You are fired up to organize your print photos but you have no idea what to do or where to start? One thing you’ll want to do before even pulling out all the boxes of photos is set up your workspace. You’re probably thinking, “Oh Gabby, do you really need to tell me how to set up a workspace?” Yes, yes I do.
Print photo projects can be big, sprawling creatures so the first thing to do is set up a table in a low traffic area, or preferably in a room that is not in your main living space. A comfy computer chair will make your time less miserable and great lighting over your workspace may make it easier to discern one baby photo from another.
Other Helpful Tools to have handy:
Sorting boxes – You will be making piles of your photos while sorting your images into years or themes. If you don’t have a clear table that you can leave the photos on all the time, these will allow you to box them up and move your project when needed without losing all of your sorting effort. These boxes do not need to be archival quality but clean and small. Shoebox size is ideal.
Index cards – Index cards make great dividers between groups of photos. They allow you to write identifying notes, stories, or even future actions (such as “restore” or “scan”). Again these cards do not need to be archival quality unless you plan on keeping the index cards stored with the photos indefinitely. Remember these cards do come in different sizes so you might want to get larger cards to write more notes on and visually separate the photos better.
Sticky notes – Great for temporary labels and tagging photos
Photo safe pencils – Take a quick moment to identify and date photos as you go along. A photo safe pencil, such as the Stabilo-All, is great to use but make sure to use a light hand or your grandmother’s photo will have a raised image of what you wrote on the back across her face. It also helps to write on a clean, hard, smooth surface.
Trashcan – You will be tossing blurry, duplicate and uninteresting photos away. Due to the chemicals used in photo paper, they are not recyclable.
Lint-free white gloves – even if you begin with clean hands, the oils naturally on your hand contribute to the deterioration of your photos. It is a best practice for a reason to wear the gloves anytime you handle your prints, slides, and negatives.
Lint free cleaning cloth – any cloth similar to what you use to clean your glasses or phone screen works great for cleaning off the dust and grime that collects on the fronts of photos.
Magnifying glass or loupe – These tools are great for identifying people and places as well as finding clues as to the time period the photo was taken in.
Non-wax dental floss – If you have had photos stored in a magnetic album (the ones that came with pages that had a sticky packing and plastic covering it), then you have photos that are probably now “glued” to a very acidic environment. You want to remove photos from these albums as soon as possible. If they are stuck, try to use dental floss to get between the album and the image to remove it from the album. If you are not comfortable with doing this, seek the help of a professional.
Preservation boxes – Invest in acid and lignin-free photo boxes to store the photos you decide to keep so that they will be preserved for future generations. Really do your homework on the type of boxes you are purchasing to store your photos. It might say acid-free but it may not be archival safe. Look for other specs mentioned on the product such as “lignin-free”, “passed P.A.T. testing”, or contains a buffer (alkaline substance added to neutralize acid in the future).
If you are investing the time to organize your photos, then invest in the quality of boxes you are storing your prized images in.
Small voice recorder (optional) – Photos invoke memories. Use a smart phone app or other preferred voice recorder to capture the stories behind the images as you organize them. You can then have those stories transcribed so you can preserve them along with your photos.
Light table (optional) – If you have a lot of slides or negatives, save your neck and your vision by investing in a small light table so you can more easily look at these smaller images.
Once you have your workspace set up and your supplies gathered you are ready to start organizing your print photographs, negatives and slides. In my next post I will give you a strategy to prioritize photos to keep and those that you want to pass on or get rid of, making your photo collection manageable and meaningful.