What Do You Do With So Many Family Photographs?

The photographs I have from my own childhood number perhaps two dozen.

They’re currently in a bag at my mum’s house, which comes out perhaps once a year, maybe even less.

A generation later, and I know that, even with fairly ruthless editing on my part, we already have thousands of photographs of our own three children.

In fact our youngest has had more photographs taken of him already in the first nine months of his life, than I probably did in the first nine years of mine.

We have a few photos framed and around the house, maybe 20-25.

But this is a small drop in the vast ocean of the complete set we have saved and backed up on hard drives, and in the cloud.

Now and then as a family we’ll explore a set of photos from years ago on an iPad or laptop, so they’re not forgotten as soon as their saved.

But how to organise them in a way that means we regularly enjoy them, seems too mountainous a task, and too overwhelming, given the volumes. 


One idea is to carry out an annual review perhaps, and select the top 20 or even just a dozen images from that year.

Then have decent size prints (perhaps 8 x 6 inches) made of those top photos, and put them in an album for that year.

But even in a year, hundreds of images are made, and again the thought of sifting through to pick the “best” fills me with a certain dread.

So I need some advice! What do you do with your family photos? How did your parents organise and display their family photos?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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24 thoughts on “What Do You Do With So Many Family Photographs?”

  1. Hey Dan, long time reader, first time commenter. I have a four month old, my first.

    I find that good photos edit themselves. I just “know” when something is good and needs to be printed.

    As for organizing… I’m saving every single image. Even the videos from the baby monitor! It will all go to a drive or series of drives, with appropriate backup, that will belong to my daughter. I figure she might want to have those images. On the other hand, there are no images of hers on social media or out on the web. That will only happen if and when she can consent to it.

    So I guess my advice is, just relax. Let the good images speak to you and ask to be shown. Save the rest so your kids can have their AI assistant select photos for them in the year 2055.

    1. Juan, thanks for commenting your first time, I hope it’s the first of many.

      That is a good point about photos editing themselves. You can swipe through a dozen and perhaps one or two just present themselves, and make the rest look very average and forgettable.

      I do wonder what our kids will say and do when they’re say 20, 25, 30 and beyond, how many photos of themselves as children they’ll be interested in.

  2. I take a lot of pictures of my twin boys. Probably about 5 a day that I like.

    Every few days, I look on the camera and transfer the ones I like to my iPad, where if they need any editing/cropping, snapseed deals with that. Upload to Google photos is automatic from there. Google Photos is effectively my archive. If a photo is worth keeping that’s where it ends up.

    We have a Facebook Messenger group … grandparents, aunts and uncles who are always interested what the boys are up to and once the upload to Google Photos has completed, I’ll usually share them to the family messenger group. It’s really come into it’s own the past few weeks when we’ve all of us been isolating.

    Pictures that my wife and I particularly like get printed out postcard size (I have a Canon Selphy, which is convenient to use and decent quality) and go on our picture wall. When there’s no room on the picture wall they get pruned and go in an album.

    1. Hi Tony, thanks for your input. The shared family group sounds a great idea. We’ve been sharing more in the last few weeks, just via WhatsApp and email, to the immediate family we usually see weekly or more and who can’t visit currently. We don’t have a large enough family to set up a group, but I can see what a good idea it is, if you have extended family eager to see pictures of kids growing up.

      I’ve looked at a Canon Selphy a number of times too, to get the kids set up with the idea of choosing just certain photos they make, and creating a hard copy, rather than it just sitting in the camera and being forgotten.

      When we have wanted prints we’ve gone to one of those self service supermarket machines, or ordered online on Photobox for a batch. Both give more than good enough quality prints for our needs.

      The kids both had a string with tiny pegs on in their bedrooms, which they clipped their favourite photos on. They both had new beds in recent months and we had to move the strings, and I just realised we haven’t put them back up anywhere yet.

