Organizing and Displaying Your Family Photographs

Last month I hosted a mother’s night out event for North Central Parenting Group and gave a short presentation about how to organize and display your family photographs.  The women who attended gave great feedback and made it apparent that the number of images they have of their children is overwhelming and causes them stress. 
The perspective I have on this subject comes from having one son who is grown and in college and another who is two years away from leaving our home.  My children were babies before there were iphones with cameras.  In order to take pictures we had to plan to bring the camera, remember to get it out, load a roll of film in a camera and then take it to get developed which usually yielded about 10 acceptable pictures from a roll of 36.  I know it seems like it was the “olden days”, as my kids like to point out, and that we have come so far since then.  But, one positive of the old time technology of film was that we had far fewer pictures to decide how to display.  We threw away the bad ones and stuck the rest in a photo album (maybe a scrapbook with cute sayings and stickers if we were crafty).  Once every year or two we had our children professionally photographed, ordered one or two portraits (and maybe an album if they were really cute) and hung them up in our house.  Even in my home, and as a professional photographer I only have portraits of my kids from about every year or so. 
The dawn of digital has led to an extreme increase in the number of images that are produced documenting one child’s growth from newborn to adulthood.  Whether they are snapshots that parents take of their child or professional images, it is likely the number is in the thousands by the time the child reaches the age of two.  With the daily duties it takes to raise a child in today’s world (doctors appointments, parenting classes, play groups, feeding, shopping, bathing, getting them to sleep, getting them in the right music/gym/mom and tot class) this only adds to a feeling of anxiety.  What I would like to do here is give you a way to organize and display the images of your family and children, and perhaps rethink why and when you have them photographed in the first place.
First, let’s address how many of your own snapshots you take of your child.  Every time you go to a park, playgroup or the zoo, do you feel like you need to whip out your phone and document it?  What is the purpose?  Is it to share on social media?  By the way, that is just fine, but it will lead to your device being completely jammed up and more work for you in the end.  So, when should you bring out your phone or camera and document those fun, spontaneous moments so that you can remember?  I would say holidays are a good place to start.  And vacations.  And family visits. And birthdays.  But if you have 25 from each of those events you would have around 200 per year.  That is too many.  So here is a guide to get your existing snapshots organized.  Then stop taking so many from here on out.  Rather than pulling out your phone all the time, maybe just enjoy the moment.  Childhood goes quickly.
So you have a year or two or three worth of snapshots of your child or children. Where should you start?  What can you do with them? 
1.                     Get all the images off your device.  Do this once every month or so.  Download them to your computer and also save on an external hard drive because computers crash and that is sad.
2.                     Put the images in a folder labeled with whatever event it is (Halloween 2016, Johnny’s First bday, etc.). 
3.                     Work backwards so you are not overwhelmed.  Since it is only March of 2017, 2017 should be easy and not overwhelming at all.  Next do 2016 because you can complete that one and make a scrapbook.
4.                     Go through each image you have by labeled folder and delete the ones you don’t love.  Be brutal and only save a few from each event. (you don’t need 25 from Halloween, First bday maybe that many, but not every playgroup).  Go through again and delete more.  Your goal is to end up with around 60 per year. 
5.                     Once you are finished with one year, make a book.  If you have a Mac, ibook is a really simple, easy way to make a scrapbook with text.  And you simply click and order and it is delivered in about a week.  If you don’t have a Mac, get one.  Just kidding, but they really are best for consumers to organize and arrange their own images.  There are other sites where you can make scrapbooks and albums like Snapfish.  Now you have a year of images in a scrapbook and something you and your family can look through together! 
6.                     Other ideas for displaying your images that you absolutely love are: a calendar (makes a great gift for grandparents who still use paper calendars), small frames around your home, bulletin boards, digital frame, prints to be put under glass on a table in your home. 
Hopefully, that helps.  This project is not meant to be done all in one night!  And your scrapbook does not have to be a work of art or something you have seen on Pinterest.  Just do the best you can.  Work maybe an hour while the kids are napping or in the evening after bedtime a couple of times per week until you are caught up.  If you start this now and limit the number of images you take throughout the year, it will never get out of control again!  Now, onto what to do with the professional images.
