Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A professional organizer sounds off about family portraits

I come from a family that would get a family portrait just about every year by a professional photographer.   A few of them were in matching outfits and some of them were in very nice natural settings.  I give a lot of credit to that photographer and his wife for their skill in wrangling smiles out of all seven of us kids all at once.

My dad would order a large 2’ x 2’ photo print of our family each year to put on the wall in the hall leading down to the master bedroom.  (Okay, I don’t know the actual dimensions, but I know they were large.)  The older we got, the more fun it was to meander down the hall and look at all the family pictures to see how we had changed over time.  When we brought dates home, they were similarly enthralled with the picture wall.

Cut to one year ago when I’m helping my mom go through all her parents’ belongings at her parents’ house to try to decide what to keep.  Her mother (Barbara) is still alive, but now staying with my mom, across the country from Barbara’s house.  Gma Barbara can’t care for her house anymore and will likely never return to it.  In the process of looking for letters, important documents, home movies, photo albums, journals, and so on, my mother finds a large framed black-and-white portrait photograph of her grandfather (my great-grandfather McKnight).  It’s 2’ x 1.5’.  She decides to keep it. 

So my professional organizer mind started thinking about this picture of my GGpa McKnight and I realized what a hassle large family portraits can become over time.  Is GGpa McKnight’s portrait something my mom wants to hang on the wall, or is his picture going to go in a box somewhere?  And if on the wall, why such a large portrait for only one man?  Where is the rest of the family?  From a family history perspective, you want a portrait in a small form so you can copy and share it.  Large portraits in frames make it hard to do that if they are larger than a normal-sized flatbed scanner.

Then I started thinking about all the large family portraits on the picture wall.  What happens to them when my parents die?  They will probably be split among my siblings and I.  But let’s face it; it’s going to be hard for us to choose our favorite picture.   And do I imagine that we’ll settle perfectly on our own choice without some squabbling?  No, it will be a difficult negotiation process.  Looking through the sequence makes them all the more interesting, so I imagine that deep down we’d all like a copy of all the pictures, but none of us will have room at home for them all.   In this kind of situation, family portraits become much more useful if they can be shrunk down to 8’’ x 10” size and put in page protectors in a family history binder or photo album.

This is when I realized that if family portraits had been printed that size (or smaller) in the first place, we would not have this issue to begin with.  

I have clients who store a stack of large framed family portraits of older generations or divorced family because there is no room to hang them on the wall or they are from too long ago, but they can’t get rid of them because it is family history and they can’t find any smaller way to store them.

So here’s my opinion of large framed family portraits:
·      They’re a waste of space
·      They make it hard to pass family pictures on to the next generation because of the difficulty of storing them and sharing them.
·      They’re too big to scan in a normal scanner

In contrast, 8” x 10” family pictures are ideal.
·      They are big enough to frame and put on a wall.
·      They are small enough for the next generation to remove from the frame and put in a scrapbook.
·      They are small enough to put in a flatbed scanner, digitize, and share widely.

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Carin said...

I agree with passing on large portraits...what to do? In thinking about it from my end, we have taken digital photos of the larger framed photos and then we can digitally store them on the computer and reprint them as needed/wanted for things like funeral programs, or portrait pages for scrapbooks.

As we have nine children, and I love the family portraits over time, and soon we will be starting to add spouses and grandchildren to the mix...the thought of all of those portraits and what to do with them!! Scary...but I love the digital solution! And with the expense of professional photography, we have found that we usually can find a close friend who has a photography hobby and get just as nice photos without the expense for the sitting or the printing :-) Win, win!

Thanks for your thoughts!

Michaela Stephens said...

Carin, excellent idea to take digital pictures of the large portraits. That's a much more portable form that can be duplicated and shared widely, especially if one shares family history online! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!