It’s in your pocket – the tool that helps you create some of the most valuable treasures you’ll ever own.

Photography has become one of those luxuries that we have in such excessive amounts that we forget its value. We have endless opportunities to take photos and it’s way more than we know what to do with it. The more you have of something, the less you are likely to protect, cherish or conserve it.

More is not often better.

When I was young, my mom had a point and shoot film camera. She’d buy a 24 exposure roll of film and it would last her 4-6 months, sometimes more. She’d pull it out to document small moments in our childhood: a birthday party, a picnic with friends, a trip to the beach. Weeks later, she’d roll it up, put it into that tiny cylindrical plastic container and drop it off at the drug store photo lab. A week and a few dollars later, she’d get her prints and we’d eagerly pull the stack of 4x6s out of the envelope and look through it all. It was pure joy, pure treasure, and we cherished those prints so much.

That experience of getting prints back from the lab is burned in my memory, but not more than the moments that she captured in those photos. I still get to see all of those prints whenever I flip through her giant photo albums and I’m grateful that she took the care to document life and to preserve it on paper.

But today our approach to everyday photography and documenting life has completely changed. Taking a photo is so cheap, so easy and always at arm’s reach so we do it without thinking twice. It’s lost its novelty. We’re not cherishing the technology as much, we’re not enamoured by the magic of it and we’ve become spoiled with the wealth of access to photography.

The result? Thousands upon thousands of photos in our phones. Spilling over into the cloud, onto our hard drives and scattered all over the internet in our social media accounts. We’re drowning in photos. But are we printing them and taking the time to sit down with our family to look at them?

Having limitless access to photography can be a good thing, but only if we cherish it and honour its true value and purpose.

I believe our family photos are the most valuable treasures we own. It reminds us of who we are, where we come from, how we experience life and why we love the way we love. It doesn’t take many photos to accomplish this, but it does take care and intention.

Just in the same way that my mom didn’t let the cost and inconvenience of film prevent her from creating photo albums, we shouldn’t let the excess of photographic opportunity and the taking for granted of this technology to also prevent us from making prints.

Forming good habits will do wonders for our family photos. Here’s my personal photography process:

  1. I always carry my phone on me, and I’m always prepared to document any family moment. I don’t worry if the settings aren’t perfect – all I think about is the story that is happening and making sure to capture it. (And don’t forget to include yourself in as many photos as you can!)
  2. On a regular basis, I back up my phone photos and after they’re safely stored, I delete the photos off my phone. This helps to keep my phone clutter-free and makes sure I don’t lose any photos.
  3. Every few months, I take out my professional camera and take some portraits of my kids. I also make sure to schedule an annual professional photo session of our family so that we get great photos of the four of us in a setting that is as beautiful as we can plan for it.
  4. Every January, I import all my personal iPhone photos from the previous year into a Lightroom Catalog. I also include all our professionally shot family photos. I rename all the photos with a filename formula that includes YYMMDD-originalfilenumber. That way, each photo is named by the year, month and day it was taken so that it’s always listed in chronological order on my hard drives and in online album design programs.
  5. After the photos are renamed, I cull through the entire year of photos, starting with January, and flag each photo that I want to print.
  6. Once I have all my flagged photos, I put them into a Lightroom Collection to review them. I generally want to print about 250 photos in one year, so I make sure to remove any extra photos if I have too many.
  7. Once my collection is narrowed down to my favourite 250 photos, I apply a custom develop preset on all my iPhone photos. This adds a bit of increased contrast, a bit of brightening, sharpening and noise reduction. I then go through them again to hand tweak each photo in the develop module. (If you don’t have Lightroom you can use other editing software to edit your phone photos.)
  8. Once they’re all consistently edited and ready to go, I export them as high resolution JPGs with extra sharpness to optimize for print. (Big prints should be optimized differently than small prints.)
  9. I choose an online photo album printer and upload the photos to create my layouts. I also like adding text to the album pages, to add the date and a caption on certain photos. I’ll also use my professional family photos for the cover of my photo album, since it’ll be on display on our shelf or coffee table.
  10. When the layout is done, I triple check everything (layout, design, typos, accidental duplicates, etc.). Once it’s good, I submit it for print!
  11. Next, I plan out which of my professional family photos will be printed and framed for our walls at home. Currently, I have four square frames hanging above our couch that can hold 12×12 prints. Every year I print new photos to put in those frames, and then I store away the old prints.
  12. I also like printing other photos in non-traditional printing formats to add a bit more fun to our walls. Prints mounted to foam core, peel & stick posters, floating frames, magnets or even metallic prints are all fun ways to see your professional photos come to life.

This whole process does take some time, but you will never regret the energy you spent to print a family photo album!

It’s never too late to start. If you feel overwhelmed by the backlog of photos from years past, don’t let it stop you from taking baby steps. Start with the most recent year, print that album, and the excitement of receiving it in your hands will motivate you to chip away at the previous years. Soon enough, your shelf will be filled with annual family photo albums that I promise your kids (and grandkids!) will love looking through for years to come.

Photos only grow in value the more time passes!