Personal Photo Curation

By Laura Lucas

Last summer I snapped over 800 photos on a family trip to Newfoundland. I’m not a great photographer so I often take more than needed to get that one good shot, but it means a big job to organize and manage them later. So each day of my trip I sifted through 3 different devices; my camera, my phone and the shared memory cards of others to pick out the best shots and curate them.

Curation is the key to enjoying your photos, protecting them from damage and being able to find them easily again when needed and I like to start with a quick triage. Ask yourself these questions: What’s the quality like – sharp, blurry or chopped? Does it mean something special to you or someone else? Is there some historic value to it? Could it be worth some money? Is there a privacy issue to consider – like scantily clad children in the wading pool? Based on the answers, I cull, share or add to my permanent library.

After my East Coast vacation, I took the 75 “best” images, already identified and had them made into a photo book. These are the shots that mean the most to me from this trip and they are now beautifully displayed on my coffee table where someone can actually view them. I’ve whittled down the rest of collection to 300 images with proper descriptions, backed them up externally and hit the delete key on the others. That’s right! I hit the delete key. Just because storage space is becoming less expensive does not mean we should keep everything. Do I really need to save the photo of an electrical box I took at the hardware store because my husband was helping me select the right product at the time?

© Laura Lucas
© Laura Lucas

The visual researcher in me enjoys photo archiving but for most it is overwhelming. It takes time and some thoughtful organization. Here are my tips to a solid personal library in which you can find things easily!

  • Choose a main location for your photos whether it’s a desktop, the cloud, a tablet etc. but be diligent that all your photos end up in this location. It’s your main album.
  • Create an external copy of the library and set it to automatically backup regularly. If you’re a frequent shutterbug, I would suggest doing this weekly to protect them.
  • Create 10 broad photo categories within your album; no more than that. You can use a software package, but it’s not necessary. Simple computer file hierarchy works too. Every photo should easily fit into one of these headings. Do not go by date of download. Date stamping comes later. For instance, I have a “Lucas Family” category. Holidays, birthdays, vacations involving this family all go into this folder.
  • Within your 10 folders, create specific subject files. I have chosen a year designation. “Lucas’ 2015”.
  • You can add photos at this stage or continue creating sub- folders in your album. Mine looks like this…

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 6.57.32 PM

  • Import your photos into the respective subject files and replace the automatically-generated camera number with some metadata. That’s fancy speak for detailed information. I suggest 3 pieces of information in the file name of each photo; Title, date and brief description. Like this…

Laura Birthday1_04.21.2015_Cake

Laura Birthday2_04.21.2015_Opening gifts

Laura Birthday3_04.25.2015_Wearing new outfit

Notice how several dates are involved with this one event. This is why I suggest leaving date stamps until the photo level. If you’re not the owner of the photo you may wish to include that too; a professional photo agency for example. This can be important with regard to copyright.

  • If you don’t have time for Step 6… you’re already leaps ahead by creating the album hierarchy.

This is not rocket science.   I’m not offering you a secret solution. It’s a filing cabinet for the most part and it works for print as well as digital photos. If you’ve got a box of b&w pictures in the closet – start with the same quick triage above to make the job smaller and manageable. Photos to keep in one stack… photos to give to your sibling or an archive in another… photos to digitize in a third… and yes… a separate group of photos to purge. For the keepers – add some envelopes or dividers in the box for your category and subject headings. Label this box and store in a dry, safe place. I would also suggest a protective box rather than cardboard.

If all of this is too mind-boggling ask an organized friend to help. Or call me – Big Picture Research offers this service! Please don’t wait until you’ve damaged your phone or lost access to your social media account album or had your computer hacked or stolen. There are too many heart-wrenching tales out there from people who have lost precious photos. A little curation on a regular basis can make the job less stressful, help you find a photo quickly and give you peace of mind that our library is protected.

© Laura Lucas
© Laura Lucas

Headshot3_TEMPO Photography - BERN -6273Laura Lucas is a Visual Researcher and Rights Clearance Officer with 20 years of experience in the media market. She’s worked extensively with TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin, with freelance video producers and with archivists and libraries. Having just launched her own company Big Picture Research, she’s driven by the thrill of the hunt to find the perfect image that can help bring a story to life and clearing the underlying permissions for its use. Her archival research work in turn has led her to explore the emerging field of digital estate planning and helping people organize and protect their digital assets. See more and contact Laura here:

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