Photo Synthesis


As soon as you hit click on that camera, it’s as if you’ve outsourced your memory. Anytime we kind of count on these external memory devices, we’re taking away from the kind of mental cognitive processing that might help us actually remember that stuff on our own.” – Dr. Linda Henkel, cognitive psychologist

It’s official. Smartphones are now the most popular cameras. Gone are the days when we needed to remind ourselves to bring the camera along. It is now simply always at our fingertips. We are also no longer restricted to rolls of film and a preset amount of frames. We now accumulate thousands, if not tens of thousands of photo images every year. But how often do we think about archiving all these photos? For most, the idea of sorting through this digital burden seems overwhelming, and so we tend to procrastinate.

How to Get Started

Although it is understandably hard to part with any of our photographic treasures, refusing to make choices and keeping everything amounts to nothing less than an uncontrollable mess. If you’re not sure where to start on your own images,  imagine how future generations who will inherit them will feel. Odds are, the bigger the mess, the bigger the chance your images will just be ignored or trashed.

Editing for Now – and the Future

If you’ve ever had the experience of sifting through the photographic memories of dearly departed ones, you’ve come across this harsh truth: no one is ever going to want ALL your photos. That’s why, as discussed in our previous post, it’s important to think about your intent WHILE you are taking the photos.

To help you cut through your photo clutter resulting in a manageable archive, i.e. a meaningful collection,  we propose the following suggestions.

© Jessy Hodge

© Jessy Hodge


(Do the following in camera/phone whenever possible. This will save you a lot of screen time later).

1) Delete (or throw out, in the case of hard copies) the worst images. These include: blurry, dark and blown out images as well as those of the back of people’s heads.  If you can’t decide: toss it. Indecision IS the decision when it comes to photos.

2) Eliminate duplicates. When you have a series, chose the best of the best and delete the rest. There is NO NEED for 15 photos of a bouquet toss at your niece’s wedding. Pick the one that resonates the most with you, and then send the rest to the trashcan.

Sentimental Editing

If you’re editing printed photos, AGE and SCARCITY are the number one priorities to consider. The older and more rare the image, the more sentimental value it holds. Therefore, it is highly advised that it be preserved using archival quality methods as well as storing it digitally and backing it up. You can however, offer what remains to family members and close friends, or share your own digital copy.

When you start your editing process, try and be objective. If these pictures belonged to your Uncle Ron, which ones would you most likely want to keep?

1)   People photos: Eliminate photos of buildings, landscapes and unidentified people. Let’s face it, unless people you backpacked with 40 years ago became life-long friends, your grandchildren won’t want photos of people they don’t know.

Remember our rule of thumb: When in doubt, toss it out.

2)   Sentimentality: Help out your heirs by editing your collection down to your favorites. They will never be able to guess which photos are the most meaningful if they have to sort through tens of thousands.

3)   Bonus points: The real treasure lies in passing on WHY these were your favorites. Dating and annotating digital files, writing notes on printed photos or tagging albums will increase the value of your images for years to come.

Final Thoughts

If you absolutely cannot bear to throw any images away, realize that someone will. If you STILL can’t get over it make two piles: EDITED and EVERYTHING. That way at least you’ve identified which ones of your collection are truly meaningful ones. After you have your two piles, make a third one, MEMOIRS, using images from your EDITED pile. This will be an even smaller collection that helps tell your full life story. Too many, and you run the risk of your family losing interest in your selection.

The reason for preserving your photos for generations to come is to enable family members, present and future, to get to know and understand you better. Dusting off boxes and/or external hard drives that hold pictures and memories is difficult for most to do. Get and keep your collection under control with ongoing editing.  I promise you will experience more satisfaction and joy by perusing your well-edited collection of photos with your loved ones. And just remember, keep smiling!

Our next blog post will explore different mediums in which to preserve your collection as an archive and share it.