Smart Phones for Smart Storm Prep

It’s an understatement to say that 2017 seems to be a big year for hurricanes. September is Save Your Photos Month, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what people can do to prepare their photos for natural disasters. I’ve written a post on the SaveYourPhotos blog about how to protect your photos when you have to evacuate

Obviously, you have to take care of yourself and your family first. Make a safe plan for your pets, and so many more tasks – the mind boggles. Here’s a disaster preparedness list from Ready.Gov.

What else can your smart phone do to help?

How can your smart phone help you with storm prep? Here are a few things you may want to do to prepare for the storm, whether you’re in the center of things and evacuating, or hunkering down to ride out the heavy rains around the edges of the storm.

Take a video

Video the contents of your house, and outside improvements and landscaping. Don’t worry if it’s neat and clean.

cluttered desk

At this point, having things spread out is helpful. You want a record for insurance purposes. You can do shorter clips of each floor of your home. You might want to supplement with photos or video close ups of the serial numbers of expensive items, and any labels or marks on antique furniture, etc.

Copy and store important documents

Take photos of important insurance documents. This could be your homeowner’s, renters or auto policy, your agent’s contact info, your medical insurance cards (front and back).

And of course, your flood insurance policy if you’re lucky enough to have that. 

Easier medication refills

Take photos of important prescription medications in case you, or a loved one, need refills. Make sure the whole label is legible, which can be tricky on a curved small bottle.

Where to put your records?

Save those photos and videos to SEVERAL safe places. Don’t just leave them on your phone. Put copies:

  • On your computer
  • On a USB drive that’s wrapped in multiple layers of plastic and tucked somewhere safe (and on a higher level of the house, bring with you if you evacuate).
  • In the cloud. Use a secure cloud storage site like If you don’t have a Dropbox account, now is a really good time to get one. Affiliate link for free Dropbox account. (I get more space in my Dropbox account for each person that signs up.) It’s one of the more secure free options for storing files in the cloud.

Good luck. Stay safe, and as dry as possible.

What to include in a memory book?

One question that I hear a lot about from people who want to make memory books for dementia care is – how do you decide what to include?
Honestly, it’s usually more about what to cut. Most people have amazing collections that could fill many books. The key is to just pick a few small stories to share. You can always do another book. Because brain and eye fatigue is so much of an issue with this population, we need to keep the content VERY limited. Blurry photos are worse with blurry eyesight. Dark images can also be hard to read. Little things like this may be enough to help winnow down the huge pile of possible photos into a manageable amount (30 – 50 max per book).

Here are a five more tips on what I always look for.
1 – find a favorite picture that shows the subject smiling. It doesn’t need to be recent.

Jack swimming - one of his favorite things

2 – think about what defines them as a person. Focus on the happy things. In this sample book, Jack is swimming (and smiling). Perfect. You can fill a few pages in the book with action shots of hobbies, travel, or other important things.

Grandpa Jack Sample page 33 – Jack was an avid gardener for many years. His home had amazing gardens that he loved to maintain. But as his memory fades, he’s not as clear about when they sold their house (almost a decade ago) and moved into a retirement community. I didn’t want to include upsetting subjects, so I focused on his more recent gardening work, and the annual trip to Sherwood Gardens. We didn’t include any pictures that might trigger the “where am I and when can I go home?” conversation.

4 – Include family. You can mix eras in a page or a two page spread. For example, include photos of both (now adult) children and grandchildren. However, keep the captions clear and try not to go back and forth too often. In this case the beach is a unifying theme, and it’s the subject with two generations of children. The captions continue the larger story that was on the facing page.

Alice Beach Sample Page

5 – Only place a few pictures per page. Make it easy on the eyes to stay on the page. Keep lots of negative (white) space and big text in an easy font (I use Georgia a lot). I also increase the line spacing a bit, and use shorter paragraphs to help eyes from getting lost in the text.

Market Research for Photo Organizers

Next in our series on the business of photo organizing is the concept of market research. This is one of the most critical elements of building a small business, and keeping it thriving. It’s especially important for photo organizers, and because we’re an emerging market the information can be a little harder to come by.

What is market research?

So much data - so much confusion.

So much data – so much confusion.

Market research is the gathering of information about consumer’s needs and preferences. Put simply, it helps you discover what people want, need or believe.

Building and maintaining a viable business in today’s economy requires a basic understanding of who you’re hoping to sell your goods and services to, and why they’d want to do business with you. Knowing your market is important in spending your resources wisely. You need to identify and analyze the market need, market size and competition.

