How To Pare Down Your Digital Photo Collection









Yesterday was all about your old photos. Today: digital photos.

Let’s be clear: digital photos haven’t made life that much easier. Yes, it’s easy to share photos online but if you’re like me organizing and culling digital photos is a lot of work.

It’s too easy to take photos now. There was something handy about having to pay for prints and film. It made you selective.

Now we just snap, snap, snap, snap and tell ourselves we’ll pick the best from the bunch and delete the rest. When we get around to it.

My digital downsizing of photos is an ongoing project. I still have lots of work to do in my archive of photos. It’s too big a project for me to set a deadline for so when I find a bit of time, usually just after uploading new photos to my computer, I go through and delete digital photos.

The first rule of paring down digital photos: upload fewer photos.

I’m much better about deleting photos off of my camera before I upload them now. I have a point and shoot Canon Digital camera and it’s easy to look at the photos on it and delete the ones that are obviously not keepers right away.

Then, after I have uploaded my photos to my computer, I take another look at them and delete a few more.

Here’s my other tactic: I take fewer photos. One of the reasons I take fewer photos is that I no longer have an iPhone. I have to remember to bring my camera along with me to document events. The other reason is that I want to enjoy the moment instead of being behind a camera documenting it.

Compared to most parents my age I don’t have a lot of photos of my son. Compared to parents a generation ago, I have a lot of photos of my son.

Less can be more for childhood photos in the digital age. Can you imagine your child at the age of 30 trying to sort through 20,000 photos of her childhood? Yuck.

I also think that having photographic evidence of absolutely everything can impact story telling. Story telling is such an important part of family memories. Growing up in a large single parent household without a lot of money meant that from the age of five to fifteen (when I started buying disposable film cameras) I didn’t have a lot of photos taken of me. There are large gaps of no photos of Christmas or sporting events. That’s okay. When I’m with my siblings we can reminisce and tell stories about our odd childhood all evening. No photos needed.

So maybe I won’t have a video or 100 photos of my son’s first soccer/football goal. Maybe I’ll just have a photo of him in his uniform and he’ll know the story of the goal.

On our recent trip to the Dominican Republic I took roughly fifty photos which I then edited down to 20. I also took two short videos of Henry in a little musical number that they put on with the kids.

While viewing one of the videos, the one where he spotted Chris and I in the audience and started yelling “Mommy!” and trying to run off the stage, I accidentally deleted the video. I was really upset about this but have since realized it’s not a complete loss. When we were talking to family about the trip we got to tell them the story of Henry’s first time on stage. And how he saw us in the audience and wanted to run to us. Sure, they could have seen it on Facebook if I still had an account and hadn’t deleted the video. But telling the story was more fun than getting some likes and comments on it.

How do you manage your digital photo collection?

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  • My collection is a mess. I don’t have many pictures prior to my move north, but since the move I have tons and tons of kitty pictures. Then I had a baby and the picture collection exploded. The camera sucked, so there are a ton of pictures I need to delete, but I just never get motivated to do it.

    I did however, delete photos that sucked during the last two uploads. So that’s a start.

    • I feel your pain. Mine is slowly shaping up but I’ve been editing out bad photos for well over a year. I could spend a weekend doing it but I try to get away from the computer on the weekend. Tend to get cross eyed if I scroll through photos for more than 20-30 mins.

  • My computer runs slowly and I think it is because of the over 14,000 pictures on it! I am doing so much better about taking fewer pictures. I think I have realized that I don’t ever do much with the pictures that I take, so why take so many?

  • For me, photos are a big deal. I have an awful memory and I’m afraid that if I don’t get something to show myself that I won’t remember this time in my children’s lives. I definitely agree that taking film is a bigger deal though. Much less photos. I just need to get myself to get into the habit of deleting the bad ones since I have to take about 20 to get one good one. 😛

  • With our first, we took a TON of pictures. The good thing about this, is that I did manage to try and put them into folders labeled by his age in months for the first year—and I know we could probably delete a lot that just look very similar, since I would get in “photo session” mode sometimes. LOL With our second, now just a few days shy of 2 months old, we haven’t taken as many I think. We were at my in-laws yesterday, and I remarked to my husband how photos and videos aren’t really for your children to have when they get old–its for US PARENTS to capture those moments and relive those times when WE are old. You said it well–our kids are not going to want to sift through 20,000 childhood pictures. I don’t print off as many now, either–since I know we can store them digitally and print later if we need.

  • At the end of each month, I download all the photos from the memory card, delete the bad ones, fix the red eye on the ones that need that, and then transfer them all to the approriate month folder under the appropriate year folder. I then pick the best out of those (sometimes it’s 50 photos; sometimes it’s 150 depending on what we did that month) and I upload those to shutterfly. Although it perhaps isn’t terribly “minimalist” I create and buy a 12 inch x 12 inch photobook that covers that whole preceeding year, November – November. Friends and family have a great time looking at the books when they visit, and we give a copy to my parents and my IL”s. Plus, I have a lot of fun creating the photobook. :-)

    Also, we don’t do “photo shoots.” We did a pregnancy/belly photo shoot, and then one when my daughter was 6 months, but portrait sessions like that do not capture our year of living the way that the pictures I take for the photobook do.

