Organizing Photos: Presentation is Only the Icing

by Sally J.

in * How to ORGANIZE Your Photos, Free Articles / Blog

Scrapbooking is a very popular hobby here in the United States. Surely you’ve seen stunning examples in your own family or group of friends. And who wouldn’t appreciate a personalized scrapbook made for them by someone they love? What a beautiful, thoughtful gift!


Scrapbook Supplies by Shimelle Laine

Scrapbookers are creative visual artists who have collectively raised the bar on what we consider a quality photo album. Huzzah for that!


But there’s a dark side to this — and it doesn’t have anything to do with preservation…

I consulted with a client once who was sort of beating herself up about scrapbooking. She had made a vow to herself to deal with her photographs before the end of the year, and the kids were back in school already.

Here’s what she said to me:

“I feel like I’ll be judged a bad mom if I don’t transform all these photos into beautiful scrapbooks.”


How on earth did this happen?

Please understand: I’ve got nothing against scrapbooking. For many people, it’s a beloved hobby. For me, it’s a nightmare. If there’s such a thing as a”crafty gene” I can assure you that mine is damaged or missing entirely. And while I can recognize and appreciate good design, I can’t seem to create it, much to my dismay. Add to that the fact that I can’t seem to trim a photo correctly or set one down on a page without it coming out crooked, and you can see why I don’t go on weekend-long scrapbooking retreats.

We owe scrapbookers a huge dept of gratitude for making so many presentation options available. Especially photo-safe options. The scrapbooking industry has literally held manufacturer’s feet to the fire and demanded acid free materials. But no one should feel guilty if they prefer to use slip-in pages and plain 3-ring binders rather than a 12 color layout with embossed letters and a lovely translucent overlay. Presentation matters, yes. But don’t let other people’s elaborate designs prevent you from organizing, archiving and sharing your photos. At the end of the day it’s the photos and the stories behind them that matter.

Organizing Photos for NON-Scrapbookers:

  • Remind yourself before you start that the presentation is the icing, not the cake itself.
  • Choose the photos you love the most. The ones that stop you in your tracks. That make you grin, or cry. Whatever. The ones that really MEAN something to you.
  • Write down the stories behind your photos – the stories that will disappear after you are no longer here to tell them. I use Denis LeDoux’s Photo Scribe method, which is designed specifically for people who are intimidated by writing. It’s one of the 5 books I recommend to every family historian, see Practical Archivist Recommends for more details.
  • Regardless of your personal style, be sure to use only PAT-passed materials. See this article of mine to learn why so-called “archival photo boxes” might not be as safe as you imagine.
  • Start with one album that chronicles you and your partner’s lives together. If you have kids, start with an album about your lives together before kids.
  • Next, you can create one for each of your kids. Skip the baby pictures if you already have an elaborate baby book with pictures.
  • After that’s done, make the “extra” scrapbooks for individual vacations, etc.

Two final thoughts:


Perfection Is the Enemy of the Good



Photo of scrapbooking supplies by Shimelle Laine
CC Some rights reserved


Sally J. January 26, 2010 at 6:44 pm

I just have to say that these are the BEST EVER comments on my blog.

To all of you who are tackling photos right now, listen up:

You can do this. I promise.

Slip-in albums are a great way to get photos out of a box and into your life. You can sit down with another person and page through lots of photos and nobody has to put on cotton gloves. Yay!

Be choosy about which photos you put into albums. Just the best ones or the ones you are most excited to share (often the same).

More important than the frills, in my opinion, is writing down the stories behind them. Why is this your favorite photo? How does it make you feel to look at it now? What would you tell the person in the photo if you could?

The rest of your photos can sit comfortably in boxes, or be distributed to family and friends. Heck, you can even toss them — but please not the ancestor photos!

Liz Haigney Lynch January 26, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Thank you!! I love the color and verve and design savvy of scrapbooking, but it takes me more time than I care to give. When it comes down to it, I’m better off just getting things organized safely. A friend of mine once told me about helping an older relative who was downsizing into a smaller home, and asking her why she was trashing a box of old photos. The response: “I have no idea who is in them, and if I don’t know, nobody knows!” Better that my photos are in a safe album and marked, and if I have time later, I’ll try to do some prettier books of vacations, etc.

Katrina January 25, 2010 at 9:03 pm

“Perfection Is the Enemy of the Good”.

This is so true. I am a perfectionist and find it hard to “create” anything because it will inevitably fail to live up to my expectations. It is a long journey to learn patience and compassion for oneself!

I just have to remember that it’s better to get 80% (or even 20%) of the way there than to get 0% of the way there because I wouldn’t accept anything less than 100%!

M. Diane Rogers January 24, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I’m with you! Some will have noticed I didn’t include scrapbooking among my ‘other’ hobbies for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun. Still someday the family will have a few scrapbooks showing things that mean something to me… I hope!

Melissa Mannon January 21, 2010 at 12:00 pm

well said!

Karen Rhodes January 21, 2010 at 7:31 am

I enjoy scrapbooking, though I have all the artistic talent of a 10-penny nail. I don’t care. My scrapbook pages are MINE, they contain my stories and my family’s stories. If someone is going to judge my scrapbooks solely on artistic merit, they aren’t looking at them. I use them to tell stories, and that’s the primary reason for their existence.

I stick to the simple. I don’t try to get all artsy-craftsy. That’s probably the best that those of us who aren’t artsy-craftsy can do! But no one should let herself (or himself) be intimidated by the over-the-top perfectionism touted in the magazines.

As we used to say in the 60s: Do your own thing.

Gini Webb January 20, 2010 at 11:11 pm

All of my photos have been sitting in a box because I have been waiting to “get” creative and scrapbook them. I love to make my own cards but scrapbooking has always been a challenge for me so I have done “nothing” with my photos because I thought they had to be scrapbooked and scrapbooked perfectly. I wish they could be but if I wait for that to happen, my photos will continue to sit in the box! Thank you so much, now I know I am not the only one who feels this way. I truly love your series on organizing photos, your help and inspiration is exactly what I needed to get started. I look forward to the next post in the series.

Anonymous January 20, 2010 at 10:55 am

Thank you, thank you! Because of this article, I’ve given myself permission to forgo the gluing, stamping, journaling, embellishing, matting of every photo I have! Seriously, the thought of all of those unfinished projects was like a cloud hanging over me! Now I’ll only scrap the really stunning moments as you suggested.

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