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Make sure your photos have a future, Part 1 (03/02/2008)
By Tom Hirsch

Let's say you've taken a two-week trip to Hawaii and shot five rolls of film with your 35mm or APS camera, or 300 pictures with your digital camera but only kept 95 of them. Anyway, you have lots of images. Okay, when you turn in your film or memory card for processing, you fill out the envelope at the counter. Remember this: Have them make an index print. If there is a place to order this on the envelope, check it. If there isn't, ask them at the counter to have an index print made. If they don't offer this service, take your film or memory card down the street to another lab. The index print will have a small image, or "thumbnail," of each picture

Now, if you're like most of us, the first thing you want to do when you pick up your pictures from the processor is to look through them quickly, and then show them to family and friends so they can see the great shots you took. But that's not what you should do. You want to avoid the possibility of getting the prints out of sequence, so resist the temptation to open the package of pictures right away.

When you get home, place the stack of prints on a table. By the way, if you shot 35mm or APS film, you should have numbered the envelopes sequentially. It makes it easier to keep them sequential, though, if each roll of film were numbered with felt-tipped pen as it was shot.

Now matching the photos with the thumbnail prints is a snap. The corresponding picture number will be found on the edge or bottom of each small image on the index print.

With a number 2 or other soft-lead pencil, or a ball-point pen if a pencil won't work, very lightly mark the back of each picture with its corresponding set and negative number. For consistency, I would mark the prints in the upper left-hand corner. In the numbering sequence, the first print of the first roll would be marked 1-1, the second print would be 1-2 etc., and the first two prints of the second roll would be 2-1 and 2-2. With digital, numbering would be sequential, beginning with 1.

Some photo finishers automatically number each print in a set. If that's the case, all that you film photographers would have to do at this point is write in the roll number on each print.

After all the prints in each set have been numbered, you're ready for the hard part. It pains me to even think about it: cull. Go through each set of prints and pull out the ones that don't live up to your expectations. Be ruthless. If a print is fuzzy, pull it. If it duplicates another print but is inferior to it in composition or other ways, yank it. If the print doesn't show what you intended and has no other redeeming qualities, get rid of it.

After you have removed all the prints you feel you should, set those pictures aside for a few days. You might want to reconsider some of them, but try not to be too sentimental. After examining both the keepers and the discard pile one more time, throw the culled photos away. That way they will be out of your mind, and you won't be tempted to return them to the pile of good prints.

Next, you'll want to identify all the keepers of that particular experience with a label. For example, if the pictures were from a trip to Canada in August of 2007, identify them as such. To make it easy on yourself, use abbreviations. For example, if you shot 35mm or APS film, the first picture of the first roll of film might be given the label Can. 8-07 1-1. This would identify the event, the roll, and the frame. If you use a digital camera, the label might simply be Can. 8-07 1.

Once you have matched each photo with its corresponding index print image, culled out the pictures to be discarded and labeled the ones to be kept, what do you do with the keepers? Good question. Will they be shown to friends and relatives and then returned to their original envelopes, never to be seen again? Should you put them in a shoe box and store them in a closet for safekeeping? Is it best to place them in albums so you can take them out and look at them from time to time? These questions will need to be addressed. And, if you shoot 35mm or APS, what about the negatives? How should they be stored for safekeeping?

The proper and safe storage of pictures and negatives is practically a science in itself. Suggestions for this topic will be covered in the next two columns.



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