Every photo shot during a typical Gen-Xer’s childhood could probably fit in one thick album—a real album, the kind with gold-leaf embossing, “magnetic pages” and misaligned rings.
Now those Gen-Xers are snapping thousands of photos of their (debatably) cute kids on smartphones each year. It’s instant, it’s easy, it’s cheap—no film to buy or develop, no need for space in dusty shoeboxes or drawers.
But the torrent of images flooding devices creates new challenges. How do we manage the data clutter? “It’s a universal problem,” sighed New York-based wedding photographer John Dolan. “It’s the unbearable lightness of digital.”
Tech companies have made it simple, and often inexpensive, to shove pics onto cloud servers, turning us all into digital hoarders. An endless scroll of shame now hides neatly in pockets and purses until we struggle with dwindling smartphone memory or have to flip through countless crummy shots to find the one where everyone is smiling. Wait, no, I was looking for another one. One sec.
Methodically organizing and editing your photo library is a tall task, but it means less scrolling, less used storage and more time enjoying images worthy of attention.
Ruthlessly culling your photo collection is as emotionally taxing as going KonMari on your household. But it can be just as rewarding. First, deal with dupes. Apps like Duplicate Photos Fixer ($1.99, duplicatephotosfixer.com) help you find identical and visually similar images in your library and make it simple to delete the copies.
Next, manually trash blurry photos and those useless mirror selfies, sunsets and latte art that didn’t make the cut for Instagram.
Now come the more wrenching decisions. Isabelle Dervaux, a former illustrator who organizes photos for wealthy clients in New York, recommended setting a cap on the number of photos you keep. She suggested sticking to an amount you can efficiently use as a library, deleting all but 100 photos a month, for instance, or 1,000 per year.
How do you know which darlings to kill? Ms. Dervaux said to hang on to pics that are especially beautiful or emotionally meaningful. “You might have a photo that’s blurry—but it’s the one picture of your grandmother,” she said. When shots tick all the boxes, click the heart at the bottom of iPhone’s Photos app to mark it a favorite. You can also create a “Best of” album by clicking the plus sign at the top of the app and digitally checking ones to keep.
Then, let the rest go. “If the picture makes my pulse race a little bit, it gets a heart,” said Mr. Dolan. “One percent of our pictures are great. Skim them off the top and you have a chance of winning the battle.”
If the process makes you nervous, put shots that you’re debating eliminating in a separate album marked “For Review,” then set an alert to circle back soon.
Once you’ve whittled down your library, download it all to your computer and start adding digital labels like “anniversary” or “intimidating class reunion” to each photo. You might have to do this manually, but it’s a worthwhile hassle to help you and future generations find what you’re looking for later.
“It’s one of the things we struggle with daily,” said Brett Carnell, head of technical services for prints and photos at the Library of Congress “Down the road, if you haven’t given some information about your photo, it won’t mean anything to anyone. If it’s important enough to keep, it’s important enough to label.”
Back It Up
Floods and house fires were once the biggest threats to family photos. Now it’s hardware meltdowns and cloud-service glitches. When the image-storage service Picturelife shut down without warning in 2016, more than 200 million photos disappeared with it.
“I can’t stress redundancy enough,” said photographer Rob Howard, who shoots ads for some of the world’s biggest brands. He suggested having at least three copies of important shots: one on your phone, one on your computer and one on a thumb drive.
Develop New Habits
Don’t stop snapping shots—why should you?—but remember to regularly trim the fat each month.
The final step is to go old school: Print and proudly display the best ones. In his living room, Mr. Dolan has a tray of mini photobooks from his family’s summers in Ireland. (See “Instagram for Your Coffee Table,” below, for tips.) “Otherwise, people shoot pictures and don’t really enjoy them,” he said. “And the digital angst goes on and on.”
INSTAGRAM FOR YOUR COFFEE TABLE
Analog ways to show off the images you’ve kept
The Bespoke Book: Album Room
If you fancy a wedding (or baby, or bat mitzvah) album that has the style and heft of a monograph, turn to this New York-based specialist. You provide photos, they make them look perfect and will tweak the book until you’re happy. Albums come with silk, linen, leather or buckram covers, and endless embossing options. From $750, including design, albumroom.com
The Not-So-Basic Box: Gaylord Archival
Boxes made for storing photos can be so, well, square, in their institutional shades of brown. Gaylord’s sturdy Blue B-flute box holds about 1,700 photos upright, with easy-to-browse dividers for organizing. It’s acid- and lignin-free to keep prints safe from damaging chemicals, has metal-reinforced corners for durability and comes in robin’s egg blue. $29, gaylord.com
The Social-Media Record: Artifact Uprising
Albums for Instagram shots put this Denver-based company on the map, but a focus on quality has kept it there. Founded by professional photographer sisters, Artifact Uprising is a go-to for design mavens who want to bring their digital shots into the analog world. The prints get high marks for color accuracy, layouts and use of recycled paper. From $15, artifactuprising.com
The Everyday Album: Kolo
Occasionally you just want to slip into something simple—maybe your photos do, too. Kolo makes minimalist albums bound in colorful Italian-milled cloth. Some books let you swap out the archival-quality pages, so you can choose to slot your shots into clear sleeves. Others come with scored-hinged binding so the book lays flat when open. From $18, kolo.com
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