Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society talks with photo organizer Adam Pratt. Pratt talks about photo organization, workflow, benefits of camera scans, and much more. Pratt also talks about his new book, Declutter Your Photo Life, offering a straightforward step-by-step workflow to bring users complete control and creating a calming order out of your photo chaos. Pratt is the owner of Chaos To Memories, a photo organizing business based in Wheaton, IL.Mediaclip
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Erin Manning 0:00
The Dead Pixels Society podcast is brought to you by Mediaclip, Advertek Printing and Gotphoto. And welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. Here's your host, Gary Pageau.
Gary Pageau 0:19
Hello again, and welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast. I'm your host, Gary Pageau. And today we're joined by Adam Pratt, and author and founder of chaos to memories. He's a professional photo organizer, software trainer, and photographer. Hi, Adam. How are you today?
Adam Pratt 0:37
Hey, Gary, thank you. And I've been looking forward to this.
Gary Pageau 0:40
So Adam was talk a little bit about, before we get into the photo organizing piece of the interview, let's talk a little bit about your story that got you to this point, photo organizing isn't normally a career path that there's talked about in college or anything like that. So what's your story in photography? How did you get here?
Adam Pratt 0:59
Yeah, great question. It is a unique work. And it does have a story behind it. So if we rewind many, many years, and when I was an elementary school, I had older family members, our uncle who was professional photographer, and he taught me how to shoot like for real, and with an SLR and film and rolling my own film and developing my own film in the bathroom and all of that. So I grew up around photography and always loved it was, you know, stayed in the photography world. And then fast forward about 21 years ago was when we had our first child, we've got four kids, and I don't think there's anybody a snap happy in the world as a parent of toddlers, right? So. And that was actually the same time that there was the transition from analog to digital and like in the early 2000s. And so I just kind of went nuts. And then I realized I kind of had a problem on my hands with all of these photos. And so it was really out of necessity that I started curating and organizing my own photos in the digital realm. I loved it. And then I looked back, and I like thought, wow, our family has about 100 years of generational photos, what do I do with those. So I figured that out. And then I thought, you know, I can't be the only guy who wants all of his photos safe and shareable and searchable. And so that's kind of where it started.
Gary Pageau 2:27
And you also spent some time at Adobe,
Adam Pratt 2:30
I did, I spent a lot of time at Adobe, I got to I've got a photography and a design background and joined Adobe, also in the early 2000s, something maybe the year 2000, and actually spent 22 years there, and it was a great place. I believe in the company. I love the products. Even though I left Adobe the spring, we still use all of the Adobe products in our studio, but had a great run and was excited to do something new on my own.
Gary Pageau 2:59
Chaos to memories is a great name for what it is because I don't know anybody who doesn't acknowledge that they've got a photo problem, an organizational problem. So how long have you been doing that as a business? Yeah, so
Adam Pratt 3:15
I tackled our own family photos about 10 years ago. And then about five years ago, I thought, that's when I had that epiphany. There's gotta be other people who want this. So it was just about five years ago that I started casting memories. We incorporated here in the state of Illinois, where we live and work. And I started taking on clients, and it has grown, the business has grown, the client list has grown and my team has grown since then. So we're coming up on five years.
Gary Pageau 3:41
And I want to talk a little bit about the book from Rocky notice the publisher, and the book is called declutter your photo life, curating, preserving, organizing, sharing your photos. Now, who is this for? Is this for a beginner for an intermediate person or more advanced photo organizing? Devo Tei,
Adam Pratt 4:03
without being cheeky, I think there's somebody something in there for everyone. And every author says that cover I know, I know. But, you know, on one level, it's a high level workflow overview. So even if you're a beginner, and you're not sure where to start, you're gonna get a bunch of kind of best practices, you're gonna learn about basic things like resolution and formats and how to organize just some like high level framework stuff that can save you a lot of like research and hassle and kind of dead ends. And yet, even friends of mine, who are, you know, that run similar businesses were kind of in the same circles, I'm getting great feedback from them who are reading the book, and they are finding some practical details about like, for example, how we use Lightroom to curate, when when people frankly, take too many photos like how do you get through that efficiently, right? How do you how do you deduplicate How do you curate How do you do some of this when when the numbers are just overwhelming. They do it efficiently. So. So that's why, you know, I do think there's some helpful material there, regardless of where you're coming from.