Sometimes market research is formal, with big (read: expensive) consultants and lots of data to crunch. More often, though, market research for small business people is made up of casual conversations,  and bookmarks of articles on related topics that have some sliver that applies to the photo organizing world.

In emerging markets like photo organizing, we need to pull our market research from other industries. I have gotten lots of good data from Fujifilm (and their Business Builders series)  as well as groups like PMA and Digital Imaging Reporter as well as our own APPO.

Fortunately, there are some published statistics that can easily support the need for photo organizing, and give a sense of what the market can support and where it may be headed. Here’s an article that Cathi Nelson and Lisa Kurtz authored and presented at the Sixth International Symposium on Technologies for Digital Photo Fulfillment. Fancy. Citable. And packed with useful market research tidbits.

For something more basic but still packed with useful data – I also like this infographic from Digital Photography School about the History of Photography. Is traditional photography dead? No, but it’s different. Which leads us to some of the big questions that our industry is based on: what are people doing with all those old photos, slides, etc?

The data is out there, but sometimes you have to be a bit of a detective to find it.

As a photo organizer, how do you do your market research? Please share your favorite sources in the comments section.



Business Plans for Photo Organizers – why?

So you’d like to build a photo organizing business. Great. It’s an emerging market with enormous potential, with built-in flexibility to tailor your schedule, workload, and projects in whatever way suits your current needs. Not many new businesses can offer that!

Maybe you know someone who has hung out their shingle as a photo organizer. Maybe you’ve been doing it yourself for a while before you realized it was a thing. That other people will pay you for. And a whole association of colleagues and training opportunities. Maybe you’re just looking for “what comes next” in your work life and think it might be worth exploring. What do all of those “you”s have in common? You need a plan.

Why do you need a business plan?

woman with lots of business plan thoughts in her head

Don’t get overwhelmed with the details of your business plan.

Many people think of a business plan as a big formal document. One that’s filled with lots of personal financial information and pages of budget and income/expense details. You write it under duress when you need outside funding and you dust it off whenever you need to report to your investors. In fact, it can be much simpler, and help you so much more.

Business plans serve as a framework upon which you can build your entire company. They help you to determine if your idea is viable, and help you to think through all the pieces that go into building a successful venture. Even if you never show it to a single person, the document still has great value.  You can shape your business plan in many ways.

If you are starting a business in a new or developing industry, a strong market analysis can be one of the most important parts of your plan. If you have a new way of offering a service, a competitor analysis may be more useful. Regardless, you need to demonstrate to your audience (who may not have any clue what a photo organizer does) that this is a legitimate business with massive growth potential.

I think the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis is one of the most useful exercises. You should do one for yourself, any business partners, and one for the whole company. If, like me, accounting is not your strength, outsourcing that turns your weakness into the company’s strength. Knowing you like (or hate) the administrative, or creative, or technical, parts of the business helps you focus your services and know what to keep on your own plate, and what to outsource. In today’s virtual world, it’s easier than ever to hire someone to manage your web site, social media presence, or administrative support.

Some people do need to focus on the numbers – to know when they can quit their primary job, or to attract investors who will help take your business to the next level. It’s always smart to know how many more widgets you need to sell in order to pay your bills. However, many people rely on business plans for a lot more than their financial projections. Working through each section helps you get a handle on all the different balls you’ll need to be juggling as a small business owner.

The outline of the business plan is one of the most important parts. Create a good outline, and some sections may stay in that format for a while. Emphasize the parts that are important to you. Your business plan should be an active document, one you refer back to and change/expand upon as your business develops. It will help you grow smart and keep all the small-business-balls you’re juggling that much easier to manage.

There are lots of good resources for how to write a business plan. I’ve found helpful books through Kindle Unlimited, at my local public library, and even articles online. Here are a couple just to get you started.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has lots of information. In my community, the SBTDC (Small Business Development Center) offers classes and tons of assistance. Check them out in your area. It’s a great knowledge base, and can help connect you with other local entrepreneurs. And bonus – every time I’ve taken a class with them, I meet prospective photo organizing clients.

My favorite business plan book is Anatomy of a Business Plan. It’s available at libraries, used book stores, or in e-book format. My copy is an older edition, and kind of beat up from helping me start multiple businesses in the last couple decades, but the basic concepts and structure have held up over time.

Please share your favorite resources in the comments section. Also, what resources are missing for building a photo organizing business?