If you go by what is all over Pinterest and Instagram and Facebook, it seems like in order to be a good mother, you need to have your children photographed every few months in some kind of very staged and themed set up.  Whether it is a newborn wearing a hat to make him look like a bear cub, a baby smashing their first birthday cake or kids in their Halloween costumes, Christmas outfits, with Easter bunnies, or in a lemonade stand, it seems like a child is professionally photographed at least 8 times by the time she reaches her second birthday.  What I challenge you to think about is, what is the point to all of these sessions?  Do you have a goal from each one or do you just gather these hundreds or thousands of images on your hard drive and share them on social media, maybe print a few holiday cards or birth announcements and then feel overwhelmed about how to actually showcase your favorites (if you can even decide which ones those are)?  If you are paying for all of these sessions, maybe take that money, save up and invest in excellent portraits of milestone ages (see below) and do all the other pictures yourself.
There are a couple types of professional photographers you may have encountered.  The first will help you choose the images to display and deliver final portraits and/or albums to you so all you have to do is hang them up.  That is super cool and leaves no work for you!  If that is the type of photographer you have worked with, you can skip down to where I discuss milestone ages. 
If your photographer did not help you to choose which images to print or print them for you, you have some work to do.  First, you need to decide which one or two from each milestone age to have printed.  I would suggest that you choose one larger and one smaller (one main wall portrait and one smaller, or a triptych that tells a story).  You can do a smaller desk portrait of one or two and an album with the others.  Once you have picked the couple of favorites you would like to have printed as portraits, you will need to choose the size and lab.  Remember, cheaper labs like Walmart and Costco will look cheap.  If you want to start a beautiful gallery, choose a quality lab.  Tempe Camera is a local lab that will help you to size, crop, and print the images and offers different types of fine art paper options.  I have listed contact info and other resources for this below. 
If all that work stresses you out, going forward you might want to rethink your choice of photographer from one who simply gives you the digital files and doesn’t offer any help with regard to which images to have printed and how or where to print them.  If you are like me, I don’t like to pay for a service only to have more work to do.  I would rather spend a bit more and have the professional use their professional skills and resources to help me have something of excellent quality.
Remember, your child is growing and from birth to senior portrait if you have her professionally photographed once per year, you will have 18 portraits by the time she graduates from high school.  Your goal should be to add to your gallery rather than replace precious portraits from the younger years.  So, what are the milestone ages that you should have your child photographed?  In other words, if I were not a professional photographer, what ages would I pay to have a professional photographer document my children and pay for beautiful portraits to add to my gallery? 
Here is my list of milestone ages to have your child photographed.  Obviously, space apart for development according to when you had your last session.  These can be done as a separate portrait if you have larger walls or combined with siblings to accomplish two things at once (except maybe when they are really, really impactful on their own like toddler, missing teeth and senior portraits):
1.                     Infant (0-6 months)  Some people like the brand newborn, but I prefer when the baby can actually track, is chubby and has a face that will be recognizable later in their life.  Plus, you feel a little less stressed at the session when you are not one or two weeks post partum. 
2.                     Toddler (12-36 months)  Walking around, talking and able to communicate a little and engage.  Has a variety of expressions and a developed personality.
3.                     Small Child (4-5 years) Still has a bit of a baby face.  Very well developed vocabulary and interests.  Usually preschool age before front teeth fall out.
4.                     Lost Teeth (6-7 years) One of my favorite ages and a great transitional portrait from a small child to the one with the big teeth. 
5.                     Big Kid, Tween (9-12 years) Once you have an 18 year old, these kids will look little to you.  I actually also like braces because the kids still look little while they are wearing them.
6.                     Teen (13-16 years) This is a good age because you have a kid who is still a kid but thinks and acts like they are not.  They have their own defined personalities and opinions (whether you like it or not).
7.                     Senior Portrait (17-18 years) This is the last portrait of childhood.  They are graduating high school and about to embark on their own life, away from you. 
I find it helpful to think about creating a portrait gallery that you will add to over time rather than just do willy-nilly sessions with multiple photographers who all have different styles.  For those of you who like consistency and would like a photographic style that will stand the test of time, choose a photographer whose style is more classic and will pleasing to you in the long term.  There are many trends in photography.  By definition, a trend will go out of style, so it is best to stay away from photographers whose bulk of work is made up of images that are very trendy.  For example, one trend is to severely back light a subject, obscuring the face in favor of the sun shining behind her.  Another trend is to dress up newborns in funny hats or contort them or put them in bowls or baskets or slings.  Props are also distracting.  If you want something in the image to represent your child’s age, I recommend something meaningful to you and them, like a favorite blanket, doll or book.  I tend to gravitate toward a style that will be pleasing in 50 years or would have been 50 years ago. 
