Will Your Photos Survive?

By Roger (22 August 2018)

While I was traveling around the last couple of months, I had a tremendous amount of time to ponder things. Lots of things, including blog topics. And, as the mind starts mashing all those topics together, you get some strange realizations.

For example, eventually, we all have to die. Maybe, that was too abrupt. I probably should have said “Spoiler Alert” first. Rather than go into a philosophical essay on the meaning of life and death, let's think about what that means to you as a photographer.

What will happen to your photographs?

You've spent a significant amount of your life (and probably money) making your art. It is an expression of you and what you're passionate about. You have captured countless milestones of your family's past. You might have some historical events. If you've sold photographs, for art or other families' events, there may be a possibility of additional sales to leave for your family.

My favorite photo from my recent trip to Ireland. Will the family keep it?

Since I play with genealogy, I've always sought out the photos and paper records of deceased family members. These can be scanned and repaired without too much effort, and I love restoring them. I've never had to negotiate with any of my relatives over possession of these important (to me) heirlooms. Either, these aren't things other family members are interested in, or they know I'll digitize them and share with anyone who is interested. (Although, very few ask for a copy.)

My great-grandfather and great-great-grandparents are in this photo.

When you pass, will your family even think about your photography? Do they know where to look? If they do, what will they find?

This subject is more important, today, than it was in earlier times. Finding shoe boxes and albums of old photographs was always a given when the family went to clean out the old folks' home. But where are your photos today? Most sit in various, unorganized folders, on computer hard drives or phones. Does your family know the password to access these? How much time are your relatives willing to dedicate to this task?

Here are some things you can do to help them with this task:

1. Organize your files! Mark and I have been harping on organization of your files for more than 10 years now, and organization is a key part of our post-processing. We've talked about it from various angles – metadata searching; finding that important photo from the past; and measuring your skill improvements. If you won't take the time to go through the effort to organize your photos, can you really expect your family to go through them? This is a darker angle, but, if the survival of your photos is important to you, here is yet one more reason to quit being lazy in your organization.

Have you added keywords and other data into your files? We often hear photographers say this is such a tedious task that they don't bother. My Lightroom catalog, currently, has more than 100,000 photos in it, and I'm adding to it almost every week. It would be a huge task to look for all the photographs of a particular person. Since I've key-worded my photos, that search is a snap. Simply find the name in the keyword list; click on it; and all the photos appear. (I also put in maiden names and geo-tag my photos, but that's a whole different layer of OCD.)

2. Talk to your family. They say you should do this regularly on all sorts of topics.... Seriously, though. Do you have a relative who is the family historian or just loves the work you do? Someone who will want to keep your photos safe. Let them know how to find your stuff. Unless you're earning major revenue from your photography, this doesn't have to be in your will. You can leave a file or letter with all the information.

I'm lucky enough to have family members who have used Lightroom, so they've got a head start. If your family doesn't understand how your photos are organized, leave that information for them, so they can look for your digital asset manager. Anybody can learn the basics of browsing with Lightroom, but nobody wants to open thousands of photo files one at a time.

3. Print your work. Another of our frequent suggestions. Print lots of small photos from family events. For your serious and artsy photos, print them the way you want them displayed. There is a distinct pleasure in thumbing through actual prints, and they can reminisce about the good old days while they pass them around.

While my future death isn't the reason I keep my photos organized, the effort I've put in will make it easier on my family to decide which files to keep and which to flush down the digital toilet. I've got almost 2Tb of photos, but all my files are in one folder; they're key-worded, with lots of added metadata. I've star-rated my photos, so they can sort by rating to see which photos I considered my best.

I hope you care enough about your photography to give it the chance to survive past your demise. It seems a shame that all the love and effort you've put into it your work should just disappear at the same time as you do.


Hey, if I haven't driven you into a serious funk, let's go make some more photographs!

The annual Worldwide Photowalk, sponsored by the Kelby Media Group is scheduled for Saturday, 6 October. This will be the ninth year Mark and I have led one of the walks, and we're headed to historic Winchester, Virginia. Our walk will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Handley Regional Library, 100 W. Piccadilly St., Winchester, 22601. There is limited free parking, but an inexpensive parking garage is only two blocks away. More details are coming, but this will be a nice, easy (flat) walk. As always, the walk is free but you must register here.

We sure hope to see you there, and I promise the discussions will be much lighter fare.

To follow me on Instagram, where I'm much more active, go to @roger_dallman.