Organizing a digital life!


Al nav photos. Yes, I love photos. Loving it means having lots of it. So just like most of you, I have experienced photo overload. Photos coming from friends, iphone cameras, digital cameras… I have lost a lot of it just because it is not organized. So I’ll tell you how I tried to better organize my life’s memories in this digital age.

I used to keep my photos, tokens, souvenirs in boxes and label them by year. That’s when I was in high school so ended up with 4 boxes. I went to college so had to compress the 4 boxes to one and labeled it 1993-1997. In college, I learned my lesson and just kept one box for 97-01. Easy right? But here’s when things get more complicated.

You get a job, move out of your parents’ house, you get married and a new chapter begins.

My family migrated from the Philippines to America and had to again pack our lives in two airline standard luggage each. So do you ever have a chance to bring your prized memories with you? I don’t think so. What we had done to keep all our love letters, cheezy albums, class pictures, medals, certificates and the like, was to scan or take a picture of it, store it in CDs which brings us to point number 2.

After getting used to just having scanned files, do we ever need to print any of our photo memories?
We had everything compact in compact discs that we have lost the fun of tangible pictures.

So now do we want photo boxes of memories that will end up lost again?
No no no. We don’t want clutter in our lives. If there’s one thing we’ve greatly learned here in America, it’s the art of mobility. With my wife’s medical training, we have to move every 3 years or so. We have learned to live with great portability. We moved from the Jersey shore to Des Plaines Il in just a rented Ford E-250 and our modest Toyota Corolla. In as much as we tried to restrain ourselves with material clutter, having a little one just made us hold on to those small momentos. We can’t resist leaving her first rocking horse given by her uncle. I even disassembled it just to make it fit in the van. For all our other stuff, a picture of it was the best parting gift. So were all the friends we had to leave behind.

This further strengthens the point that the best souvenir is a photo. It’s small, compact, portable and timeless.But how do we organize our album of memories? Chronologically!

I used to think I should create a Photo album per event, for every trip, for every birthday but it still seems unrealistically expensive and time consuming to do all that nowadays. Not to mention how hard it is to keep track of all these events in our lives. So what do we do? We simplify things and just create a —Yearbook.

Yes a family Yearbook. It contains all the people, events, places that touched our lives summarized in one year. So assuming that we live a hundred years (minus the first 18-20 years of our lives), that our parents hopefully documented, we are just looking at around 80 albums to accumulate in our life time. That’s just a meter’s worth of shelf-space.

Maybe you’re wondering why not just keep it on CDs, a portable drive, an offsite server? It’s because I believe that technology will keep on changing and we don’t know if our children or great grand children would still have access to this primitive jpeg files or what not. Or what if we lose the password to this external drive or offsite server. A good printed photo could at least last a hundred years. And the chances of losing the whole softcopy or software copy is just too risky for me. So I suggest besides the software back up, you should create a hardcopy back-up. So if you lose the hardcopy, for example, in a fire or flood, you can recreate it with the soft file copies and if you lose the file copy, at least you have the highlights printed out ready to show off.

So how do we organize our software files? Just go chronologically! Make a main folder I.e. 2012 broken down to twelve months Jan. to Dec.
I label all my image files with the date and a describing word like July17.12Newyork (I use the software called Lightroom). I will explain further how this helps me organize it into one big collection.

Building your Family Yearbook requires discipline too. You have to be decisive in only getting the best of the best photos. Being a photographer has taught me how to trim my selection further. Today’s high-speed digital cameras means more photos to choose from, not to mention more money and terabytes to keep them. So dump photos you did not select! Yes do it. I usually trim my selection to half the number of photos originally taken. From there I select the top 50 or less pictures that will be posted on my social network that also serves as an off-site software back-up. Keep viewing to private if you want. Just around 50 photos? I believe that the average person will only look at your album not more than 60 seconds before they lose interest. It is truly a challenge to keep people interested in photos they are not included in. How much time can we stand commercials? Considering people behind it are masters of visual art, not too long right? So I just put enough to tell a short story. And I summarize. Avoid too many consecutive shots as much as possible. Give different scenes. Summarize.

How do I summarize? I just copy and paste 8-10 photos of each event on each month, if nothing happened much on one month just adjust accordingly still keeping the balance and put all these selected ones in one folder “Best of 2012” . From that folder with each filename labeled from the month it was taken, I’m able to tell the highlights of the year. So if you look back at that year in the yearbook and couldn’t get enough of one event, by using the hard copy to pinpoint what month it happened you can search through your file folders.

I hope you got some insights on how to document your life. I’m sure when we grow old and our fingers start to numb touching the keyboards or touch screens, and our eyes tired of looking at bright screens. There is joy in flipping through life’s memories in old photo albums. So start making your own stories. Who else will take interest on it. Snap and go!

If you need help organizing, creating your photo albums or restoring old ones, I am at your service. Contact me for these services.