Capturing the stories to go with the photo

Saving family photographs is why I became a photo organizer. But a big part of that is recording the stories that go along with the photos. Photos without context and identifiers lose a lot of their value.
Recently, we’ve been cleaning out my mother-in-law’s apartment. We came across a few more photos I hadn’t already claimed, and sadly, many of them were stuck together. We couldn’t tell if there was writing on the back identifying who was in the images, and no one was left who could tell us the stories of the photos. So into the trash they went. I’m grateful that my father-in-law was into geneaology and wrote down many of the family stories.
I’m still trying to capture the stories that go along with the photos from my side of the family. I’ve tried to do this a variety of ways. Photo books are great. Lots of room for narrative, and easy for anyone to flip through them. You can even make extra copies for siblings or cousins. I’ve also tried to capture my parents telling stories. Sometimes about a picture, like the image below.

Four generations, child is my grandfather, c 1903

Four generations, child is my grandfather, c 1903

Just looking at that image, you might think it was a little girl. Actually, it was my grandfather with his great-grandmother, mother, and grandmother when he was a few years old. He was born in 1899. It’s important to capture the names to go along with the faces, even though we have family tree(s) and Bibles that record the generations. This not only told me the fact that little boys wore dresses back then, but also gives a glimpse into austere Quaker styles in turn of the century Philadelphia.

When there’s a longer story to capture, I like to use the app Saving Memories Forever. I can organize my father’s stories, my mother’s stories, and also collect tales from my friend’s mom all in the same app. One thing I have noticed while interviewing older friends and family is that they aren’t comfortable being videoed. Their posture and storytelling can get stilted and unnatural. They also don’t know what to do when you put a fancy microphone lavaliere on them, or stick a smart phone mic in their face. However, they’re usually very comfortable talking on the phone. So for longer stories that don’t work as video, I just try to get their voice. And I use this handy tool.

bought on holiday promotion at your favorite big box store.

available at big box stores and online.

This microphone isn’t professional sound quality, but that’s OK. It looks and feels like a handset, and I’ve found that people of a certain generation are most comfortable with this kind of setup. There’s a button on the grip to start and stop the mic, so you have to watch that, but otherwise it works like a charm. Plugs right in to the jack on my iPhone, and away we go. I pick the story prompt from Saving Memories Forever, or create my own topic, and the oral history is recorded and filed away.

I hope these tips are helpful to you as we celebrate Save Your Photos Month. Having a backup plan is important, but capturing the stories that go with the pictures is a crucial first step in saving your family’s photos and legacy.


Some basic tips for Memory Books in Dementia Care

When creating a memory book, there are a few important things to keep in mind. These will make your book as enjoyable as possible.

  1. Use a large, clear font. Avoid fancy script or crazy letters. Don’t make anyone strain to read your words.
  2. Dark text on a light background is much easier to read than the reverse.
  3. Keep your backgrounds simple. Let the reader’s focus be on the photos and text.What Not To Do
  4. Have plenty of white or negative space. Give tired eyes and brains an empty place to rest on the page.
  5. Keep the book at a manageable size. Square or landscape is much easier to handle than portrait layout.
  6. Include plenty of pictures of your loved one smiling. They don’t need to be recent (they may recognize their younger self better anyway).
  7. Stick to happy or neutral subject matter. Avoid historical events or people that are likely to cause distress or agitation.
  8. Use full names and give relationships in captions. If a new person is reading the book, they need to have cues to help talk about the people, places and stories.
  9. Especially on memory care units in facilities, belongings can wander. Have the book cover be distinctive with a photo of the owner and/or their name.SampleCover
  10. Be prepared to replace lost or damaged books. Don’t use a top of the line photo book printer for this copy (you can keep that version safe at home if you want it to become a keepsake).

Memory Books for Dementia Care

Dealing with dementia is hard. For families with a loved one who has dementia – there are countless tasks, support demands, and wishes that you could be “doing more.”
My father-in-law was the family historian. He made scrapbooks of trips, even wrote a genealogy book and self-published his own memoirs well before self-publishing became a thing. When he was in the later stages of Lewy Body Syndrome, he had very limited communication skills, but it was clear there was still quite a bit going on inside his mind.

the Dickens brothers' sorted and condensed childhood in a photo book

One Thanksgiving, I took home five boxes of family photos and memorabilia (spanning 3 generations). I took the best (200 +/-)  images from when my husband and his brothers were growing up and turned that into a very full book. I then shared 5 copies with the brothers and their parents. He got great enjoyment from looking at that book while in nursing care, and later on in hospice. He loved reliving the memories, and it was a prop that made communication easier for family and hospice volunteers who came to visit him. After he passed away, some of the family told me that going back through the book was an important part of the grieving process for them.
I made other books for him, and for friends who were dealing with dementia in a family member, and learned a few important lessons along the way.