Gary Pageau 5:09
So let's say I was in my local photo retailer, and I'm just browsing the bookshelves and I see this book. And maybe I've just had my picture scanned. At this wreath donated, they given me they give me a DVD or a flash drive or a hard drive or a cloud key or something. Can I use this book to help me get through that process? I think that's one of the challenges people have after the scanning process is none of those scans have the right date. And there's really no metadata attached to them. Right. So where would you suggest people start?
Adam Pratt 5:45
Yeah, that's a great question. So the one of the most challenging client projects that I've taken on is exactly what you talked about. It was somebody who had a large collection of printed photos, she knew she was smart enough to know that it was better to scan the negatives. The problem was she separated all out separated out the negatives, but didn't have a system for matching them back to the prints. So in the end, she had 12,000, prints 12,000 unmatched negatives, and then 12,000 scans, right. And then she came to me and was like, and she had actually had the scans done. And she came to me like four years later, and she admitted she had never looked at the scans. Right? It was just too Oh, what do you do with 12,000 Just crazy scans. And nothing you She didn't even look at them, it was too overwhelming. So we helped her merge all that back together and do the things that you're talking about where we go back and we look at the envelopes and say, okay, based on this receipt, or this postmark or the date stamp on the print something like that, we try to get clues. And we redact those things, and we retain them digitally. So when you look at a file, you know, you look at a photo with like, high tube socks, you know that that's 1985 Those are coming back well could be right. Right fashion cyclical. I know, I know. But But you look at those clues and and the book covers things like redating those things. So they actually make sense not just to you but to future generations. And then also adding embedded, searchable keywords of key things like people, events and places. So you can find a chair, you know what you're looking for?
Gary Pageau 7:23
Speaking of key words, let's say someone, I've seen people go crazy with keywords. Right? And does that really help? I mean, what is the optimal number of keywords for let's say, just a family snapshot? Obviously, key people, their names are important. But what else might be important? Like, is a generic term like vacation helpful? Or does it have to be like Grand Canyon vacation?
Adam Pratt 7:48
Yeah, it's a great question. So I've got two ideas there. One is I remind people all the time, including my own staff, who can sometimes get a little like gung ho about the key wording that we do, I remind them, the key words are for the people, right? Like, we don't want to be slaves to the keywords. And the example I use all the time, like if there's a beach ball, at the beach, in the photo, and it's really important to you like it's a great memory, then you should tag that. But if it's just a beach ball, and you don't care, and you're never going to search for it, then don't bother tagging it, right. It's just, it's just not worth it. So it's important that we put ourselves in the shoes of our clients and say what matters to you. And we do that as with every new project, we learn the people, the places, the places you live, the places you go on vacation, you know, things like that are helpful. Because it's all about searching. And it's and it's about searching, because it's about sharing. So if you can find the photos and the memories you care about, share them. That's the goal. The other principle that I would give is, if you're tackling this project yourself, or you're doing it for others, we talk about working from general to specific. So a simple example is let's say you go on vacation to Hawaii, you could take keyword those vacation, and I'll walk and Hawaii real quickly, like, you know, all 500 photos in like two seconds, super easy. And you do those in batch, right? We're not doing this one at a time. But then if a subset of those photos were at the beach, then you take those subset and tag those beach. So you can really add some useful keywords to large numbers of images by doing it in batch. And it's pretty quick. And then it's up to you to decide how specific do you get right.
Gary Pageau 9:30
So what proportion of your business your work is scanned stuff and are you doing the scanning or do you have an outline for that or how I mean, I'm just curious because it seems to me like there's a market for organizing people's current digital catalog or photo catalog. But you know, the the goldmine is the trillions of images that are stuck in shoe boxes somewhere. That's right. What specifically do you offer?
