The Perfect Photo Gift Is Hiding In Your Pocket (Or Attic)

Sometimes, finding the perfect gift for someone is easy. You just know what would elicit a smile, simplify their life, or otherwise go down in the gift-giving hall of fame. Whether it pops into your head in the shower one morning, or you stumble across it at the store, the most incredible gift idea often has a way of just showing up and, if you’ll pardon the pun, presenting itself. 

But the quest for the perfect gift is not always so simple. And when it’s hard, it’s really hard. What do you get for the woman who has everything? Or the guy you barely know? Sure, everybody could use socks. And candles smell nice. You certainly can’t go wrong with a gift card. But otherwise, you’re stumped. 

You may be in a frantic, last-minute gift-shopping frenzy, but it’s important not to screw this up. Studies show that not only does giving the right gift help strengthen interpersonal bonds, but missing the mark can actually have a negative effect on your relationship with the recipient. Give your vegan Aunt Peg a gift card from the local butcher shop, and she many not only re-gift it, but she’ll go out of her way to avoid you at the next family reunion. 

A more generic gift might get the job done, but it misses the true magic of gift-giving: Tugging at their heart strings. Striking the right chord. Totally nailing it. However you word it, it’s the act of giving somebody a gift that shows you actually care about them. It’s a gift that says, “They get me.”

That’s why photographs make such excellent gifts. Not just any photos, either. We’re talking about images that capture truly special memories, places, pets, and people – photos that really mean something to the recipient. If you can find just the right photo, print it out in a beautiful, easily-displayable format, and wrap it up for someone, the end result is practically guaranteed to elicit a smile – if not tears of joy. 

Finding the perfect photo is no easy task. For best friends and close relatives, you may have a massive trove of imagery at your fingertips. For others, you may have to go on a photo-hunting safari. Either way, there is an art to digging up the hidden gems that make the most ideal, heartstring-tugging, smile-sparking photo gifts. Sound tricky? This guide is here to help. 

Dig Through Your Analog Photo Archives 

Hiding somewhere in your house is a treasure trove of memories. It might be in the attic, deep inside the basement, or shoved in some closet that has become the catch-all storage spot for an array of random objects. Or maybe this analog photo collection -– be it in an old photo album, in a shoebox, or stored in some other fashion – is tucked away at a family member’s house. Either way, it is your duty as a thoughtful gift-giver to go track those photos down, sit down, and sift through them.

In today’s digital, smartphone-dominated world, we’re used to seeing photos pop up on social media – sometimes for just 15 seconds before disappearing forever – and in various digital places. We almost forget about the older, analog images shot on film that we used send away to get processed and printed. These photo prints are a ripe source of one might call “hidden gems” – the forgotten, sometimes unconventional, and always meaningful images that capture the places, memories, and people that mean the most.

Some of these photos are breathtaking. Others may be of a lower compositional quality, but boy are they hilarious! Outtakes from Christmas morning. The informal family photo in the yard that nails the “Stranger Things” 1980s aesthetic. The beach vacation blooper shots. The deeper you dig, the more of these gems you’re likely to uncover.

Once you’ve collected a few must-share photo gems from the archives, you’re going to want to digitize them so they can be re-printed in a size and format that will give new life to a slowly fading memory. Here’s a handy guide to scanning your photo prints into a computer or smart device at a high, print-friendly resolution.

35mm film slides are ideal for scanning and printing as holiday gifts.

…Especially Those Photo Slides

If you a have a box of mysterious-looking white-bordered plastic squares tucked away in the closet, you’re in luck. These archaic little items are 35mm film slides, and for some reason they were once popular among photographers. Back in the 1960s through the 1980s, photographers would shoot images on this special type of film, which was then turned into small square disks that could be viewed on a special projector. As fun as this pre-Neflix family entertainment ritual may sound, it didn’t last long – you’ll be lucky if you can find a functioning slide projector at a thrift store these days.

While photo slides may seem archaic, they can actually be a gold mine of hidden gems for photo gifts. Because the format had such a limited run in popularity and the slides require a projector or similar light source to view them, these are images that most of us likely haven’t looked at in years. If you happen upon an old box filled with photo slides, take the time to sit down and go through them. It may feel tedious to hold each individual slide up to a lamp or other light source, but chances are that you – and the recipient of the resulting photo print – will be glad you did. If you don’t have the means to scan the photos at home (this requires a special kind of scanner), you can always ship them off to a service like Legacybox to do it for you.

Mine Your Phone’s Camera Roll (And Other Digital Archives)

For the last decade or so, most of our photos have been taken on what is undoubtedly the world’s most convenient camera: The one built into the smartphones we carry around in our pockets. But while our phones make it dead simple to take a snapshot, video, or panorama at any instant, going back and retrieving those images takes a little more time and effort. This is especially true as the number of photos – not to mention other digital distractions – increase over time. It’s worth taking the time to scroll back through your phone’s camera roll and tap through older images that might make great prints.

Think of this upward scroll like digging through a physical closet – the deeper you go, the more likely you are to uncover a hidden gem that you had forgotten about. To make things easier, more recent smartphones automatically build individual digital photo albums based on location, subject matter and time frame. This makes it easier to navigate the sea of photos stored on your phone – and even spot a collection of multiple images that would look great on the wall together.

While you’re in photo scavenger hunt mode, it’s worth poking around in any computers or external hard drives where digital photos have been piling up. While most of us know where to retrieve obvious photo print fodder like wedding day photos and professional shots taken at special occasions, our digital storage devices also have a tendency to house less obvious, potentially even forgotten images that deserve to be printed and displayed.

Candid group shots from summer vacation. Adorable outtakes of the family pet looking precious. Epic landscape photos from last year’s road trip. Even the now-hilarious photo bomb that nobody realized was happening at the time. Who knows what priceless images are lurking in the digital depths of those devices? Hunting through an old external hard drive photos may not sound like the most thrilling weekend activity, but the hidden gems it can yield – not to mention the smiles – will make the endeavor well worth it.

About The Author

John Paul Titlow

John Paul Titlow is a freelance journalist and content strategist focused on culture, creativity, photography, music, and more. He is also an analog photographer, drummer, and proud cat dad. You can find him on Instagram and read more of his writing here.

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