Drown in family photos? Professional photo managers share tips on sorting large collections

Taking pictures is easy, but organizing the tens of thousands that accumulate over a lifetime is anything but.

Professional photo managers know it: they make a living sorting, scanning, renaming, restoring, organizing and turning family photo treasures into tidy collections and albums.

As Albertans make lofty New Year’s resolutions to organize their photo collections, Karen Murdock, a photo manager in St. Albert who manages Treasured Photo Collections, expects January and February to be the slowest months. of his year.

“What happens is they think they can do it on their own and they’ll start trying to organize their photos on their own and work with them and then they’ll call us.” , she said.

“It’s like when you go to an art gallery and look at the paintings and say, ‘Oh, I could do this painting, that looks easy. “It’s not that easy,” said Carmen Carvajal, part-time cinematographer who runs Forever Neat Organizing in Edmonton.

Both photo managers claim that organizing large collections of family photos takes time but is ultimately rewarding whether you do it yourself or hire a professional.

‘I was overwhelmed’

With the help of Karen Murdock, Barbara Galbraith of Edmonton threw away four trash bags full of family photos and created photo books to show the highlights in the lives of those close to her.

“I was overwhelmed and didn’t even know how to start this process,” Galbraith said.

Barbara Galbraith holds a photo book that photography manager Karen Murdock helped her produce. (Scott Neufeld / CBC)

“She makes it fun and we laugh and talk about the good old days, when bottled milk was delivered,” Galbraith said.

Murdock prefers to work alongside clients, which she has been doing for decades. Prior to becoming a Photo Manager, she worked in the funeral industry for over 20 years, helping grieving families organize and present photos for memorial services.

Some clients prefer to give him the reins, leaving jars of disorganized photos in his office.

Middle-aged women and petite seniors make up the majority of customers for Carvajal, who discovered the industry after finding a bag of unlabeled photos of her parents and trying to better organize her own collection.

Carmen Carvajal organizes photo collections at her home in South Edmonton. (Carmen Carvajal)

Carvajal said photo managers have an eye for photography and can assess the aesthetic merits of photos without getting bogged down in the memories they conjure up.

“There are some things that we see that the client might not see and we are able to advise which is the best photo to keep,” she said.

Mysteries and discoveries

One of the favorite parts of Murdock’s job is identifying unfamiliar people and places.

She can date photos based on hairstyles and once identified three unknown boys by researching the photography studio where a photo was taken and cross-checking it with a family’s family tree.

Amid hundreds of dog portraits, dull sunsets and duplicates, photo managers sometimes stumble upon surprises, like photos of historical figures or images that are not intended for their eyes.

“A photo was in an envelope and I didn’t know why, and I opened the envelope, took a look at the photo, closed it and returned it to them discreetly so as not to embarrass my customer, ”Murdock said. .

Murdock and Carvajal both belong to an international industry association that shares a set of best practices and a code of ethics.

Organize 101

Having professionally curated photos isn’t cheap or fast – Murdock charges anywhere from $ 52 to $ 72 an hour and some of his projects can take up to a year.

Both photo managers have tips on how to organize a large collection on your own.

Carvajal recommends backing up digital photos, sorting recent photos first, and setting a goal for a project, such as a family member’s birthday.

Photo manager Carmen Carvajal sorts the photos from a trip to Turkey. (Carmen Carvajal)

Photo managers use a letter system for sorting: A for album-worthy photos, B for the best, C for the trash, and S for photos that tell a story.

Murdock suggests breaking up large projects into manageable chunks, having a designated workstation, and using archival safe writing instruments.

She plans to host a free three-hour workshop with a local nonprofit on preserving photo collections on January 17.

“Because everyone deserves to have photos and stories curated,” she said.

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