A few weeks ago I gave a presentation about travel photography to a group of women. I spoke about light and shade, framing and composition, and using their photos to tell the stories of their travels. I also spoke about backing up their photos, and about having a system for downloading and organizing their images onto their computers. After my talk we had a time for questions, and without exception the questions were all about organizing their images. This was a group of ex-pat women. They travel often, and they live in a foreign country. Their photos are important to them, whether they are a record of their adventures overseas, precious memories of home, or just snapshots of everyday life. And yet, they did not have any system for making sure they knew where their photos are, let alone a way to find a particular photo. They knew their photos could all be lost in a moment, but were not doing anything to safeguard them. Talking about it made them feel anxious, but overwhelmed.
Are you identifying with any of this? In pre-digital days, we worried about photos in shoe boxes and under the bed gathering dust. At least, barring a catastrophic fire or flood, those photos would stay in their boxes and bags until we got around to doing something with them. Our digital images on random memory cards, flash drives, old computers and phones are a thousand times more vulnerable. If I did a straw poll now, I doubt there would be many people who have not lost some digital images in the last 5 years.
So why are we like this? Why don’t we just do something with our photos? Why don’t we have better systems? I’m sure there are lots of reasons, but in my experience the biggest underlying issue is that we are daunted by the size of the task. We’ve let it go so long that the thought of even starting is overwhelming.
I read a quote today, attributed to General George S Patton, which applies perfectly to this situation – though I’m pretty sure this is not what he had in mind! He said
“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
In other words, get on with it. Don’t wait for the perfect time or the perfect place or the perfect plan – just start, do a bit, then a bit more, then the next bit. Keep going and before you know it, you’ll reach the end.
Here are a few tactics that I have found helpful:
- Start today. Another one of my favourite quotes is a Chinese Proverb which says “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Yes, you wish you hadn’t got into the mess you are in, but you did, and you can’t turn back the clock. But if you let that regret prevent you from fixing the mess, it will only get worse.
- Start with your most recent photos. You know where they are, you know what the photos are of, and you can (hopefully) remember all the details. So get those photos organized and documented first. Keep going with your current photos, day by day, and you’ll never be more behind than you are today. Once you have a routine going, bit by bit you can catch up on the old photos.
- Keep it simple. Elaborate systems look appealing because they are pretty, and you dream about having everything beautifully labelled and categorised. Be realistic – if you were able to keep up an elaborate system like that, your photos wouldn’t be in the state they are in.
- Do it in small doses. There’s no set up or pack up or preparation needed. Even if you only have 10 minutes you will see results.
- Don’t throw out whatever system or systems you have used in the past, even if you feel they weren’t working. Start anew by all means, but only with the most recent photos (see point 2 above). Once you are happy with your new system, include the older photos in small batches. I made that mistake after I attended my first traditional scrapbooking class, and I learned about photo safe papers and adhesives. I went home and pulled every photo out of the “magnetic albums” they were in, and put them in photo-safe boxes. It seemed like such a good idea. But you know what? Most of those photos are still in those boxes, because it was too overwhelming to scrapbook every one. I would have been much better off scrapbooking my current photos, then transferring the old photos directly from the magnetic albums to new photo safe albums & scrapbooks.
- To be honest, I don’t care what plan you use. I just want you to have a plan and use it.
Next month if you are interested I will write in more details about my system of photo organisation. You won’t be surprised to learn that I use Forever Guaranteed Storage and Forever Software. I don’t say that just because I work for them. I work for them because I really do believe that the combination of photo organisation and long term storage Forever offers can’t be beaten.
I’d love to hear about how you organise your photos. Are you all caught up? Are you overwhelmed? What is your plan going forward? Remember – the plan doesn’t need to be the perfect plan, it just needs to be started.
Apart from the peace of mind that comes with knowing my photos are secure and organised, the best part of having a plan that is achievable is this …
My husband received this text message just now from a friend, after I finished writing this blog – ” Does anyone have a file recovery software? I have mistakenly deleted a large folder of holiday photos (around 200 photos) from an external hard drive.” Losing photos happens all the time in the real world. This is not a hypothetical risk. What is your imperfect plan?