The fact that the analog side of my photo filing system is so lo-tech is what makes it so effective. Anyone who can read could figure out how I categorize my photos and where they're stored.
Yes, I said it: Your photos are worthless--that is, unless someone else knows they exist, is aware of their general significance, and knows where to find them. This is not something you should take for granted. Let’s start with the fact that, like so many advanced photographers, you probably shoot and process raw images. That’s all well and good for us advanced photographers. It’s not so great for the average person trying to sort through our photo archives. Most image browsers can’t even read raw files. It takes specialized software such as Lightroom, Aperture, and ACR that most people either don’t have or don’t know how to use.
Even if someone is familiar with these applications, they’re not likely to understand how you organize your files, the way you stack your layers, which files are transitional, which are final, and so on. If you assume that someone other than you will want to invest the time it takes to figure all of this out, you assume too much. And if you assume that you will always be around to do the sorting and showing yourself, well, good luck with that.
With all this in mind, here are a few tips for how to ensure that other people will have a chance to see and appreciate your work as much as you do.
#1: Export the files you care the most about as JPEGs or TIFFs.
With JPEG and TIFF files your processing choices are “baked in,” practically any image file browser will be able to read and display them, and any digital print service will be able to produce a decent print. Better yet, copy them onto a clearly labeled CD, DVD, thumb drive, or flash card. The easier is is for your best shots to be found and seen, the more likely it is to happen.
#2: Print your work.
Speaking of prints, as convenient as it is for you to store all of your images on digital media, nothing beats a modest stack of actual prints in a storage box labeled “Best Prints” or something equally obvious to make it quick and easy for others to review your work. It doesn’t make much difference whether the prints were produced at a mini-lab, a custom lab, or you yourself, as long as they are reasonably high quality and printed on stable media.
Also keep in mind that your prints can be in the form of photo albums, scrapbooks, and press-printed photo books produced by companies such as Shutterfly and MyPublisher. This is often the ideal way to present your work as a unified theme and in a particular sequence.
#3: Label your prints.
While you’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt to label the back of each print with basic information such as the approximate year you shot it, where you shot it, and who or what it is. If you’re like most mortals, you’ll only have a few dozen “best prints” or prized photos of family memories to label anyway, so it’s not a particularly difficult task.
Rather than hoard your precious prints and photobooks, freely distribute them to family and friends. Tell them enough about what it is that they understand how important it is, if only to you (although if it's significant to them too, so much the better.) It’s a lot easier for people to care for a tangible analog object than a set of computer files that add to the clutter on their hard drives. It's also easier for them to appreciate work that looks great from the get-go, as opposed to how it might look on a low-quality, uncalibrated display.
If any of this has hit home, now might be a good time to put these tips into action. The year is coming to a close and the holidays are upon us. What better time to do a retrospective of your best work for 2012? You can probably think of at least one or two people who would be delighted to receive some samples. Give Santa a call to schedule a delivery at your earliest convenience.