My wife and I recently spent some time updating our estate plans, or what will happen to our “stuff” after we die. Since we don’t have children and our other family and friends all know us in different ways and for different reasons, it seemed prudent to go ahead and do a first draft of our obituaries.
I began by identifying myself as a photographer, musician and writer. Since each of these things come with different groups of friends, it’s unlikely anyone else writing my obituary would put these things in order with a proper paragraph on each.
Then we spent some time going over our wills and what we would like to see happen with our assets. I have always considered that my legacy would be my photography. I have hundreds of thousands of photographs taken over a period of more than sixty years, and I do more every day. In fact, I pick up speed because I have more creative time. I want to give my heirs an idea of what I have and a logical way to pass it on to future generations in a useful and meaningful way.
I expect every photographer has faced this question or will eventually. I was afraid that if my heirs found themselves in possession of filing cabinets full of a jumble of slides and negatives or hard drives full of digital files that they would most likely be overwhelmed and throw it all away or just put them somewhere in a unit of storage. .
The principle is that if we want something to be admired or respected, it must look like something to be admired and respected. In the case of photographic images, that means things like neat files or, even better, high-quality photo books or beautifully framed prints.
The first step is editing. My photographer friend’s advice has always been to keep only the best of the best. A hundred beautiful and powerful photographs are better than a thousand mediocre ones. If we have 10,000 images, chances are a few hundred of them will be wonderful.
The next thing is to get them in an accessible form that a casual friend or relative can quickly understand after we’re gone. Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Bridge provide plenty of possibilities for collections, sorting, renaming, and filing, but we need a plan and stick to it. Lightroom is just an index, so if the original files get misplaced, it becomes useless. Also, our great-nephew in thirty years will probably no longer have Lightroom or access to the original files. Using Bridge to sort and make copies of files in various locations, including cloud storage, increases the chances that future generations will be able to access images.
Renaming files logically is also a great idea. A filename like “DSCN0218” makes less sense than a filename like “Louvre-07-18-1”. (Location-date-frame number.) Batch renaming as possible with Adobe Bridge is wonderful for such things.
I’ve been a serious photographer for fifty-five years and only the last twenty years have been exclusively digital. This means that I have thirty-five years of photography in a wide variety of formats, from Kodachrome slides to black and white 4×5 negatives. I also have older family photos, mostly negatives, which I inherited from my parents and grandparents. Editing and digitizing those old slides and negatives can be both fun and challenging. Putting them in digital form increases the chances that they will be saved, enjoyed and passed on to future generations.
The best time to start this editing and digitizing project is ten years ago. The second best time is today.
I decided that I didn’t want to wait until I was gone to share the images, especially the old family photo files. I use a Dropbox folder for family photos that everyone close to me can access. These are sorted not only by family but also by decade. For example, there is a “1950s” folder, a “1960s” folder, and so on. Presumably, a family member will upload their favorites and can share them with their descendants.
Travel photography, fine art, and advertisements can be more difficult and open up more questions. I sold my first photography business in 1996. At that time, I classified all my negatives, transparencies and prints into commercial or personal categories. I took the personal photographs home and whatever the new owners could use went with the company. I always use this same type of sorting. Photographs intended for customers will probably not interest anyone else after a few years and could be systematically discarded over time, or at least separated on a dedicated drive that would not be considered necessary for long-term use.
Like financial investing, asset diversification seems to be key. If all my life’s work was on a single hard drive or even a single cloud storage service, I wouldn’t be getting very restful sleep. I buy a new portable hard drive every year or two and copy all my image files to the new drive, placing the old drive in a fireproof safe, labeled of course. I then save the best images to the cloud, using two different services. Also, I never delete any images from the SD camera disk. When the disk starts to get full, or if I start a new project or a new trip, I buy new flashcards and store the old ones in carefully labeled envelopes in a filing cabinet or a fireproof safe.
Probably the most important thing I do to secure my photographic legacy is to print photo books. Every road trip or vacation is not complete until the few thousand photos we make are edited to the best of our ability, usually less than a hundred, and then printed into a high quality photo book by one of the many services prints available. I currently use ZNO, but my criterion is always, who does the best job? I am always on the lookout for the best quality printers.
In addition, we produce a “Yearbook” each year. Every January we compile a book of the best photos that highlight the events of the previous year. We now have over a dozen directories. Travel photo books, yearbooks and art project books look very impressive sitting on a shelf, and I’m confident that in the future any heir, executor or suitable person would find them valuable and worthy of preserved by people important to our lives.
My will includes a paragraph that requests that a guardian or manager be appointed to manage and oversee my photography collection. This does not mean that all the photos will be saved, but rather that the designated manager can modify them or use them in the best possible way at their discretion.
No matter how many or the overall quality of our photographs, we need to think about what will happen to them after we leave – to make some kind of proper plans that will bring joy and not be a burden on the friends and family we let’s leave. behind.
Picture credits: Header photo from Depositphotos