Nothing is more horrifying than standing before a massive pile of disorganized print photos and not knowing how to make neither head nor tail of what you see before you. Should you organize them into albums? Shove them into a photo box? Or light fire to the lot and never look back again?

If your family is anything like mine, you know firsthand just how quickly printed photos can accumulate and just how difficult it is to decide how to organize print photos. Well, over the years as I’ve worked as a Washington DC family photographer, I’ve picked up a few secrets from moms who do photo organization particularly well. Here is some of what they taught me:

How to Organize Print Photos

(plus a chance to share scans of my old travel photos) 😉

Hunt and gather

If you’re anything like the moms that I know, you have photos tucked away in every corner of the house – some are shoved into school projects, others are stacked in cabinets, stuck in boxes, and still others have yet to be developed off of that old pesky disposable camera. Now is the time to bring all of them together.

Bali_Hindu Priestess

Find a space where you can spread out

Depending on how many years of photos you have to organize, you may be able to tackle this task in as little as a few days or as long as several weeks. In either case, you need to designate a safe work space where you can spread out and be safe from stampeding children, running dogs, inclement weather and strong gusts of wind.


Take it in chunks

Photo overwhelm sets in fast and it’s easy to feel completely bogged down by the task at hand. Rather than taking on the gargantuan task of organizing decades of photos in a single afternoon, break the project down into bite-sized pieces. Do an hour a day, or only work on when you’re watching your favorite television program.


Invest in a single filing system

Whether it’s photo boxes or sleeve folders, double and triple check that your filing system is photo-safe. While it’s easy to think that printed photos are immortal, they’re actually highly delicate and can be eaten away by harmful chemicals and certain type of plastics. Anything that’s photo safe should be identified on the label. One of my favorite resources for archival photo storage is Light Impressions. I’ve also found good supplies at Archival Methods.


Have a central strategy

Once you get into the thick of things, it’s easy to get off track and forget what you’re doing in the first place.

I recommend organizing chronologically by year whenever possible and then breaking that year down into major events. Don’t worry about what month or date a particular photo was taken – that level of detail will only drive you mad. But do try to identify the year and occasion: Christmas, birthday party, graduation, etc. And also create a group of family gatherings to capture all the nondescript images shot throughout the year. You may decide to have a pet file that’s entirely separate from the year-by-year system but try to keep within a single strategy as much as possible.


Make scans

If you’re organizing a series of family photo albums, attempting to distribute photos to family members, or simply trying to get your photo cabinet into shape – you may find that you need to make duplicates or scans of some of your best work.

Scanning print photos into digital images not only makes it possible to protect portraits from wear and tear, it also makes it easy to share images with family and friends. Scan, save, and email – just make sure you’re following your digital photo organization tools that I shared last week.


Enlist helpers

If your children are a bit older, having a helper can cut the task in half. Not to mention that pawing through piles of family photos can spark great conversations and bring back memories that one or both of you may have forgotten.

Old Woman and Boy Squatting

Don’t be afraid to throw away

This is the hardest tip of all. For whatever reason, we get caught up in thinking that these glossy photo printouts are all family heirlooms – when the truth is some shots simply aren’t worthy of sticking around. It’s easy to let go of shots that are out of focus, blurry, or covered by giant thumb protruding across the lens cap. But it’s also OK to toss the photos that just aren’t any good – where no one is looking at the camera, where nothing is of interest, or when you simply have another (better) photo of the same thing. Release yourself from the crippling photo guilt and break through the clutter by only keeping the cream of the crop. Focus on quality over quantity and your resulting photo collection will be not only easier to manage but lots more enjoyable to look at.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for organizing printed photos? Share your secrets with me in the comments section below!

Julie Kubal family portraits Washington D.C.About the Photographer and Author:

Julie Kubal is a child and family portrait artist and photographer serving Washington DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. She is passionate about creating warm and meaningful artwork through modern portraits and lifestyle photography at a location of your choice!