Adam Pratt 9:57
Yeah, so we like the variety of the work we do. So we do a little bit of everything. So that includes digital organization of all the stuff on the devices and phones and clouds. We scan photos, we do all of this in house, we do really high end archival scanning of prints, slides, negatives, everything
Gary Pageau 10:16
goes on. What are you just gotten? I'm just curious, where
Adam Pratt 10:18
do you Yes, so that rig, it's a camera scan rig, we've got a kit, we've got canon five DSLRs Okay, and 100 millimeter macro lenses. So you've got nice flat field of view, one to one reproduction, 50 plus megapixel snapshots, even for four by sixes, we do, which I know sounds a little crazy. But if you compare the results we're getting out of that with either a flatbed which is really slow, or even like the the autofeed scanners, you know, like Kodak used to make them now Epson does, brother has one, the color is not great. And I'm maybe I'm a little bit of a snob with like my Adobe and photography background. But like, like I challenge you to show me a black that's actually black. That's not like magenta or purple? Or, you know, the sensors are not great. So we would
Gary Pageau 11:09
actually do you have to do at least an auto feeder or something. Are you just dropping those down? 10,000 lectures at a time?
Adam Pratt 11:15
Yeah, so the people on the podcasts can't see this, but I'm twiddling my fingers. The auto feeders are our hands. We do it all by hand. And my philosophy about this having done my own photos is, this is a big project. It's an important project. I only want to do it once. So let's just do it. Right. You know what I mean? Like, let's do it right. And here's the other thing that I found very honestly, is the scanning is when you're doing a big project, the scanning is actually only kind of a small part of it. The pulling everything out of albums and boxes and envelopes resequencing cleaning, read, you know, read boxing and new envelopes, that actually takes a lot more time than the scanning. So the little bit you might save, like on an auto feed scanner of mediocre quality, like in the big picture. It's really nothing. I'd rather do it right. And, and just do it once.
Gary Pageau 12:06
That's pretty impressive, because I'm just thinking how I don't want to think about how long it takes to do 10,000 pictures that way. But yeah, we have clients who will pay for that. So that's awesome.
Adam Pratt 12:16
Yeah, well, and the other thing that's cool about cameras scanning that we love, and this is why it's the only method we use, and we we offer a great course on it is that it works for everything. So literally in the studio this week, we have scanned, large format, negatives, 35 millimeter, slides, prints, I scanned a 24 by 36 inch print. And then last week I scanned handwritten letters. This is kind of crazy from May of 1863. These are family letters from the frontline of the Civil War, okay, and so the ability to do all of those different kinds of media, in one little two by two foot footprint on a copy stand, that flexibility is helpful for us, and could be really helpful for your listeners who were like, hey, I want to maybe I want to offer scanning, maybe I want to have like a little bit more flexibility. But I don't want to have like five pieces of equipment, right? A big scanner, a slide scanner, a flatbed fed, like it kind of gets crazy. The sheetfed
Gary Pageau 13:13
fast scanners is kind of what started the industry. But you know, there's also like, he's like codecs, I'm making them anymore, right. And I would say the Epson word, it's a great product, it is more consumer grade, it's not what I would call professional, you can get a decent scan out of it, but you know, it's gonna jam and have some issues there. So yeah, that's
Adam Pratt 13:31
the trick. I mean, I've spent a lot of my life in marketing. So I understand marketing. And you can say like, yeah, so we can do X 100 an hour. But that, you know, doesn't necessarily include the fact that you got to stop and clean it every 100, right. So all of a sudden, you're like, massive throughput isn't as massive. And so, yeah, we do have some tricks and techniques that make it a little bit faster on the camera rig. And again, I'm just aiming for quality. So. So that's, that's where we go.
Gary Pageau 13:59
And because of your background with Adobe, you're kind of wed to the Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Cloud products, right? Is that is that kind of what you recommend?
