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  • Writer's picturesean

Digitize Your Photography Collection

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

Another huge step in minimalism; dissolving all things hard copy (photo albums, prints, negatives, slides, etc...) while gaining instant access to your memories, and increasing physical storage space. 

Dang, it's tough getting rid of photo albums and all the hard copies and negatives associated with our pre-digital collection of photographs. For me, that not only included shoeboxes full of 4x6" prints, that surely came from a one-hour photo service, but loads of 35mm, 120mm (6x4.5cm), and 4x5" negatives (from grad school), plus several carousels of slides.

If you are over 50 then you know exactly what I'm talking about. You have a bookshelf lined with photo albums unless you've already moved them to the top of a closet. And somewhere in the bottom of somewhere, there is a shoebox full of 4x6" prints and the accompanying negatives. There's a good chance your parents handed down their own box of family photographs or even Kodachrome slides.

The Rationale

Here I am suggesting that it's time for the hard copies to go. A new and improved digital clone is needed to revive those images, give them life, put them back in your life. At their present location, they are out of sight, difficult to locate, in some cases forgotten, and are beginning to slowly deteriorate. A digital version replaces your hard copy, becomes instantly available, readily shared, and you always have the option of making a print, another hard copy. So, nothing lost. The bonus is you gain added storage space while preserving your cherished memories (win-win!). If you are still having separation anxiety try to see it as just adding to what already is digital. Right? Most all of our pictures since let's say 2008 were taken on a digital camera, which means we are merely adding to that digital collection. 


My strategy was to produce quality high resolution digital copies of everything I wanted to keep along with a backup version. It became the perfect opportunity to edit, organize, and archive the images for easy access and sharing with other family members. Select pictures were sorted from the shoeboxes, taken out of photo albums, and removed from picture frames. The pictures were then photographed (a picture of a picture) on a copy stand using a high resolution dslr camera shot in RAW, edited in Adobe Lightroom, and organized by year and category into a master folder. Scanning the prints is another option; although, it may take longer. I came to the assumption that I should have a print of the most important negatives; thus, it was then logical (although somewhat difficult) to dispose of both the prints and negatives. One of those rare moments in life that you ask yourself "Am I really doing this?" To put it in perspective, I had over 8 years of 4x5" negatives, 15 years of 120 medium format negatives from my photography business, 16x20" b&w prints from my thesis portfolio, boxes of other 8x10" and 11x14" prints that I printed in the darkroom, and photo albums that went back 40 years. Definitely a butterflies in the stomach moment. I might not have slept well that night. Finally, I went through over a dozen of my parents' slide carousels and chose the best memories. These were sent off and digitized by Scan Cafe' and later included in the organized folders. 

This is a DIY copy stand made from the chasis of a Beseler enlarger. Lights were purchased from B&H Photo.

Note: If you don't have access to a copy stand read the photo tips on Copy Work without a Copy Stand and I'll show you how to pull it off without one. 

Striving to be a full-on minimalist, I took digitizing hard copies a step further and produced digitals of important certificates, awards, plaques, newspaper and magazine articles, and even trophies from my youth. A few examples are Navy honorable discharge certificate, teacher of the year plaque, and college and graduate school diplomas. YES, it's difficult to dispose of these tangible objects, but trust me, it gets easier along the way. 

Back Up & Share

Time to back up and share. Now that everything is digital and organized into folders you must create a backup copy. This is crucial, mandatory, and way too obvious. My master folder lives on my hard drive so I can access those images at anytime. I created a backup copy to an external hard-drive. Sorry, but I haven't migrated to the Cloud; however, if you have then you can certainly upload your master folder to your Cloud account. Also, I gave my college-aged daughters their own external hard-drive so they can include the images from my collection as part of their personal collection. And finally, the slide scans were shared with my parents and brother as most of those were family holidays and vacations from the '70s and '80s. 


One bonus to this project is coming across old photographs that have been torn, scratched, or have water damage. And a great time to polish your PhotoShop skills or ask a friend to do some light restoration work. Here's a photograph of my dad from 1958 (six years before I was born). After doing the copy work I edited the image in Lightroom then used the Clone Stamp Tool and Spot Healing Brush in PS to remove the torn and scratched areas.


It has been several months since completing this momentous task. I can truly say there are no regrets. When someone in the family or a friend asks about a picture or recounts a special memory I can quickly and easily locate the image. A few examples. One of our classmates unexpectedly suffered a brain aneurysm and passed away in Spring 2019. Photos and memories were soon shared on social media and group pages. He had posed for a b&w photo assignment when I was in college so the image captured him as many had remembered him. Also, a Navy buddy recently posted a picture from our time in the Arctic Ocean. Bam, I browse to my Navy folder, and there rest the pictures I took in 1984 at the North Pole. It was super easy to share and add to the memory. If not for this project, those pictures would still be in a photo album or shoebox somewhere and likely would not have been shared. And finally, there is an empty space in the top of my closet - satisfying evidence of going minimal. 

1 Comment

Jan 15, 2021

We were just talking about The anxiety of giving up the hard copy. Danielle

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