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Step-by-Step Instructions for Organizing Photos

Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Photographs. Is there anything more meaningful to a family? They hold your story. They illustrate your memories.

Now, with smart phones, we can capture every moment. We take more pictures than ever before. But actually organizing the pictures and putting them into albums? That’s another story entirely. Since my first son was born, I’ve been making annual family albums. My friends all look in wonder, but then I explain to them how easy it is. I just follow a few simple steps and, while they don't get from computer to flippable album by themselves, they also don't languishing in some folder somewhere on my laptop.

Here are my tips for getting those pictures into albums:

1. Just do it.

Yes, I know there are about a billion other things you’d rather do with your time, and the list is endless. If you really want to start a tradition with family albums, you have to actually make time to do it. So commit to it. You’ll be happy you did.

2. What do you want out of it?

Decide what you want. I wanted a yearly book — all of the pictures from each calendar year. But some people only want to document family trips or other big events. My cousin does a yearly book for each of her children. Are baby books the most important? Decide how you want to organize your pictures and then go from there.

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3. Cull, delete, narrow the selection, let it go.

Yes, that pic of your tot sleeping is adorable, but are you really going to want it in your album years from now? (Trust me, I have an entire album of my son sleeping — at the time, so cute! But when he looks back on it, so creepy!!)

4. Curate your pictures.

Editing is even more important than getting the pictures into albums. If you can curate a story for the year, you’ll have a book that you want to go back to time and time again.

5. Do it more than once a year.

Sure, you can wait until December to pick out which of the year's pictures make it into the featured album. But, if you’re like me, each year you take over 10,000 pictures. (Yes, you read that correctly. My husband and I take a lot of pictures.) Waiting until November or December makes the task will seem insurmountable. But if you cull your photos on a more regular basis (I do an edit every three months), it's a lot easier. See what works best for you.

I find that it’s also easier to pick and choose right after a big event (like a holiday or a birthday party). There’s something about the immediacy that makes you say, "Yes, this was the best picture of the day."

Remember, it’s not life or death. It’s a photo album.

6. Follow the picture frame rule.

Having trouble deciding which ones are keepers? Follow this simple rule: if it's not good enough to be framed, cut it. Which images have you posted to Faceboook, sent around to family members and used as your computer wallpaper? Those are the ones that should make the book.

7. Pick your album.

Once the pictures are all selected and edited, you’re ready to go. Now it’s time to actually get them into an album. I like doing albums online. But the completed product, often a hardcover book, can be expensive. Decide whether the price is worth it to you. Search for online albums more in your price-range if you're torn. Sites like Shutterfly offer discounts throughout the year, so look out for those.

Now, you’re probably wondering: what on earth do I do with all of these photographs?

8. Do "big event" pages first.

The best way to get started is to organize the year around your biggest events. For your child’s birthday party, you may have over a 100 shots. But do you want the whole album to be just that? Probably not. (Or, if you do, you may want to create an album just for that.) Decide how many pages you want dedicated to each event and go from there. (For example, a birthday party gets two pages, a special family vacation gets three. But Halloween? It's OK to limit yourself to one. )

9. Go in chronological order.

Once you’ve got the big stuff covered, it’s a lot easier to make sense of the day-to-day photographs. Organizing your book in chronological order will make the photo album flow and tell the story of your year. Even if you do a separate album for a birthday party, chronological order will work. First, you have the pictures when guests arrive. Next, it's the food and the entertainment. End on the cake. If it’s a first birthday, all the better — that last photo can be of your little one smashing the cake and making a mess. For my yearly albums, we always end on New Year’s Eve.

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10. Have fun with it!

Most of all, this should be fun. I find my albums to be a great outlet for my creative side — making a book out of a bunch of images. Remember, it’s not life or death. It’s a photo album. So, yes, my earlier albums may not be my best. They have way too many pictures of sleeping babies, they aren’t organized with a real plan. But the point is, they’re done. And now, each year, I get better and better at it.

So, what are you waiting for? Get those pictures together and get started!

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