Last year, as part of my ongoing effort to minimize the amount of stuff I have to store, I started sorting through my collection of 35mm prints and scanning as many as possible.
Digitizing your collection is a worthwhile undertaking for several reasons.
First, it saves space. You can fit thousands of high-res images on a thumb drive; 4×6 prints of those same images could take up an entire closet. Second, it allows you to keep an off-site backup of your memories so you won’t lose your cherished family photos in the event of a flood, fire, or other disaster. Third, and maybe most importantly, it gives you an excuse to sift through your personal history.
Here are a few of the memories I found while I was going through my collection of prints from trips I’ve taken on Route 66:
My rules of thumb for sorting old photos:
1. Keep all your negatives. They don’t take up that much space, and you never know who might want to see them in the future. Even the shots you aren’t especially proud of could prove useful to a historian two or three decades from now.
2. Scan as much as you can. Even the mediocre stuff. Digital files are much easier to search than boxes of negatives if, for instance, somebody needs to know the color of the neon at Jobe’s Drive-In or the type of shingles on the roof of the Bagdad Cafe in 2001.
3. Keep one print of the shots you’re really proud of. Sometimes it’s nice to look at actual prints.
4. Share pictures that might be meaningful to somebody else. While I was sorting photos last spring, I put together several little packets of prints to send to friends. One packet featured images of a friend and his late wife working on a couple of projects they’d spearheaded years ago. Our friend later told me he’d really appreciated seeing those photos and remembering happy times we’d all spent together.
5. Organize as you go. This means using memorable filenames and saving things in folders that make sense instead of just letting your scanner call them “scan001” and save them to some random default folder you may or may not be able to find later.
P.S.: The top image is of El Rancho on Route 66 in Gallup, New Mexico. I think I shot that in 2002.