Tips for Creating a Corporate Photo Archive

This is a photograph from 1989 showing History Factory staff members helping move the office to a new location on 15th Street in Washington, D.C.
1989: THF staff members help move the office to a new location on 15th Street in Washington, D.C.

We’ve all heard the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.” As much as I dislike corny truisms, I have to admit this one is pretty accurate. I’ve searched through the records of many corporations, and it’s not the stock certificates or memos that catch my attention—it’s the photographs.

In photos, the people, places and moments in time become real in a way that cannot be achieved with the written word. It’s not that words aren’t important. Rather, stories are taken to another level when they are illustrated. Images add dimension, insight and warmth to articles, books, documentaries, exhibits, websites and just about anything else. Use them well (stay tuned for my next blog post) and you will connect with your audience in a whole new way.

But what if old photographs of your organization do not exist? As much as we’d love to enter the THF Photo Booth Time Machine, travel back in time and take some for you, the machine is having some technical difficulties and is unavailable for the foreseeable future.

This doesn’t mean all is lost. It just means that it’s time to get started.

5 Relatively Painless Ways to Establish & Grow a Photo Archive*

1. Start taking pictures.

It’s never too late to begin. Grab a camera and snap a few pictures. At THF, we have a designated photographer who takes photos at meetings and parties. It’s a helpful way to make sure we capture the obvious, big-moment or organized events. If you take the photos digitally at a high resolution (300 dpi or higher), you’ll have plenty of options as to how you can use the picture later.

2. Take pictures of the boring stuff.

People tend to forget to capture everyday activities: working at a desk, meeting with a client, talking in a conference room or hallway, eating lunch together, etc. This is how your employees spend 99 percent of their time.

Don’t forget the setting, either. The inside and outside of offices or headquarters provide good context for stories. Though these subjects may seem boring now, trust me: At your 100th or 200th anniversary, a project manager will be singing your praises.

Fun, silly pictures have a special place in a photo archive and in corporate communication. They are great for showing the lighter side of a company’s culture. Just remember, they have a shorter shelf life than other images. Thirty years from now, there will be little room for the Santa Claus conga line in a corporate publication or video. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the party shot. Just make sure you take the boring ones, as well.

3. Ask for pictures.

People often have old photographs; they just need to be reminded to look for them. Ask employees or former employees to search their computers, old file cabinets and drawers at home. Ask for current images, as well. Send out an email after a conference or event to see if anyone snapped a few pictures.

We often run campaigns called discovery programs when companies are building an archive, which encourage employees to explore existing materials and donate items, images and memories to the new depository. These programs have turned up all sorts of unexpected items.

4. Write down the details.

Don’t forget to record the date, location and names of people in the images, if you know them. These details will be invaluable when someone is looking for an image for a press release or a future anniversary program.

This is a photograph of History Factory employees Matt, Marissa, Alice and Jason showing off 2013 History Factory gear.
Matt, Marissa, Alice and Jason, our THF catalog models, show off 2013 History Factory gear.

5. Save everything somewhere obvious.

If you don’t know where the files are, you won’t use them. Save them in a system or on a server that is easy to get to, and make them accessible to at least a few people in the organization.

These tips cover the basics. What other tips do you have to share?


*It should be noted that the term “archive” is applied loosely here. A photo archive (or collection) is different from a corporate archive. Collections of photographs are an important part of a larger archival collection but do not make up an entire archives themselves. For more on archives, click here.

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