Photo service websites such as Shutterfly, Snapfish and Blurb let you arrange photos on everything from albums to Facebook cover photo collages, mugs to dishtowels. If you’re re-creating Grandma’s preserves for the family’s holiday gifts, you even can create custom jam jar labels at VistaPrint.
The possibilities can make any family photo enthusiast’s heart race. But the single biggest mistake most people make when starting a digital photo project is to jump right into creating, without taking time to plan.
Which Family Photo Should I Use?
First, organize your ideas with our free Photo Project Board worksheet download, excerpted from my book How to Archive Family Photos (Family Tree Books). The same download has our Online Photo Service Comparison worksheet to help you decide which service to use. You also can check reviews of photo sites at Digital-Printing-Reviews.
Create a Picture Perfect Routine
You’ll also want to develop a routine for executing a project. Feel free to borrow mine, refining each step as needed. Include photo backup and archiving to preserve your original files:
1. Review images with a project in mind, looking for likely candidates to include. I may flag images for a second look, or put copies in a separate folder to review (keeping the original photos where they were filed).
2. Complete a Photo Project Planning Board with the project and potential photos in mind. This helps me identify gaps in available photos and starts me thinking about design, fonts and colors.
3. Create a separate folder as a holding zone for copies of project photos (if I haven’t already done so) and name it for the project, for example, “Recipe Cards.” This folder gets backed up as part of my daily computer backup routine.
4. Find any photos or documents that aren’t already digitized, and scan or photograph them (read on for tips to do this). I put the digitized copies in my folder for the project.
5. Choose the online service for the project, referring to the Project Planning Board
6. Create the project. This is the fun part! It’s easy to upload my photos to the project when they’re all in one place.
7. Download the finished file of the completed project if that’s an option. I archive it on an external hard drive.
Prep Your Photos
Most photo services give you tools for minor photo editing, such as cropping and converting color images to sepia or black and white. For best results, though, I prep my photos before I upload them by doing the following:
Get a Good Digital Image
Use a scanner, smartphone camera or digital camera to digitize any photo prints or documents. Scanning is a good choice for images that may need detailed restoration or editing with photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
Smartphones equipped with scanning apps such as TurboScan (Android, iOS), Genius Scan (Android, iOS, Win Phone) and CamScanner (Android, iOS) let you quickly digitize photos and documents, even if you’re at Grandma’s house. These apps crop, de-skew and adjust lighting for best results to create sharp digital images of heirloom photos and documents. If possible, output the image as a JPG; otherwise, you can choose the PDF option and convert it to JPG on your computer.
When taking pictures with your smartphone or digital camera, always use the maximum resolution available on your camera, turn the flash off and position yourself to take advantage of good natural light. For the sharpest photos, use a tripod and remote shutter release.
Give image files in your project folder new, simple names. If you have many, number them in the order you plan to use them for the project: recipe01, recipe02, and so on. Call your cover image something like recipe-cover.
It can be frustrating when your project is humming along and you get a warning that a photo’s resolution is too low for printing. If the perfect photo is too small to and re-scanning isn’t an option, consider creative a solution such as reducing the size and using it as an inset image for a larger photo or combining it with other images to create a collage. You also could try making it transparent and using it as a background.
Also choose photos with aesthetics in mind. One of the easiest ways to pull-together a great collage or group of images is by selecting images featuring similar colors or style. Group snapshots of people wearing bright primary colors, or formal photos with relatives all dressed up.
Odd-duck photos can stick out like the proverbial sore thumb in a group of pictures. For example, one old black-and-white image will be the focus if it’s surrounded with 1980s color snapshots. Give each photo the same attention by converting the color images to black and white (most photo services let you do this within the project), or by saving the old photo to use on a separate album page.
This means your graduation portrait belongs to the professional photographer who captured it, and reunion snapshots are the property of Uncle Richard, the gathering’s unofficial photographer. Before using a photo taken by someone other than you, get permission from that person. In addition to staying on the right side of the law, you’ll preserve family relationships. Read more in “Copyright and the Old Family Photo” on The Legal Genealogist Blog.