I have come to realise that we cannot keep everything... Obvious, perhaps. But look at your own collection of photos, do you expect to look through all of them one day..? Do you expect your descendants to wade through them? We all love photographs, we enjoy old photos. We love how they make us feel, the time travelling to a simpler time, someone no longer around us, a place we used to go.
So, how do we connect this love of photos with the activity of taking photos now and hoping they will be around.
My plan that I set in place several years ago, is to produce an album each year, limited to 60 pictures that tell the story of my year.
Capturing the captures.
Through out the year I mark images for curation, I use Adobe's star rating system as I go. I use five stars to mark a special image. These five star images go towards my 'curated' set.
Then at the end of each year, I sort to show just the five star photos, then I use Adobe's colour label feature to mark them for final curation. If I am short of the 60, I search my four star images for promotion, if I am over 60, I remove those that I've been optimistic about.
If I have had a special event or trip where I have made a set of photographs that I am especially pleased with, I will make a separate album just for this.
This curated set is then double checked for the completeness of it's metadata. I ensure each photo has:
This means I am recording (whilst I still have my senses) when I shot it each photo, who or what is the picture of, where it was taken and in some cases why I shot it. Most of this metadata I have added as I imported the photos originally from my camera, but curation time is when this is all checked and cleaned up.
The fine-tuning of the metadata is a great step to making these photos real treasures, but the real key is to make a print from each one. Printing only requires the technology of light and eyes to view, and it is proven a more reliable long term preservation method than digital storage.
I print the curated photos on an archival paper. Typically I like to use Atkins' Kodak wet processed, silver halide, matt prints. Out of direct UV light, they last very well. We have been using this process for over 40 years. At times I make fine art ink jet prints because they are fancier and technically are more UV stable, but considering these are in an album, UV exposure is rare.
Another consideration to the print process is durability. It is proven that the wet process photographic prints survive handling, emersion, pollution and humidity much better.
Regardless of the print choice, I always print at 20x30cm (8x12inch), and I always print with at least a 1cm white border. The border is there to help protect the image when handling and for the printing of the metadata.
Having a proper description on the edge of the picture is the secret to truly enjoying these treasures. There is no guessing as to who is in each photo or where it was taken. It is all there.
Atkins has several print layouts that will extract the metadata fields from your digital image file, and print them alongside your print, or even on the print. These are truly self-titled prints, a utopia.
A final word about print size. These prints are designed to fit perfectly on an A4 flatbed scanner. Therefore, if you should lose the digital files, which is highly likely considering the volatility of digital storage, you can simply scan them to a decent resolution with fine detail.
This is a personal choice. I choose to use two options. The first is a fully bound book style album, and this I use for distinct stories, for big trips or photographic escapades where I take a series that belongs together. These are printed on tradition wet process, silver halide paper, and bound into an album with a hard cover. (Link to Atkins Book Bound album)
The second uses a slip-in three ring binder style system made by Albox (and sold by Atkins). The pages are an archival plastic, and the prints go in back to back. 30 leaves, 60 pictures. One album per year. The Albox album does look agricultural, but it is the real deal, a proper museum grade storage system.
These albums are so engaging, I find my children often poring over them, I too love flicking through the pages. After all, it is not only my favourite pictures, but it is also those moments in time I chose to record. It is much more than nostalgia, it is pride and love and heartache. It is life.
The process is not onerous, if you take the time to apply the metadata as you bring them into your computer. It guarantees careful captioning, and it makes a treasure of real value for future generations. You are not leaving a mess to clean up, you are leaving your life in pictures carefully packaged.