Organizing and Digitizing Old Photos for Graduation

photo collage

There’s nothing like your child’s senior year of high school to separate the crafty moms from the techies, and the organized from the disorganized. Every time you turn around someone’s asking you for photos — baby photos, sports photos, senior photos, life-size posters made out of your kid’s photos. Aaaack! It’s a total nightmare if you don’t have scrapbooks and photo albums, let alone digital copies. Here’s how to organize your photos and create digital copies you can use for the graduation party and beyond.

Step 1: Editing Your Photos
If you already have all your kids’ baby photos displayed in scrapbooks or photo albums, you may skip to Step 2. But if your photos are stored in shoe boxes and drawers, like mine were, you’ll need a way to organize them. Don’t worry. This isn’t as bad as it sounds. I did it in just a few hours!

  1. Purchase or create a large photo organizer/storage box. Google it. The best ones hold over a thousand photos and have dividers or index tabs inside for organizational purposes. Avoid the ones with snap-close divider boxes inside—a simple card-like filing system is easier to work with. 
  2. Decide how to organize your photos. Chronologically is the most popular option. Some people do it by major event (birthdays, vacations, etc.), or by family member. It depends on how you’ll use the photos. I sorted mine chronologically by year, and then pulled favorites from it to make an album for each child (a much easier task once they were organized by age).
  3. Label the index tabs by year, event, or whatever method you’ve chosen.
  4. Start going through your photos, saving the good ones and throwing away duplicates, out-of-focus shots, random scenic shots, and other people’s kids you can’t identify. Unless you are a professional photographer, you’ll be surprised at how few good ones you really have.
  5. As you go, identify what year each photo was taken and file it in the box. If you’re lucky, a processing date may be marked on the back. If not, a guess is good enough for now. Make a quick timeline of major happenings each year (births, school years, big events, vacations, etc.) to help you with this. Don’t worry about putting the photos in chronological order within each year. You can do that later.
  6. Remove the negatives as you go, marking them by year as well. Negatives should be stored separately, in case your photo box is ever damaged. You may decide to toss these once you have digital copies and backups.

Step 2: Digitizing Your Photos

  1. Collect the photos you want to keep forever. Go through your newly organized photo box, or pull them out of picture frames and scrapbooks if you have them. Be critical. You’re not going to need a digital copy of every vacation picture, only those that you’d be heartbroken if you lost.
  2. Get them scanned. There are two ways to do this.
    1. The easiest way is to take them to a professional photo-processing place and ask them to put them on a disk or store them online for you. Not all places will do this for you, so call ahead. Let them know how many photos you have and ask how much it will cost.
    2. The least expensive way is to scan them at home with a photo printer/scanner networked to your computer. This sounds hard, but it’s as easy as making a copy. Follow the instructions for your printer to scan and save your photos as high quality digital files. Once you get going, it takes maybe 30-45 seconds per photo. The printer will automatically save the photos into folders on your computer, which you can then import into your photo management app, such as iPhoto or Picasa. Be sure to back up your photos to an external hard drive or cloud!

That’s it. Once you’re finished you will feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Organize your photos and making digital copies makes other projects so much easier! For my son’s graduation party, I printed copies for a photo board, created a slideshow, made graduation announcements and graduation party decorations.

Good luck to you, and let me know how it goes! Our blog is a great resource for graduation ideas, graduation party ideas, photography tips and more!

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