Adam Pratt 14:10
It is? And you know, I guess I'm going there for a couple reasons, one familiarity, I've grown up on these apps for decades. But the other big reason we use them is they're supportive standards. Because I realize, I mean, you and I have been around these worlds stuff comes and goes, right, like cloud services come and go apps come and go. So we're really big proponents of open standards. So you know, industry standard metadata industry, standard file formats. So if you change your phone or change your web hosting company or somebody goes out of business, you still have all your stuff. You're not tied in any one company. So it's really important to us.
Gary Pageau 14:49
Is your business, national or local. They're in Illinois. I mean, how do you get clients? Yeah, for that piece because it sounds like you have a staff and most of the photo organizers it No don't have steps they've got themselves and maybe a spouse or something involved.
Adam Pratt 15:04
Yeah, we, it depends on how you count. We are a local business, we work our studios in the Chicago suburbs. But actually just currently, I was just looking at our, our internal systems. We currently have 27 clients in house coming from seven states and three countries. So people are finding us all over. We don't do any advertising. Maybe we won't one day, but we're so busy without it that people are finding us really from word of mouth and the reputation of the work we do. And everything happens on site. So we do all the scanning we do actually, I don't know if I mentioned it, but we also do a lot of video conversion. So we support over 30 formats of video conversion film real conversion audio tapes, you know all that kind of stuff. Wow, that's
Gary Pageau 15:49
a whole nother no you can't do those on a on a Canon DSLR so
Adam Pratt 15:54
we have a we have a museum where the collection of old electronics keeping those things alive is one of our biggest challenges but you just see cassette adapters are like gold these days. You know it? Yeah, and we go we go back even before that we do Betamax super Betamax U Matic, we do all the old stuff. So we enjoy that. But But yeah, so we do it all on site here in Chicago, about half of our clients are around Chicago, and half of them around the country and a few international that, that find us and trust us to do good work exists, please.
Gary Pageau 16:26
That's the other piece that I think I mean, there's nothing wrong, I guess with the send away services. I got a lot of friends who are in that businesses. But it seems to be like sort of presenting it like photo organizing. There is that I don't trust the Postal Service. I don't trust FedEx. I don't trust USPS. Sure. So I think that is an advantage to a lot of businesses to make a make Hey of that.
Adam Pratt 16:46
Yeah. Yeah, it's interesting, because I tell clients all the time, I just had a client call this morning with a new client. We're in the Midwest, she's out east. And I we talked about her shipping or materials. And I said, Listen, there is a risk to you sending that to us. We're going to send it FedEx, here's some tips and tricks and best practices for shipping it. I said there is a risk in shipping that there's also a risk in doing nothing with it for another 20 years. You know, like like when she says My mom has to wait 20 years, we cleaned up the house. We haven't done anything with it yet. Right? Like there's some inertia there. And we want to help people with that. So yeah, we would just rather than get it done, and I say all the time. So we it's me right now. And I have a staff of six. And I say all the time, I don't want to run a factory, right? Like I know about the huge big box online ship and they've got you know, 5000 VCRs kind of a setup. We don't want to do that we really enjoy the work. But we also enjoy the relationships with our clients. We just had a client pick up this morning, like she cried when she saw her parents wedding photos. We hugged when she left like she loves what we do. And so I want to do great work, but I don't want to lose that relationship.
Gary Pageau 17:59
So what is how do you deliver the scans? Like is it like is it you know, harddrive DVD flash drive combination? Both the journey? Do you offer any like photo books or printing of anything? Or?
