How You Really Can Tell ALL of Your Photo Stories

There was one question people had from last week’s newsletter article that was most prominent. You remember my article about preserving your photo details and your journaling by attaching it to the photo file’s metadata?

A whole lot of you are ready to jump on board now that you know how easy it is. But this one most common question from you made me realize I can also help you save a lot of time and keep you from doing work that is totally unnecessary.

The question . . .

Do you add journaling into the metadata for all of your photos?

No! That is definitely not necessary! You really don’t need to do that.

Other questions were related —

  • When do you add your journaling?
  • Do you do it after you import your photos?
  • How do you find the time?

My System for Easy Photo-Journaling

I don’t always start working on my photos when I import them. Sometimes I do and sometimes I come back later. No matter when I do it, here is my system:

  1. Choose the photos that best tell the stories — the photos I might want to scrapbook or print.
  2. Put copies of these photos into quarterly albums.
  3. Edit and journal only the photos in my quarterly albums.
  4. Tag (or keyword) only the photos in my quarterly albums.

Choose the photos that best tell the stories.

Collage of Us

I go through my main library (which I divide by year) and look for the ones that best tell my stories. Most often these are also my favorites, but many non-faves make the cut too because they are necessary for the story.

I’ve found there is one question to ask that is key in helping me reduce the number of photos I feel I need to use (and I love my layouts more as a result). The question to ask yourself is not, “Which photos do I like or love?” There are way too many. Or the worst question, “Which photos should I not use.” We’re too attached to our photos. This will get you nowhere.

The key question is instead, “Which photos will best tell the stories?”

By asking myself this, it’s very easy to identify those photos. Usually they’re the ones that best capture the action or the emotion of real life. I don’t delete the others. I still have them in my library.

I add a star-rating (any kind of identification or rating will do) to those story-telling photos so I can see them in an instant when I’m ready for the next step.

Need more help with this? I have an article with very specific examples of what to look for when identifying good story-telling pictures — How to Choose Your Best Vacation Photos.

Put copies of these photos into quarterly albums.

I move a copy of the starred photos into a quarterly album. In Aperture it’s very easy to do this. I click on the first one in my library, then hold down the command button while I click on all the other starred photos. Next I drag them all into my quarterly album. They show up in both the yearly library project and the quarterly album.

This step is vital! It allows you to see only those photos that are most important. It saves enormous amounts of time because you’re only working with them — the ones you are most likely to use. They’re the ones your children are most likely to be interested in.

(And trust me. I’ve started receiving photos from my parents. I’m happy that they took a decent amount of photos. I’m also happy that they didn’t hand me as many photos as we tend to take these days!)

The yearly library projects where you keep all of your photos are cluttered and unattractive. They can even be stressful. But a quarterly album of just the most important story-telling photos is inspiring. It’s beautiful and it’s simple and approachable. No overwhelm happens to me when I’m in these quarterly albums because they ‘re so manageable.

My Library of 2010 Photos — (overwhelm)

My Album from July-September 2010 — (wonderfully manageable)

You can always go back into your full library and pick more photos. But do you know what I usually end up doing? Most often I eventually remove another two or three photos from my quarterly albums!

For more help with this step you can read my article — How to Inspire Thanks Through Your Photos

Edit and journal only the photos in your quarterly albums.

I only work with the photos that I actually think I’ll print or share. I definitely do not edit any of the other photos in my library. I may never use those, so why spend the time on something that is unlikely to have any benefits? Spend your time on the important things — the things that will have maximum results. Editing and journaling photos you may never use will not give you good results and will take time away from better things.

If you missed my article on how to permanently attach journaling or picture details into your photo files, here’s the link — The Most Important Word for You to Learn This Year.

Tag (or keyword) only the photos in your quarterly albums.

This is great for finding photos later, but I admit I’m not as adamant about doing this as I am about editing and journaling into the metadata of my photos. If I neglect one of the steps in this article because of a lack of time, I would rather my photos have my journaling than tags.

That said, I do tag them for the most part. Tagging is also good for long-term documentation because it identifies the facts about the photo. In the short term it makes it easy to find photos.

Tagging may seem tedious, but it’s pretty easy when you’re only tagging the pictures you’re most likely to use — the ones in your quarterly albums. Of course, it’s also very easy to find untagged photos I’m looking for with the quarterly albums because I can see all of the important photos at a glance since they’re separate from the entire library.


I hope this helps you clarify a workable system for yourself! My system makes it very easy and — even very enjoyable! In fact it has completely changed the way I think about my scrapbooking and has relieved so much guilt and anxiety when it comes to telling all the stories I want to tell. There’s no way I can scrapbook all of the stories I really want to tell.

But I can tell them all — at least to a minimal extent — because I’m jotting the stories into the photos themselves! All of my photo stories are being told! Wow! Can you imagine what that feels like? This means I can relax and just choose the stories I most feel like putting onto scrapbook pages — those I most want to spend extended time with and not worry about what doesn’t get done.

