Preserving memories: Photo tips.

I have been struggling to part with two coats—both were acquired in 2000 when we sold our house, quit our jobs and took a year off to travel. One is a handcrafted linen jacket that I bought for $20 (!) in Thailand and wore throughout much of our travels in Southeast Asia (see photo). The other is a beautiful Nordic wool coat that my husband gave to me for Christmas during our three month stay in Aspen. (After our travel plans to the Middle East were altered by 9/11, we ended up spending the ski season there…which I now realize began my love affair for Colorado, where we have lived since 2007.) I have not worn either coat in nearly 20 years. But, the thought of saying goodbye to them somehow feels like erasing that incredible period of time in our lives.

In doing some research for one of our 6-Week Decluttering Challenges, I came across a lot of ideas for how to part with sentimental items. The number one idea I found is to take a photo of them item before donating, selling or giving it away. There is actually some science behind this idea—in a study conducted at Penn State, researchers found that students who took a photo found it much easier to get rid of possessions with sentimental value.

Funny, because I did do this with some moldy childhood stuffed animals I got rid of a few years ago. But, looking back on those photos, I realized I could have done a better job of it. (I shot them on our sofa and they look like they are lined up and about to be executed. This is not the way I want to remember them!)

To help you avoid ending up with bad photos of your moldy stuffed animals, here are some tips on taking a good photo with your mobile phone.

Clean your lens.

Seems like a no brainer, but when was the last time you cleaned your phone’s camera lens? Retouching dust off after you take a photo is a pain. And smudges on your lens can lead to blurry photos. So, get one of those cloths you use to clean your glasses or any soft cloth and wipe down your lens before you start.

Consider a mobile tripod.

A tripod can help you get the shot you want—you know, one that is level and balanced. It can also help if you want to be in the photo but don’t want that selfie look or have someone around to take the photo for you.

Shoot in natural light.

Photos are so much better when taken in natural light. If you don’t have a bright place inside, take your stuff outside to shoot in the early morning or late afternoon for the best light. Using a flash can help soften dark shadows on or beneath the object you’re shooting, but only use it when shooting during the daylight hours.

Experiment with locations.

If you’re going to create an album, you might want to have a variety of backgrounds in your shots. I like to shoot on our hardwood floor and on different wood cutting boards. Have a kitchen island with a nice top? That could work. One friend likes to shoot her kids artwork outside on the grass. Also consider shooting items in their current location—like on a curio shelf with the other curios you’re keeping. Also experiment with putting other objects in the photo. Shooting a vase? Put some flowers in it! If you have one of the newer iPhones that allows you to shoot in portrait mode, you can blur out the background, but even then, the background matters.

Include people.

Including people makes for even better memories. Imagine a photo of my Nordic coat hanging on a hanger. Now imagine me wearing the coat one last time while enjoying happy hour on an outdoor patio on a sunny afternoon at the end of the winter. If you do want to include people, try not to pose them. And take a bunch of shots—you can always edit later.

Avoid zooming in.

Cropping in your camera’s editing tool is easy. Capturing the details you cut off because you zoomed in too close, not so much!

Embrace negative space.

You can either do this when you’re taking the photo or when you crop it. But sometimes photos are more interesting when the subject isn’t dead in the center.

Take a lot, then edit.

The great thing about digital photography is that you are not limited by the cost of film and processing. Play around and take a bunch of photos. If you have unlimited storage, keep them all. If you don’t, either edit on the fly (my preference) or sit down and edit them after each photo session.

Make an album.

Just the act of taking the photo will help you to let go of it and chances are you’ll never look at them. (I suggest creating an album for your photos of sentimental items in your photo album software so they’ll be in one place if you ever want to go back and find them.) But, if you are wanting to preserve the memories in a way you can still “see” them, you could create a photo book. Blurb and Mixbook are easy to use and have great templates to help you make really cool books that you can keep for yourself or share as gifts.

Hope this helps to make it easier for you to part with some of the sentimental items that are weighing you down.

—Cindy

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