            One element of creating pleasing wall displays is to frame the portraits in an elegant aesthetic that will frame and highlight the images and blend with your décor.  Professional framing can make a big difference in how finished your display looks.  Cheap framing looks cheap and can ruin the actual portraits over time.  Choose a professional frame shop (not Michael’s or Aaron Brothers) that specializes in framing art and knows conservation methods.  It does not have to be expensive and you can limit the cost by choosing frames that are smaller and less ornate. 
            In order to determine what sizes and displays would be appropriate for the professional images of your children and family, your home décor and space should be taken into account.  You don’t need to have a dedicated wall upon which to hang all of the professional images you choose to have printed as portraits.  Here are some ideas for display that I have seen and use myself: 
1.     One significant size portrait in a defined space or over a piece of furniture (sofa, console table, fireplace, entryway, between two light fixtures).
2.     Different sizes and orientations down a hallway or up a staircase.
3.     Gallery wall as a showcase wall – small or large with multiple images in different sizes and orientations in a family gathering spot. (These are the images that make you happy so you should see them often.)
4.     Casual leaning on top of a bookcase or shelving.
5.     In a bathroom – water or beach images work well here.
6.     Child’s bedroom – infant images for nursery and other happy images great in here as well.
I would also recommend having albums created from your professional images as well.  As mentioned above, you will not frame all of the images from your professional images as portraits for your walls, but having albums and books will document these sessions for you so that over time you have a great representation of your child’s growth.
In my studio, I offer the full service experience because I believe you should have beautiful, timeless images of your children and you don’t need any extra work in your busy life.  From talking with you prior to your session in order to understand your goals (or just help you define what those should be), to expertly photographing your child, to helping you choose the best images for display and where they should hang in your home, to printing your portraits in the most beautiful and archival manner, to helping you choose the frames that will best highlight your portraits, it is a full service, stress-free experience.  The only thing left for you to do is pay and hang your portraits on the wall.  I charge appropriately for what I give you but feel strongly that you definitely get what you pay for.  When you account for money that you might spend on mini sessions throughout the year, where you don’t love any images and then your time you have to spend to figure out which one to print, where to take it and the cost of printing and framing, a full service experience by an expert photographer is well worth the price.  But, if you choose to go elsewhere I will not be offended.  Everyone has different tastes and different budgets.  If you need resources to be able to print and display the images of your children, here you go:
Printing – I recommend an art paper for quality and timeless feel.  If you choose to print on a canvas, framing it will look more finished and refined. 
1.     Tempe Camera will sit down with you and help you size and choose an appropriate medium to print images, either professional or your own snaps. www.Tempecamera.biz 606 West University Drive, Tempe AZ 85281 480.966.6954
2.     Artifact Uprising – if the images are already sized and ready to go this is nice quality but no one-on-one help.  www.artifactuprising.com
3.     Cheap labs look cheap.  You get what you pay for.  Walmart and Costco offer cheap canvas wraps that will likely fade in a few years.
Albums – Create scrapbooks of your own snaps or of professional images that you are not going to hang on your wall (if photographer did not offer album).  
1.     Ibooks is a great resource if you have a mac.  You can create book and upload right from iphoto. Perfect for your own snaps.
2.     Snapfish and other online sites have album options perfect for you own snaps.
3.     Artifact Uprising – higher quality albums for professional images.  You have to do all of the layout and design work but not too complicated. www.artifactuprising.com
Framing – professional framing adds a finished element, incorporating your portraits with your hoe décor and personal style.
1.     The Art of Framing 5018 North Central Avenue 602.277.3112.  They have a wide variety of cool frames and will offer help in which ones will look best within your budget.  Choose archival mattes and uv glass for great preservation.
2.     Michael’s and Aaron Brother’s are not great.  Not archival materials and glass with chemicals.
in a hallway
same family hallway
more from this lovely family
accent wall behind couch
small hallway
in a bath
leaning on a bookcase
accent wall in a living room/entry
up a staircase
over a console table
under glass on a table

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