10 Steps to Organizing Your Analog Photo Collection


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Jun 07, 2023

10 Steps to Organizing Your Analog Photo Collection

Special promotional content provided by Reminis. By Rachel LaCour Niesen,

Special promotional content provided by Reminis.

By Rachel LaCour Niesen, Reminis

Somehow you’ve ended up with boxes of photographs, slides and piles of albums, and now you’re the family historian! You might have some old family photos that still look good, some may be ready to scan and some may need some serious restoration. Before you begin the lengthy and sometimes costly restoration process, here are 10 simple steps to organizing your family photo collection.

1. Curate and cull

Select the analog photographs that are the most meaningful to you and your family. Then, create two piles – the "VIP" family photos and the duplicates or poor-quality photos. Pro tip: the Reminis team recommends separating photos into distinct phases of curation. For example, start with all of your slides. Then move onto loose printed photos. Finally, tackle your scrapbooks and photo albums that might need to be disassembled carefully. This helps you feel less overwhelmed and approach each group of photos separately.

2. Rescue trapped photos

Remove cardboard from the backs of frames, and then replace it with acid-free board. Next, remove all photos from those messy "magnetic" albums. (Think of these as a toxic sandwich that can corrode your photos over time!) The adhesives and glues used in these albums are incredibly destructive to photographs.

3. Convert color photos to black and white – By converting the digital file to a monotone, homogeneous color palette, you can quickly reduce the impact of fading, yellowing, and other chromatic aberrations. In many cases, our team of curators converts poor quality images into black and white prior to retouching and printing.

4. Preserve slides, aka, don't take my Kodachrome away. When working with old family slides (like those classic Kodachrome photos in Paul Simon's song), you should scan and restore E-6, Ektachrome, Fujichrome, and Agfachrome brand films first. These types of slides fade before Kodachrome slides, which have a much longer shelf-life and resist fading.

5. Save black and white photos Any black-and-white printed photos from the 1970s through 1980s should be restored next because they’re susceptible to degradation from being printed on RC (resin-coated) paper. Antique tintypes and daguerreotypes are actually very stable; they will last a long time. Cotton fiber prints are extremely stable, except in two cases when they should be restored. First, if the silver in the gelatin emulsion has started to oxidize, your photos may look like tarnished silverware. Or, they may have started to mold because of their organic makeup.

6. Sleeve Negatives You can purchase archival "sleeves," which are made from inert polypropylene. These sleeves are a much safer way to store your negatives for future generations. "Print File" is a readily-available archival brand that you should always look for when you’re purchasing negative sleeves. Finally, store your sleeved negatives in acid-free binders or clamshell boxes to keep them dust free.

7. Protect Polaroids Although most Polaroids are very stable, there are some early versions (like Polacolor 1) that are mounted on cardboard. If you have some of these, determine which ones are salvageable and digitize (scan) them sooner rather than later.

8. Edit again. Once you have curated and collected a first-round of your analog family photos, you should edit them a second time. Try to pare down the number of images you want to restore to include only the most important ones. Usually, the most important family photos contain loved ones or capture milestone moments from family history. Select the best pictures that singularly tell a story. Pro tip: To cull your photo collection faster, we recommend you first remove all photos that don't include people, pets, or places that are extremely important to you and your family. Let's be honest, photos of landmarks like the Statue of Liberty don't mean nearly as much if your loved ones aren't in the picture! Remove photos that are generic, or do not include a human or pet.

9. Restore and revitalize By starting the restoration process with the most valuable family photos, you ensure that you prioritize images that are important to your family history. Of course, scanning your family photos is important and makes them easy to share, but printing them on archival paper ensures their longevity. There's just something special about high-quality, tangible prints. Digital files are temporal, but a hard copy can last for generations. Since digital files are easy to accidentally delete or corrupt, you should consider backing up your digital copies on another drive or to the cloud to protect them from losses.

10. Create a photo presentation for your family After you have gone through the steps of editing, rescuing and restoring your precious family photos, create a presentation that you can share with family. Perhaps you will select an archival album with acid-free pages? Or, maybe you’ll create both a physical album and a digital slideshow. Special notes should be written on the album pages in pencil or an archival ink. Adding handwritten details of memories under the photos will create a family treasure that lasts for generations.

About the author: Rachel LaCour Niesen is the co-founder of Reminis, a photo and media digitizing studio based in Decatur. Along with her team of professional curators, Rachel is deeply committed to preserving family legacy. Reminis digitizes every client's memories by hand, using archival best practices.

Photo provided by Reminis

By Rachel LaCour Niesen, Reminis