    Like, you, I don’t have an iPhone. And my canon camer is awesome, but it is a bigger one, not a point and shoot, so I only lug it around when I really want it.

    • I do pretty much the same thing. I love taking pictures, and don’t see myself giving that up anytime soon. I devised this system the month we got our first digital camera (7 years ago), and it’s worked well for us.

      I go through the camera first and delete the ones I don’t want. After downloading to the computer, I edit them and delete more (can’t always see the weird background on the camera screen). Then I upload them all to Shutterfly (in separate folders for each month). Every January, I go through my photos and order the prints I want for scrapbooks. The prints are organized by kid and month, stored in an “active” photo box, and pulled out when I have time to work on the scrapbooks. My kids love to help me create the books, so we talk about the events depicted and why I thought it was so special. They love hearing about themselves and their siblings, so it’s really fun to sit down and do this together.

      I print about 900 each year (which sounds like a lot, but I do a book for each of my three kids and a family book each year). I don’t always use them all, but the extras still get thrown into a storage box (a box for each kid, plus a family box), and are organized by month. This is the only area of my life that is super-organized.

      What I love about Shutterfly is that they include the date stamp on the back of the prints so I can easily sort them.

  • I try to cull the photos regularly, but I take them faster than I can cull them. “Take fewer photos” is a very obvious but very good piece of advice. I could stand to leave the camera at home sometimes.

  • All of my film photographs are perfectly organized and in albums.

    I currently have over 26,000 photos on my computer. I don’t even take out my camera that often! I need to come to grips with the fact that these photos will never be perfectly edited, printed, or made into bound books. I have to be okay with the fact that they are just backed up. (Though I do give myself credit that at least I have deleted the bad ones when I uploaded them!)

  • I import photos from my camera into my editing (and organizing!) software, adding tags (kid’s name, age, location, colors, etc.) to the batch as I upload. I first rank all the photos, then edit the 5’s, delete the 1’s, and so forth. The tagging system, vs. folders by age or month, is new to me, but I appreciate how it makes it easier it find a particular type of photo later, whether for a photo contest or to make prints

  • i just stumbled over this blog somehow, and have spent the last week reading through the archives – so inspiring! this post on photo decluttering got me so inspired I spent yesterday morning going through ALL my photos, throwing out more than 50% of them and only keeping the best of the best ones to scan at some point. What a relief! It feels soooo good to just have a small, well-sorted through and thoughtful. So thank you SO much for the inspiration, it would never have been done had i not found this blog! i’m definitly going to look more into minimalist ways :)

  • Thanks for a great blog, I came across it as I am finally getting round to sorting my photos after nearly twenty years of marriage and 2 kids. We have mountains of paper photos and 7,000 digital ones. I decided to tackle the digital ones first. I find iPhoto great for this, you can tag photos by keyword, rating or face. I bought a book on learning iPhoto which was very helpful – the ‘Missing Manual’ series. I’ve sorted all my photos into years and I’ve made a photo book for every year from 2003-2013. It will cost a bit to print them but it is vastly quicker than ordering prints and then putting them in an album. The photo books don’t take up much space either. I’ll save the books to PDF and give them to my sons on a USB stick when they leave home.
    I found I can only do 2-3 hours of iPhoto at a time and then I have to get some fresh air! I have set goals though to try and stick to them so I get this job finished. Once you’ve done a few of the iPhoto books you do get quicker at them. Most years I have only about 75-80 photos printed per year. So I really have to make sure they are my favourites or they tell a story.
    If I want to share my photos I do smilebox slideshows which are also quick and easy and I find people love them especially when you pick the right music.
    I’ve also ordered some 8×10 48 leaf plastic sleeve books and when my photo printer has a half price special I might do some of these books.
    I’m just about to tackle my paper photos which will be a lot bigger task. I think I’ll get a lot of them scanned. I noticed at the local stationers they had some pretty reasonably priced scanning. Not sure how the resolution will be though.
    I’ve also put the years from 1998-2002 which were on APS film on to CD discs and I may load these on to iPhoto, Not sure yet. I have got quite a few of those slip albums. They take a lot of room up though. I just don’t feel like dismantling them yet.
    Glad I found your website, keep up the good work, I’m on a mission to declutter our house after years of accumulation I think I’ll be spending the next couple of years, divesting ourselves of stuff.

  • I am in the stage where I want to go through all my digital photos, figure out which ones I keep and then print them all out. The downside is I don’t know how I want to keep them once I print them. I don’t want to just shove them in a photo box for later. I’d like to make a real project out of it. I just don’t know how.

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