I have been capturing photos of my kids for 12 years, but aside from a print here or there, I have just sort of hoarded all the photos on a couple of hard drives that I updated a few times a year.
Basically, I am a digital photography hoarder. And just like any type of hoarding, it affected my quality of life. Knowing how many photos I already had to sort through made me start taking fewer and fewer new photos. Soon I was only getting the camera out for very special occasions. Luckily, smartphone cameras have gotten very good or I would not have had many photos of my kids at all from the last half a decade.
Last year I got divorced, and we are still trying to figure out what to do with all these joint digital files. So when our county enacted a “Stay at Home” order and I realized how much time we’d be spending indoors, I decided to deal with this problem once and for all — and to enlist my kids to help.
The other main goal I had was to get the kids to create their own baby books. It is a real shame we never had time to do this, but now that my kids are 10 and 12, I thought they would enjoy doing this as a project and that it would be a nice gift for their mom and grandmothers this Mother’s Day.
Getting Their Perspective
Before I get into how we tackled this project, I want to talk about how this project felt to the kids and for me. My son told me he felt a little like it was a really important job. He felt like an adult having been allowed so much autonomy on deciding what went into his book. He enjoyed seeing photos from a time he does not remember. He also liked seeing his cousins and just how much they have all changed since they were babies.
My daughter, being the oldest, felt like it was harder as there were so many more photos of her to sort through. She remembers the previous house we were living in, and especially her brother as a baby, so it was a little more fun for her to see details and attach them to memories. Neither felt it strange or sad to look at photos of before the divorce.
I was relieved to get these photos onto the cloud and to know that there will be physical copies of these photo books in multiple locations. I was surprised at how quickly the kids were able to pare down the photos. I have trouble picking my favorite out of 80 photos taken during a shoot of the same thing.
It is very hard to pick favorite photos of your own kids. And while I knew their mom or I would have picked different photos, the reality was that we had over a decade to do this project and never found the time for it. So I was fine giving up that control. I think it would have been extremely frustrating for my kids to be micromanaged.
I was working on my own work projects while the kids chose their photos and it brought me great joy to hear some of the side conversations about the playhouse they forgot about, the old dogs we used to have, and the color of their bedrooms in our first house.
I am really looking forward to the conversations we will have when we are holding on to these photo books in a few weeks.
The Project Steps
Here are the steps I took to get my files organized and get my kids working on this project:
Collect all the photos in one place
I think any first step in something like this is the hardest. I started looking at photo software to help me tag and organize my photos. It hit me that now that I am divorced, it would be nice if I could share these albums with my kids’ mom and her family, and to go ahead and back up everything to the cloud as well.
Since I was already using Google Photos to back up my iPhone, I decided to upload all these files there as well. The beauty of this is that I can upload all the different formats to one place and Google offers unlimited storage. Images are downsampled to a slightly smaller JPG, but it is still plenty big for printing. Google has a Mac app called Backup and Sync which runs in the background, allowing for much faster uploads. It also allowed me to designate the folder where I kept all my photos.
I had 14 years worth of RAW photo files (more than 16,000!), so it did take a few days to upload everything. I also used a helper app called Amphetamine that kept my computer from going to sleep so it could continue working all night.
Let the kids start reviewing
I created an album in Google Photos for each of my children and added the first few days of their life to the albums. Then I made a checklist for each of them and talked to them about what made a good photo. I showed them how to search month by month and add photos to their albums.
Here are some of the things I included in the checklist for my eldest:
- Search and select shots from each month that:
- Have you in them (can have others, but MUST have you in them).
- Are shots that you like.
- Make sure you try to:
- Pick more than what you would like to use (several options) and we can narrow the list together.
- Look at them closely to make sure they are in focus (or we can do that in the next step if you pick lots of them).
It took them about six hours each (spread out over a few days) to get all the photos they liked into their albums.
I was able to get some work done during this time, but had to be available to help when confusing photos of cousins and playdates came up and they were not sure who they were looking at. I had them err on the side of including too many in their albums, so we could sort through the photos together during the next step.
Edit down the albums and correct the photos
I worked on reviewing the photos with my kids and whittling them down to just the best 100 — 150. It would have been excruciating for me to pick which my favorites were, but my kids cut aggressively. With a clenched mouth I tried very hard to coach them into making good choices.
I asked them things like: “How will it make you feel to one day show this photo to your boyfriend/girlfriend?” or “Do you think that is a natural expression or do you just like that it is a silly face?” or “What photos do you think will make your mom or grandmothers the most happy to see?”
Once we got the photos down to a decent number, I applied auto-correction to the photos that needed it. This took many hours over a couple of nights but once I was done I was able to download all of the photos.
Place the final photos into photo books
Because Google has a limitation of 100 photos for their photo books, I decided to utilize a different service. I would suggest looking for a service that allows you to create templates for the pages as it gives you more control of the layout.
Many services offer direct import from Google Photos so you can import an entire album and keep the order of your photos. This was ideal as I decided to arrange the books in chronological order, with two exceptions. The first and last photos were specific photos my kids and I chose together, and hold special meaning.
Order the books (and glass prints)
Once I ordered the books, I decided to go back and find a few of my own favorites to make a wall of glass prints on the mostly-barren walls of my apartment. I wanted to treat myself and show the kids that this project was appreciated by me as well. I will be waiting for the right moment to order these, but here is one of my current favorites.
I am glad these projects have finally been completed. This also served as good bonding time and a chance for me to connect with my kids. A chance to teach my son what good composition in photography meant. To get my daughter to pick more than just a silly face, but to think about how this was a document of who she was as a baby.
I look forward to finding other creative projects like this that I can do with my kids. Working on these books is a memory I will cherish, and I know their mom and grandmothers will enjoy receiving the books for Mother’s Day.