In these blog posts, I’ll share some of them with you.

What to do when your photos are stuck in a “magnetic” album

no sticky albumWe all have them. Old photo albums that conveniently held your photos in place under a protective plastic sheet. Until they didn’t. The sheets became brittle, the adhesive failed, and sometimes the photos got stuck to the page, or damaged from the chemicals in the albums. What to do now?

Supplies needed: old photo albums, cotton gloves, clean work space, new photo-safe album or other storage, photo safe pencil, Post-It notes, dental floss (unwaxed, Teflon kind is best), Flip Pal or flatbed scanner.

1. Gather all your albums of this kind together. Be careful handling them, as they may be brittle and photos may fall out.

2. Pick a starting point. You can work from oldest to newest, or save the most important one first. Others pick a “practice album” that’s less important to get confident in their photo extracting skills.

3. Remove photos from albums, keeping the order and associated captions. If you can’t write (using your photo safe pencil of course) on the back because there’s sticky album residue, attach a Post-It note to the back and write on that. Remember to wear your cotton gloves to protect the photos from the oils that are on our hands, and can cause further damage. (side note, I like using the cotton gloves as a very soft dust cloth on dirty photos – helps to clean before scanning).

4. Some photos may not come out easily. That’s where the dental floss comes in. The most important thing is, don’t force or rip the photos. But, sometimes you can wrap the floss around your two index fingers and use the taught string under a loose corner. Gently saw back and forth and slide the floss deeper under the photo. Many photos can be un-stuck this way. If it’s not going well STOP. Scan the photo on the old album page using a FlipPal scanner at 600 dpi. You may not get anything written on the back, but that’s a fair trade for salvaging the image itself.

Here’s a useful video from the Smithsonian Archive on these processes.

5. Sort the photos you wish to archive. Not all photos are necessarily keepers. Look for quality photos, or pictures that tell a good story, and scan those – keeping the captions too.

6. Because of the sticky mess on the back of the photo, I recommend scanning with a Flip Pal or flatbed scanner. These photos tend not to work well in auto-feed high speed scanners.

7. Organize your scanned photos & add metadata. After all the work you’ve put into this process, you want to make the photos easy to find in the future. That means no gibberish photo names. 1978HalloweenSpider.jpg is a lot more meaningful than 20160309001A.jpg.

8. The original printed photos need to be stored safely too. Use archival safe storage boxes (such as the APPO Legacy Box or something from Archival Methods) and put archival safe paper or glassine envelopes to separate and protect sticky backs.

9. Back up your scanned photos (along with the rest of your digital photo collection) in two additional locations, one of which should be off-site. When you’ve captured all the important information, and have your scanned photos backed up, take a deep breath and throw away the old album and any photos that weren’t worth saving.

10. Enjoy your recovered photos in a photo book, slide show, or photo gift. Share with friends and family on your favorite online site (SmugMug, Forever or Flickr are some of my favorites).

Stock Photos for Photo Organizers

PhotoSortObsoleteTechIt’s hard, when your business is photos & the stories behind them, to find just the right pictures for your marketing materials. Stock photos can be great – or terrible. Sometimes both at the same time.

Pictures of actual client’s projects are great examples, but privacy issues abound. There are only so many times I can use my own friends and family in my samples. Fortunately, my son is still at an age where he’s flattered to be used in so many projects. ExersaucerHe thinks it’s awesome when I take a project I made for someone else and substitute his pictures instead.

What’s a photo organizer to do?

To start off, I have scoured through multiple stock photography sites. I like Deposit Photos the best (so much that I became an affiliate). The have a great selection, good policies and prices. It works for me, especially when I can catch a nice sale, like this one – 15% off credits thru 5/31/14.

As for the other images – those concepts that would really make your marketing project PERFECT, I’m afraid they just don’t exist. Yet. I’m putting together a list, and some day maybe I’ll collaborate on a stock photo collection just for photo organizers. What would you like to see in that collection? Please let me know in the comments, or contact me directly if you have lots of thoughts on the subject.

Easy Photo Tips in practice

I’ve been a fan of Nick Kelsh for a few years. He was a featured speaker at our recent APPO (photo organizer) conference in Dallas. He packed all his excellent advice into one very helpful infographic.Photo Tips by Nick Kelsh


Here’s an example of his tips, taken in January 2012, when I was trying out a new prime lens, the manual setting on my dSLR and to incorporate all his advice.

Want to play along? Share your results in the comments section. I’d love to see them (and I really, really mean it).