It’s a whole new world now.

  • Sharon

    Noell, I would love to know where you found the magnetic display boards that holds your layout upright as you are working on it. It is shown in the photo above. Would you mind sharing where you got this from?
    Thanks! Sharon

  • Kimberly SH Jones

    Its her “FRED” if you search on her site(left hand side) I know she has information on it there in more detail.

  • Colleen M

    Where did you get the wooden stands and magnetic boards? I need them.

  • Jana_NJ
  • Jana_NJ

    I’ve been doing metadata since I got Aperture is really a nice feature. I my album based on Stacy Julian approach not by dates just by year , like project folder : library of memories and from there albums with 4 categories. And one extra for iphone. It’s been working so far

  • Janet

    Noell, this is a fabulous article. Such a little known tip but HUGE!!!

  • TAG ONLY THE PHOTOS YOU’VE DECIDED TO USE!!! This is the best tip i’ve ever read. I’ve avoided even starting to tag my photos because it is so daunting due to my large library. I too follow Stacy’s LOM system and I am so inspired to start tagging “the Noell way”!
    thanks so much for another informative post!

  • I totally agree! (Also, I love your Y&T layout in progress — there’s something so very cool about a photo that shows you doing something you love!)

    All the best, girlfriend!

    =) Liz

  • MaryM

    Can you PLEASE give me some advise on how to deal with photos from our parents. I already have a TON of photos from my parents and now my MIL has started giving me their old photos. I’m way overwhelmed with all these physical photos. I know my first step is to sort them, but what next?

  • Absolutely! I would scan them into your computer and get them into safe
    photo albums. Scan them at about 600 dpi so you will have the freedom to
    enlarge any if you want. It doesn’t matter if you want to scan them all
    first and then put them into albums. Or if you want to get them out of your
    way into the albums first, and then go back and scan them as you have time.

    In my digital photo manager I separate the old photos into projects. There
    is a project for my own childhood from my parents’ marriage on. As I get
    more scanned, I’ll probably divide this up. I have a separate project for
    Izzy. And I am so LUCKY to have photos from my dad — baby to college! I
    keep a separate project for him, too.

    Maybe I’ll write something up some time in the future with more specifics
    and photo examples. ??? Hopefully this little bit will help you get going
    though! You are so fortunate!

  • Loved reading your post Noell, I always come away learning something new. Like most of us, we hang on to all our photos as if our lives depend on them LOL. I have yet to start up a Quarterly Album (which makes total sense). At the moment, I am sorting my photos into albums. What I have noticed is HOW MANY photos I have and how many copies there are.
    My question is:
    Do you resize you photos and if so, at what stage?

    With digital cameras, the images are huge and take up so much space. I am always wary of reducing the file size as I don’t want to loose the resolution. Most of my images are 1.4MB (3072x2304pixles)

  • Irene

    I always look forward to reading your posts Noell. I come away learning something new every time. I am in the process of sorting my photos (there are thousands) into albums. Your system of setting up Quarterly Albums is a prodigious idea and I am going to jump on board with this one.

    My question is:
    Do you resize your photos and if so, when?

    Like I mentioned, I have thousands of photos and with digital cameras, the files are HUGE. I am very hesitant when it comes to reducing the size of an image as I do not want to loose the resolution. Copying images into say the Quarterly Ablum, Work Folder etc would use up so much space.

  • Mcscraps4/Claudia

    What great tips for organizing all those photos we take. I have been using a system like this for a while now. I dump my photos off the 3 cameras I have (big DSLR, small point & shoot, and iPhone) into a monthly folder and take the ones I know I want to scrapbook into a “To Print” photo. When I get ready to send off for printing, I go through and make quick edits, upload to printer and wait for them to arrive a few days later. I definitely do not edit all photos as they come off the cameras, it would be impossible. And I have learned the difference between asking myself which photos I love and which ones tell the story. That’s such an important distinction that I hope everyone catches.

    I’m a PC girl, or rather, was a PC girl. I’ve been switching all my photos over to my new iMac and downloaded Aperture the other day when the app store had it on sale for such an awesome price. I’m trying to figure out all the ins and outs of the program and am looking forward to the tutorial you hinted to in the Paperclipping episode recently. While I have been going through the tutorials on, I just know that you’ll make it much more applicable to my intended use of the program as a scrapbooker. Can’t wait!!

  • Thank you, Aleo.

    I shoot in camera RAW and most of my photos seem to be around 25 MB! I
    always say that my most valuable tools are my camera, my computer, and my
    photo software. I invested in a good computer and maxed it out so I could
    hold all of these photos. A less expensive option, though, is to keep many
    or all of the photos on an external hard drive. I definitely believe in
    keeping the originals untouched. I never re-size (or in any way touch) the

    BUT I’m not using as much space as you might think when it comes to copies
    of photos —

    A major advantage of my software is that I don’t have to make and save
    actual copies. Aperture keeps the originals untouched. And when I work on my
    photos, what I’m seeing is a *version* of my photo as I edit it. Aperture
    saves this version as instructions, not as a separate copy. This means that
    if I start with a 25 MB photo and I make some new versions — a B&W and a
    sepia, for example — I’m still only using around 25 MB of space. Because
    those edited versions are not separate copies of my photos. They’re just
    visual representations of the editing instructions I gave the software.

