When was the last time you methodically sorted through your vacation photos?
And for bonus points: When was the last time you actually did something with them?
If your only answer is guilty silence, you are not alone. Many of us with cellphones and digital cameras can relate. We come home with thousands of images per year, but most of them probably won’t see the light of day beyond our computer hard drive.
Seasoned travelers and photographers can list a few reasons why we’ve become hard-wired to take so many pictures.
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“I think because we can,” thanks to 21st-century technology, says Pilar Guzmán, editor in chief of Condé Nast Traveler. Combine effortless shot-taking and seemingly limitless digital storage — “the tyranny of volume,” as Guzmán calls it — with a “look-where-I-am” approach to social media, and you’ve got an equation for trigger-happy photography.
Kristen Cleveland, a Baltimore-based travel photographer who runs Kristen Emma Photography, sees another modern fact of life that plays into our photographic indulgence.
“A lot of people don’t go on vacation much,” she says. “They feel like they have to document it.”
Organization is key to getting a handle on your photos, Cleveland says. She suggests uploading images to the same place for every trip and filing by date and location. For example, start with the year and month in numerical form — 2014-01, 2014-02, etc. Keeping the folder names consistent is important, so that you can find what you want when you want it. (You may also want to consider a cloud service, such as Flickr, DropBox or Google+ Photos for backup, selective or even primary storage.)
Once everything’s uploaded, Cleveland likes to separate the wheat from the chaff. Wait a day or two after you return, then start by taking a quick pass through the pictures, starring anything you sort of like (various programs work differently, so you may also be able to use tags or other forms of highlighting to accomplish this). Go back through the starred photos and remove the stars from ones you don’t like that much.
“By the end, you’ll usually narrow it down to about a tenth of what you had,” Cleveland says. “The more trips you go on, the better you’ll get at knowing what you want to focus on.”
Still, “you don’t want to get too delete-happy,” she says. “Sometimes it’s fun to go back and look at the entire trip.”
Guzmán recognizes the wisdom of striking while the iron is hot. “But my life is different,” the mother of two says. “I strike when I can.”
She can also admire the elaborate scrapbooks and other projects that some travelers create. But rarely can she finish or even attempt to start such complicated endeavors. The key to making vacation photo memorabilia, she says, “is to not make it this momentous, shiny, glossy, precious thing but just to do it in any form you can.”
As a middle ground, she recommends Artifact Uprising (ArtifactUprising.com). The site offers a variety of products you can customize with your photos, including prints, a wood-mounted calendar and a postcard pack. Guzmán likes the soft-bound books. “They’re disposable in a good way,” she says, and not something you’ll feel bad about pulling off the shelves — or, more accurately, watching your kids pull off the shelves.
Guzmán and Cleveland, who also works at the Washington School of Photography, emphasize getting at least some prints made of your photos. And not, Guzman says, just from your home printer.
“It’s always good to put them on Facebook to show the world, but it’s nice to have the prints in your house,” Cleveland says.
“Print is just kind of more emotional, I think,” Guzmán says.
But what to do with those prints?
Cleveland suggests a series of equal-size frames placed around your house. Every few months or so, rotate in a different set of vacation photos. Another option is a gallery wall, such as above a couch, a bed or a desk. Buy a bunch of frames, mixing and matching sizes and colors as you wish. You can periodically cycle in photos here, too.
If you like themes, the rotating frames or gallery wall might be a fun way to pull together photos from several trips. So maybe you like sunsets. Or windows speak to you. Take a similarly composed shot every time you travel, and you’ll have a nice collection.
Even less permanent than framed images is Cleveland’s Polaroid project: She bought a modern-day version of the instant camera and hangs the prints up on clothespins around her house. “It’s a cool way to shoot, and a lot of people haven’t seen” the Polaroid approach, she says.
Cleveland endorses other projects that can be completed easily with the help of a site such as Shutterfly or Snapfish. They include stationery, postcards, calendars and magnets.
Another idea of Guzmán’s isn’t limited to vacation photos, or even to photos at all She has set up Gmail accounts for her kids, and she sends them pictures, audio snippets or videos as a kind of living archive. Then they can rediscover these moments in later years.
Now that you have all these ideas for your photos? Try to rein in your shutter finger.
Guzmán says that she once saw a man go through the Sistine Chapel without ever looking up at the paintings. He viewed the ceiling through his gadget.
“I’ve sort of forced myself to not reach for my camera as often as I have in the past,” she says, even intentionally burying it in her bag. “If you don’t have the camera at the ready at all times … you’re less likely to draw.”
Cleveland agrees. Even she, a travel photographer, tries to set aside a day or a few hours in which she doesn’t use her camera.
“It’s fine to take photos at the beginning,” she says, which is advice that she repeats to students in her smartphone-photography class. What comes next: “Telling people to focus on enjoying themselves.”