  3. It can become quite a task, Dan. The photos of my kids go straight to two hard drives and get auto-saved on Google photos too.
    I used to make (like you mentioned) annual photo albums with Blurb but it meant I had to pick the best 30/40 from hundreds and Blurb is not cheap and you constantly tend to wait for their sales so I stopped that.
    There are good suggestions in the comments above. But in my opinion, it’s obviously best to save and back them up first on few platforms and then just start picking slowly the most precious moments to print or to put in books.

    1. Thank Yuri. I have no plans to stop saving and backing up photos, just my concern is the volumes. I don’t want it to become like when a parent or close relative passes away, and the next of kin are left not only with the obvious grief of their loss, but a house packed full of stuff that the family member couldn’t bear to throw out, but is essentially worthless, and all the associated guilt in discarding stuff. I don’t want to say on a kid’s 21st birthday, “here are 17k photos we’ve taken of you so far, have a look through and see which you want to keep…” and burden them with that monumental editing process!

  4. My mom has all the family photos (and most of the negatives) in a box. She is almost ready to hand them over to me for safekeeping — and for scanning.

    I haven’t seen most of these photos. Ever. Mom always took the pictures and then squirreled the prints and negatives away into that box. We didn’t get them out and look at them. They are a time capsule and I am eager to see them.

    As for my photos of my children, I have precious few from when I was married to their mom as she has always flatly refused to share our family photos with me. She sent a few dozen prints to my mom over the years, and mom gave them to me, so those are the only photos I have of them through ages 5 and 7 — except for one roll of film I shot, which I still have. My first wife was a pro photographer and a darned good one and I ceded 99% of family photography to her.

    Since then most of my photos of my sons have been digital, and they’re all here on this hard drive (and on the backup USB drive plugged into the machine). Sometimes I get out a random year’s folder and just look. When I’m in my late 70s and my kids are middle aged I wonder if they’ll want the files.

    A few years ago I went through all the old pics and printed a Blurb book for each son of our adventures together. I hope they treasure those books.

    1. Jim, I find that quite bizarre that your mother seems to have taken so many photos, but then not shown anyone! Does she say why? I thought the main point of any family photos is to look back on them and reminisce about the times gone by, with the photos to aid your memory’s recollection of events. Does she not even look at them herself?

      Sounds like the book approach is something that’s worked for a few people. I’ll look into this more. I think I’d be curious now (in my mid 40s) to see pictures anyone had of my childhood that I hadn’t seen in years.

  5. Yup, I’m with you … we have rather a lot! What we’ve done several times which works really well is turning them into books rather than albums. They then live on the shelf in the coffee table and friends who come and visit (in the old days!!) would take a look at them without asking which was wonderful! They of course then ask questions etc so I now get to see the actual pictures far more. Had they been in an album, people I think see those as more personal and therefore don’t automatically reach for them. They’re less bulky (considerably) than albums and are not expensive (Snapfish do them). Actually it’d be a great thing to do whilst in hibernation!). Anyway, it works for me and now that you’ve mentioned it, I think I’m going to do another one … Katie

    1. Another plus one for the book idea! I think with albums I like the idea they can be updated, but in practice, once you’ve chosen a photo for an album, it’s obviously met the “well worth keeping” criteria, so isn’t likely to removed from it again, and so a book is a more practical option. And as you say, it’s more accessible somehow. Thanks Katie.

  6. One of the strange things about clearing out Dad’s house in 2018 was the huge number of missing photos, particularly the ones of the family! My sister and I went crazy trying to find images we knew must have been there somewhere – but weren’t. In the end we salvaged only a handful.
    There’s something Zen about the pictures of people long-gone vanishing as well. But I don’t like it.

    1. So Marc you don’t know what happened to the missing photos? I guess how many photos any of us have of the generations older than us is dependent not so much on whether photos were taken, but who kept and organised them, and how well.

      1. Dan, we’ve no idea what happened. There were plenty of photos in the house, just huge amounts that should have been there but weren’t. This phenomenon was not limited to pictures either; you would not believe the state of the place. 63 years and Dad just kept bringing more things in.