Adam Pratt 18:11
Yeah, great questions. So we do a couple things. So kind of on a smaller project we would deliver on a thumb drive. And we normally try to give them one or two, like as a backup or give this to your sister or your kid or something like that. We don't deliver on DVD. Because unless you're really meticulous and you're using like the gold and discs, they don't last very long. They can be toast really fast. So we so we don't do any optical media, all thumb drives. And then if it's a bigger project, like on Friday, we're delivering a pretty large project scanning and video conversion project to a local client. And those will go on hard drives. And so we'll have a you know, a main drive a backup, and then they'll actually have an off site that they'll like keep it the office or in the safety deposit box in the bank. Again, bigger project. So we delivered that digitally. Most of our clients, we offer to set up a SmugMug account for them. A lot of people are familiar with that. But what we love about SmugMug is it's unlimited storage. It's cloud based, it's super affordable, and it supports all the standards that we support, like file formats and searchable metadata. So if they're like out to lunch or on vacation, and they want to share their perfectly like curated searchable photos, they don't have to have a laptop and a hard drive. Right. They need a phone, a tablet, a smart TV, a web browser, they can access everything, anywhere they anywhere they're at. So that's pretty cool. So that's like the digital delivery. And then as you alluded to, we do physical products as well. So we love to design photo books, got some prints arriving today for another local client of his ancestors that we scanned and retouched. So we love to give curated archives, but there's nothing like getting it back in your home in your office. Smile was like, that's the magic. That's my favorite thing to deliver is like a nice canvas or a metal print or, or a book. We I
Gary Pageau 20:09
do think that's one of the things I think maybe people miss the connection on when they do the services, they focus on. Maybe the scanning side, but not the organization side or the organization side, not the output side, or, you know that. And I think that it's interesting how you tried to manage, you've managed to connect the dots in those areas.
Adam Pratt 20:27
Yeah, well, I think I think you're right, I completely agree with you. I think there's like three phases to this from a business perspective, if you want to do this, well, if all you're doing is scanning, I think, you know, frankly, you're making about a third of the money. Like, because that's a third of it. The I know a lot of folks who would scan and just turn it back, and I'm like, Wait, you're not done yet. packet. redated make it searchable, you know, getting five or 10,000, scans backs, like or even 200. Like it's just overwhelming. So I think the organization is the second leg. And then I think the third leg that honestly has been kind of a weak spot for us that we're getting better at is the physical products, prints, Canvas, metals, acrylics, beautiful books, all of that stuff. And, and nobody's going to brag or show anybody else a hard drive. Or a thumb drive does not look like a hard drive
Gary Pageau 21:16
of memories who, right.
Adam Pratt 21:19
But you we just delivered a client project with a beautiful book for his family dating back to the late 1800s. It's, it's, it's stunning. Like him his mother, they just loved it like that's where the magic is, you got to do the other two to get there. But that's a sweet payoff at the end of a project.
Gary Pageau 21:40
So one of these you touched on was kind of interesting, because you said people, like you had a client whose mother passed away 20 years ago, and they've kind of inherited this. So unfortunately, they've got a ton of pictures that they don't know anything about, because the metadata passed with the people, right? So what do you recommend to people who have collections now, and they may have older family members who could provide context for the pictures? How do you? How do you what would you recommend for them to capture that, and then incorporate that into their pictures?
Adam Pratt 22:09
Yeah, so that is a challenge. But we do have some cool workflows that we do where we deal with that all the time. So our favorite is actually we use SmugMug, again, but in a different way. So we instead of the client having their SmugMug account, where they have all their family photo archive, we have our account, we temporarily put a subset of their scan images, kind of the mystery images on there, we share that with the client, and ask them to share that with their cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, etc. And so when we do that, everybody can comment on those and leave comments like, oh, that's Uncle Jack, that's, you know, that's his Plymouth. That's his, you know, whatever, like the stories behind it, when they have added those comments in and the funny part is sometimes when they correct each other, like, oh, no, that's not Aunt Susie, like, you know, you can see the comment thread. And then what's great is because we're using Adobe Lightroom classic for all of our organizing, we can connect Lightroom with SmugMug, and just sink all those comments right back in to our workflow and see the comments, the dates, the names, everything that's been, you know, added to that. And then we're using that effectively to crowdsource that missing metadata. Okay.
Gary Pageau 23:20
Well, that's pretty interesting. And of course, you got the Adobe plug in there, but that's okay. So, so the book is out. So the book is really designed for people, the end user, the consumer, right?
