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by Andrea Steed

Most scrapbookers don’t immediately scrapbook every single photograph they take, which means there are double prints, prints that won’t be included in a scrapbook, or prints that are waiting to be put into a layout that need to stored somewhere.  Whether it is several decades’ worth of prints, a pile of recent photographs, a hard drive full of digital images, or a combination of these, it’s important to safely store your photographs. Then you can be assured that they will be preserved, whether they ever make it into a scrapbook album or not.  The question then is how to store them and organize them so you can find what you need when you are ready to use them.

Here are several suggestions for storage and organization in regards to your prints, negatives and digital images.

Organizing and Storing Prints

The way in which you use your photographs and the type of photographs you tend to take will help determine the best method of organizing them. What you are typically looking for when you go searching for a photograph?  Do you want to find a photograph from a specific year?  Are you looking for photographs of one particular person?  Do you tend to search for photographs from a specific event? 
The volume and origin of the photographs also will play a part in how you organize them. For instance, if you inherited several years worth of photographs from a relative, but don’t have any way to know when they were taken, you may prefer a non-chronological organization method.  On the other hand, if you are organizing photographs that you took yourself within the last couple of years, you’re more likely to want them organized in chronological order, so you can continue to add to them easily.  Below are several options for how to categorize your photographs so that you can more quickly find what you are looking for.

By date.
If you organize your photos as they are developed, chronologically may be the easiest way for you to organize them.  Simply add them to a box or album as they are developed. If you are organizing old photos using this method, divide them first by year, then by season, and then by month and date if possible. Categorizing in stages makes it much less overwhelming.

By person.
If you're creating albums for your children or are organizing old photos and want to create albums that aren't event-specific or chronological, organizing by person is another great way to sort your photos. A box for each person makes finding photos for an individual's album much easier. Once they are organized by person, you may want to sort them by date or by event to further categorize each collection of photographs.

By event or subject. A third way to organize your photos is to categorize them by event or subject. For instance, possible categories would be New Years, Birthdays, Easter, Summer, Vacation, First Day of School, Baby, etc. This method is especially helpful if you create holiday albums or like to make pages of similar subjects spanning over multiple years or dates.

Regardless of the method you use to categorize your photographs, make every effort to label them with as much information as possible.  Names, places, events, and dates are all helpful information to include with all of your photographs so you (or someone else) will be able to identify them down the road. 
The most fool-proof way to ensure that your photos will be identifiable for years to come is to write the information directly on the back of the prints.  Other labeling systems such as notebooks, index cards and envelopes will work, but are only beneficial if they are never separated from the prints themselves.  Always include the basics (name, date, and location) on the back of your photographs and you can add additional information in a corresponding notebook or on note cards if you wish.

To prevent damaging the photos as you are labeling:

  • Use a fast-drying acid-free pen or a No. 2 pencil to write directly on the back of the photographs. 
  • Avoid writing with a ballpoint pen or overly-sharp pencil because the pressure exerted as you write can create indentations in the photograph that can be seen from the front. 
  • Make sure that the ink on the back is completely dry before stacking the photographs to prevent transferring any ink onto the front of another picture.
  • Use a No. 1 or No. 2 pencil when labeling photographs printed on fiber-base paper. Most commercial photo printing is done on resin-based paper which is water-resistant.  However, archival prints and heritage photographs may have a fiber base, making them porous. Ink used on the back of fiber-base prints may bleed through and ruin the front of the photograph. 

Label your photographs as they are developed.  Once you’ve gone through a stack of photos that are several years old, you’ll realize how difficult it is to identify all of the important information.  If you label them as they are printed, and before you put them into your storage container, you’ll be thankful in the long run.
There are several options for storing prints and the method you choose will depend on how you use your photographs.  If you access them frequently to pull photographs for your scrapbooks, a box storage system will be a convenient solution.  If you’d like to be able to store your pictures in a way that is easier to browse through them, you may prefer a photo album.

Photo boxes with index dividers.
Most varieties of these inexpensive photo boxes hold several hundred 4" x 6" (and smaller) photographs and include index tab dividers to help you categorize the photographs within the box.  They also usually come with a label on the front of the box to indicate its contents.  Photo boxes are a great space-saver because they can store quite a few photos per box, and can be stacked for convenient storage.

Photo box with archival envelopes.
In addition to index tab dividers, an envelope for each event or roll of film is another convenient way to keep groupings of photographs separated from each other.  Make sure that the envelopes you use are archival quality to protect the photographs from damage.  Also, label each envelope with information about its contents.

Photo albums with labels.
If you'd prefer a more accessible way to look at your photos, archival photo albums with protective sleeves are another option. Available in all sorts of sizes and designs, many photo albums even come with space to label the photographs with a date and comments.  If you make scrapbook pages using double prints, this is a perfect way to keep a full collection of all of your photographs in an easy-to-enjoy book.
Whether you store your prints in an album or a box, remember to place them in an area of your home where they will not be damaged by sunlight or moisture.  Avoid basements and attics where the temperature can get very high or extremely low.  In addition, keep them stored away from high-traffic areas to prevent spills, curious children or pets from damaging those precious photographs.  Bookshelves, closets and cabinets are all fine options for storing your photographs.

Organizing and Storing Negatives
If you don't already keep negatives organized and stored safely, now is a good time to rethink your methods. It can save you frustration, time, and most importantly your photos.  

Negative Sleeves – Archival negative sleeves that fit into 3-ring binders are a perfect way to keep all of your negatives collected and protected.  As each roll of film is developed, slide the negatives into the next page of negative sleeves and add a small sticker label to the front of the sheet. On the label, write what the photos are of and the date that they were made.  If the roll of film covers several events, add several stickers to label each section of photographs. This way, all of your negatives will be stored in chronological order.  It only takes about five minutes to do each time a new roll is developed, and makes ordering reprints and enlargements a breeze.

Envelopes with Prints – Another convenient way to store your negatives is in archival envelopes with the prints that came from that roll of film.  If you store your prints in chronological order within photo boxes, it’s easy to add the negatives with the corresponding prints so both are available to you in the same place when you need them.

Some things to remember when handling and organizing your negatives: ...continued...

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