How I Curated and Digitized My Photo Collection

It was almost a year ago that I began the photo project. I decided to store all of my photos digitally and toss many of the print copies. The space occupied by the volumes of photo albums was too much for me to handle. As usual, I thought this would be a two-week job; after two weeks, I thought it would take a few months; after a few months I lost interest for a while; and a year later I am finished. I have never been so happy to complete a project in my entire life!

Here is what I started with:

Boxes, albums, and stacks of photographs
The bulk of my photo collection

There were photo albums, boxes of photos, and envelopes of photos in the media cabinet, the front closet, the bedroom closet, under the bed, and in the kitchen junk drawer. In other words, they were everywhere!

I decided to keep some of the photo albums as they were. These are albums from specific trips that are organized and contained, and I wanted to keep print copies of all of them. My trips to Italy, Costa Rica, and the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque are among those that were untouched. However, I was able to empty and donate a whopping 12 photo albums!

12 empty photo albums
These albums were emptied and donated
Photos in stacks according to year
Many, but not all, of the photos to be digitized

You’re probably wondering what took so long, right? Why didn’t I throw these photos in a box and drive them to the photo store and have them scanned, right? Because I had over 3,000 photos to be scanned. Because Costco charges $1 per photo, Target charges .99 cents per photo, and a local Mom and Pop charges .49 cents per photo. I was not about to pay $1,500-$3,000 to store a bunch of snapshots.

So, yours truly started taking photos of the photos with her iPhone. Snapping 3,000 photos normally wouldn’t take that long, but, of course I couldn’t just leave it at that (and some of it I learned as I went). Here is how the process looked in its final form:

  • Sort all photos into piles by year, tossing the truly trash pics that I didn’t need to keep in any format. That took it from roughly 3,100 to roughly 3,000.
  • Photograph each picture with my iPhone. Yep, all 3,000!
  • Edit each photo. Nearly all of them needed to be rotated, cropped, and lightened.
  • Copy edited, digital photos from MacBook to external drive.
  • Rename each photo on the external drive to include the date of the photo, e.g. 2015-04-13 01 followed by 2015-04-13 02, and so on.
  • After the photos were renamed on the external drive, copy to a back-up external drive and then delete from the iPhone and MacBook.

Now you know what took so long. Sheesh! I admit, I lost interest last summer and did most of the work over the winter when the weather was too cold to go out anyway. All total, it probably could have been done in four to six months had I stuck to it a few nights per week. But who wants to do that? I’m more of an “admire the finished product” kind of girl rather than a “hunker down and get it done” kind of girl. Ha!

But, speaking of finished product, here it is:

Eight photo albums and three small black boxes
The glorious after shot

I have eight photo albums and three small boxes. The boxes contain photos from the 1940s with tabs dividing them by year. I tossed a lot of the prints knowing I now have them digitally, but kept prints that are old or have sentimental value. It was around 2010 that I stopped having photos printed, and those are digital already, so all I need to do is transfer them to the external drives.

My only cost for this project was $200 on the external drives. I bought two Seagate 2T drives from Amazon, and have made them mirror images of each other. If one crashes, I still have all of my photos on the other. I’m still nervous about throwing everything in cloud storage, so the external drives are perfect for me.


This was a lot of work, but I like knowing where all of my photos are, having them backed up on external drives, and having cleared some space under the bed, in the closet, and in the junk drawer. You know me…I’ll sleep better with that extra space under the bed!

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