings, Christmas concerts, graduation pictures, birthday parties, the summer holiday etc). Take time to enjoy this part of the sorting process, it does not have to be all task focused. Enjoy reliving those memories, reminisce and savor the moments.

If you have older pictures, say from the 1940's you may be able to put an entire decade of pictures into one photo box, with the years separated by index cards and the decade indicated on the outside of the photo box. Larger size photos can be placed in page protectors, labeled on the protector and filed into 3 ring binders (also labeled with year or decade).