Adam Pratt 23:35
Yeah, I think the end user consumer who wants to get a handle on their workflow, as well as more serious either companies or photo organizers that kind of want to up their game and add more to their services, and understand the big picture? Here's the thing. I've been organizing photos, as I said, for like, decades, and even before that, I was doing a lot of digital asset management for publishing companies. So I've got that background. And I have done so much research. I've tried so many things. And one of my biggest motivations for writing this book is to save you the hassle of like going down all those dead ends, right? Like, like, people think of different ways to organize their photos, and it works really well for like a month. And then they're like, oh, wait, this, this, this is not going to hold up, right? So I'm trying to just share all of that experience, so that if you want to tackle it, you can and again, kind of only do it once and hopefully not run into too many dead ends.
Gary Pageau 24:35
So for people in the business, you do offer some workshops and things that correct.
Adam Pratt 24:40
We do. Yeah, we've got about I think about eight courses online, that are self paced, open access, and it's everything from a complete photo organizing workflow with Lightroom including like digital and scan material. We have a camera scanning course we have and we also get into some niche stuff. Like, it sounds a little goofy, but it's one of our most popular ones. It's all about fixing dates, whether whether it's scanned material, or whether it's digital stuff, you get off cameras where you're, you know, you download 10,000 photos, and they're all wrong. And it's just like what in the world, right? Well, yeah, back
Gary Pageau 25:17
even the early days of digital people were setting the date on their cameras, right?
Adam Pratt 25:21
Correct. And so And sometimes those early cameras that were running, it's crazy as it sounds, that we're running off like double A batteries. When you pull those batteries out, they didn't have a backup battery, and they'd reset. Right, and nobody knew it. Right? Yeah, so So we've even got kind of advanced courses like that helping those kind of niche workflows, a little bit of everything.
Gary Pageau 25:42
Great, great. So where can people go to get more information about your business? And then we'll mention the book after that?
Adam Pratt 25:51
Yeah, so the best way to find us is online. Our website is chaos, to memories, not that not the number two to chaos to memories.com. And if you're on Instagram, and you enjoy that, we kind of share some of our projects and fun little findings there. So again, cast to memories on Instagram.
Gary Pageau 26:13
And then of course, the book is called declutter your photo life, curating, preserving organize and sharing your photos by Adam pret to whom I'm speaking right now. And that's available from rock Enoch.
Adam Pratt 26:24
Yeah, this has been a passion project. It's actually my eighth book that I've written. Oh, yeah, it's been a while. But it's my eighth book. And honestly, it's my favorite. Probably every author should say that. This really comes out of a passion. And honestly, part of it is we, we organize literally millions of photos a year. And there's something. I mean, I love the work. But sometimes there's something a little tragic about it, when we know that everybody has better cameras than ever more access. And a lot of us are taking a lot of bad photos, right. And so we want to help people curate what they've got, and try to help and coach them to take better photos that are like really memorable, and important and personal and full of emotion and connection. So that's, that's some of the motivation behind the book.
Gary Pageau 27:11
It's going to be interesting in about 20 or 30 years when people look back, and they say, where people eating a lot of sour things, because of all the fish face selfies, that they're going to be in their camera.
Adam Pratt 27:23
Right? Well, and honestly, if they're even there, I mean, that's, you know, I'm sure you've heard and probably talked about the whole digital Dark Age concept of like, we're taking more photos than ever, but if we don't curate them and back them up and keep them safe in some system, you know, 100 years they're gonna go man, I heard about the proliferation of cameras. But where are the photos?
Gary Pageau 27:42
Exactly? Exactly. Well, thank you, Adam, for your time for expertise. And again, the book is declutter your photo life, curating, preserving, organizing and sharing your photos, and the name of the business is a chaos to memories. Thank you, Adam, and best wishes. Thanks, Gary.
Erin Manning 28:02
Thank you for listening to the Dead Pixels Society podcast. Read more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at www the dead pixels society.com
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