  7. We use the same method you describe above, creating a few albums a year that get printed, and picking a handful of photos for the wall. All of these are done online using Shutterfly and my wife has taken the helm up until this point, so I’ve been spared the nuts and bolts. Usually we make things a bit easier by creating an album just for the big trip from that year so that we can split those images off from the others, but it can be difficult to narrow it down. What has been a more long-standing tradition, starting well before we had kids, was to pick 3 to 5 of the best pictures of the year to have them framed. Our dining room wall is nearly full of images of just trips, but we are already bleeding into other rooms and have now set a hard limit of top 3 each year just because we know we won’t have the wall space down the line.
    Aside from that most of my family shots come from my phone and go straight to Google Images. I sift through them every now and again but I don’t do much with them. I doubt I ever really will put them in an album or anything special, but perhaps one day I will be retired with plenty of time on my hands and find a great project.

    1. So Andrew, with pictures on the wall, do you not take old ones down and replace them with new ones, you just keep adding more? We grew up with very few photos around, I can remember perhaps two or three in our home. But then I recall an ex girlfriend whose family home has three storeys, and the walls leading up every set of stairs were absolutely covered with family photos. They must have had well over a hundred in the house, maybe multiple hundreds.

      1. Right, we just keep adding more! I have a feeling our house is going to end up like the one you describe with photos everywhere, but that sounds pretty good to me (unless we decide to move).

  8. I repurposed an old Android tablet as a digital photo frame. I use it to cycle through my photos. Some photos jump out at me every time I see them. Those are the photos I keep and print.

    Once you have the tablet set up, it’s a zero effort way to keep track of your favourites. All you need to do is enjoy the slide show and take a note of the file name for your faves.

    1. Thanks Alex, that’s a good idea with the tablet. We have a couple of digital picture frames, only small but pretty effective. We haven’t got them out again since decorating out main living/dining room a year ago! Must dig them out.

  9. When choosing photos I gave myself a rule of 1/4 if there were multiple of the same subject.
    1. Quality
    2. A chronology of that person, 1 per age. (Months or years)
    3. Does it reflect meaning to those who weren’t there or don’t know the subject?

    Because I had so many photos, I used collage style.
    I placed 2-5 photos grouped in one frame, I was using frames we had for years, I do prefer the collage frames.

    An art rule is the eye is drawn to odds over symmetry.

    So I “collaged” 1, 3, or 5 photos depending on the frame. If there was background paper showing between photos, I counted that space toward the odd # count.

    For our comic con event- I ordered a collage pic of the event and pics. I also did one specifically of us at the event.

    The collage is for when the boys have families they can look at the whole thing to remember.

    What I found helpful overall was to remember who my audience is. To view it as a “history” book for future generations helped.

    Go through the photos from your mom’s first. This gives a great guideline bc we didn’t used to take so many pieces. It helps define the essence for record of memory.

    I have only done this 2x in 20 years & the 2nd time was a few months aGo lol.

    This doesn’t count the album’s which I did collage style bc I don’t want to have 500 albums lol. I did one per child, 1 couple, 1 family. And 1 me.
    I also got together all the family recipes, scanned and made into a book. If it wasn’t for me, all that would be lost.
    It’s important to me to have history we can touch and hold.

    Anyway some ideas for what it’s worth

    1. Thanks for the ideas. The way you were talking through the steps, like it was a military operation you did every couple of months… Then you said you’ve only done it twice in two decades! How do you remember what you did last time?

      When you say collage, do you mean one frame where smaller photos are arranged and overlap each other, to fill the whole space in the frame? Or one of those frames that have multiple apertures for pictures within a larger frame?

  10. I create a folder by year called “Family 20xx” where I put the best pictures from that year. I’m a couple years behind now… I do save all pictures on a backup but this makes it easier to just look at some pictures from a certain year or period in my kids lives.

    1. I have similar folders each year, then subfolders either by month, or by specific events, like dance competitions, or birthdays, or holidays, or whatever. But they still remain huge each year. In some ways actually I prefer using my Google Photos stream in the last few years I’ve had, as you get the whole set of uploaded photos in chronological order and can either scroll the timeline to a specific date, or just browse randomly. We have three kids, and we often think about what one of the younger two are doing right now, then scroll through Google Photos to find pictures of one of the older ones when they were about the same age.

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