    I hope I didn’t just confuse the heck out of you…


  • Yes, I’m definitely doing that tutorial and I’m really excited about it! I
    can’t wait either!

  • Michelle

    Thanks for the info about metadata….because of this, it is making my project of scanning old photos and slides from my dad’s childhood. My biggest obstacle was how to identify the photos to what is already written on the photos and slides….now I am just transferring that info to the metadata. :) BTW, I love the more frequent blogging too!

  • Thank you!

    I found the same thing when I was scanning my mom’s photos this summer!
    Wonderful, isn’t it?

  • Daylilyj

    This is a great article! I was going to e-mail Ali with this question b/c I am in AZ on vacation for two weeks and am editing literally thousands of photos on my laptop and on my external drive. I have them in albums in iphoto by the year but I was getting very frustrated with the overload of pics. Thanks Noel.
    I must add that I first became acquainted with Paperclipping when I came across your videos last year from CHA!

  • Thanks for this article. i just bought aperture at the $79.99 price and am really excited to get my photos organized on to it. It took a few hours but well worth it. And I’m looking forward to digging deeper into what the software can do.

    If you want to shake things up a bit, I think it would be cool to have Scott Bourne of on the show. In today’s post he sounds like a scrapbooker even though I doubt he is (

    Whether you get him on or not, I think it might be an interesting show to have photographers on or scrappers who are photographers and get some insights and/or tips into telling those stories in the best way possible. I know a camera is better than no camera and if all you have is your iphone then so be it. But I know there are those among us who really enjoy photography as a hobby and care about the composition and the lighting, even if on an amateur level. So it might be cool to get some photogs on the PRT or PDS.

    Just a thought.

  • Stephavela

    I have downloaded the free version of aperture and am trying it out.
    Currently I use iphoto. Now in iphoto I have been using smart folders to
    manage my photos but I find key wording a pain since you cannot list
    your keywords in a hierarchy. I was excited to see that in aperture you can
    list them in a hierarchy but now disappointed when I realized you can only
    key word one photo at a time! I feel I cannot get a break on this issue.
    Have you found an easier way to keyword or is that not very important to
    your workflow?

  • Hi, Rosann! Guess what? I’ve been wanting to do this topic for a long time!
    I’ve had some guests in mind who I thought I would ask — I wasn’t thinking
    of Scott Bourne but I’ll think on that idea some time, too. I’m afraid it
    would alter the usual tone of the episode to bring someone like him into the
    show though. ???

    Anyway, I’ll think about it! Either way, your topic suggestion is coming!

  • Great news! You can definitely keyword more than one at a time!

    I open the keyword HUD, select all my photos, and drag the keyword onto one
    of them. That’s it! I think there might be another way, too — I’ll have to
    review that, though, before I explain it.

  • Jennifer

    Brilliant! Thanks for sharing!

  • Shannan

    Great article! I have recently bought Aperture so I have spent a lot of time organising my photos in a similar way to you Noell over the past weekend. Just a quick tip – you can create a smart album that will capture your quarterly highlight photos without having to select and drag photos into it. My smart album is set to include all photos for summer (Dec-Feb here is Australia) that are 5 star rated. When I import I only need to rate my favourites with the five stars and they will automatically appear in the Smart Album. You can also duplicate smart albums and just change the date parameters so I have albums ready to go for the rest of the year by season. I am loving Aperture – thanks for the advice!

  • Yes! I tend to use Smart Albums for other purposes. I’ve done it before for
    my quarterly photos but I decided I preferred the regular album option.
    Honestly, I can’t even remember the exact reasons right now, but it may have
    had something to do with wanting to customize my choices more. Maybe next
    time I’m fooling around I’ll remember exactly why I prefer the non-smart
    albums for the quarterly ones! ;)

  • Or maybe I’ll decide I can’t come up with the reason and I’ll start using
    the smart albums for my quarterly albums as well! If you ever see me talk
    about using smart albums for this purpose, you’ll know I never did remember
    what my initial thinking was, lol!

  • love, love, love this post. great content. Great article. Hopefully a scrap mag would pick something like this up. Invaluable information for scrapbookers that I have not seen before. Bravo

  • ack. forgot to put that awesome organizing of pictures. Great idea. As a photographer, it is hard to work on the family photos after working on everyone else’s all day. I like your suggestion to copy to another folder. Great idea. Then I can do a mass print from there. Doing that upon download really helps and takes the anxiety out of the idea of combing for photos.