Create a Time Capsule of Old Photos

These days, thanks to digital technology and virtually unlimited storage, we're overrun with photos. I take a few dozen pictures with my digital camera each month, and I know many ordinary people with tens of thousands of images on their computer's hard drive. In fact, we have to contend with so many photos that I've written several times about how to manage and organize your photo collection, as in "Be a More Efficient Digital Photographer" and "Organize Your Photos."

But it wasn't always like this. Photos from when we were young date back to a time when they were somewhat more rare. I have very few pictures from when I was born (the year the Beatles kicked off the British Invasion, 1964). So this week, I thought I'd investigate how to build your own time capsule from the days when photos didn't flow like water out of every camera and cell phone you see on the street.

Finding Photos Online

These days, it's pretty easy to find photos on the Web. Not only are there dedicated photo sharing sites with great search capabilities, but search engines like Google and Microsoft Bing have rich image search tools as well. Suppose we're putting together a photo collage for someone who was born in 1964. Of course, there were no digital cameras around in those days, so image searches for photos from that year will only be as accurate as the "date taken" metadata added before the scanned snapshots were uploaded to the Internet. Nonetheless, let's give it a shot.

Google It

Google Image Search doesn't let you search by year, but entering the year in the search box yields good results anyway. Surf to Google Image Search and search on 1964 to find a treasure trove of photos from or about that year.

You can do the same thing at Bing Images for image results by year.

You might also want to check out Cooliris, a dedicated image search plug-in for your Web browser. I occasionally turn to Cooliris because it searches several search engines and photo services simultaneously, and it displays the results in a gorgeous cinematic view that's reminiscent of the computer displays in the movie Minority Report.

Search Photo Sharing Sites

For more results, try using a popular photo sharing site. Flickr, my personal favorite, lets you filter results by the year the photo was taken. Go to Flickr's Advanced Search page and, near the bottom of the page, specify "Photos taken" and the date range you're looking for. I entered 1/1/64 to 12/31/64, for example.

Browse Famous Magazines

Those sources will probably be more than enough to fill a virtual scrapbook with images from your birth year, but I've got one more way to round out your collection. Many famous magazines make it easy to find iconic images on their Web sites. Here are some places to browse:

And while you're at it, check out the 2005 compilation of ASME's top 40 magazine covers.

Save the Photos on Your Computer

Once you find a photo that you want to save, copying it to your PC is usually pretty straightforward. First, make sure you're looking at the highest resolution version of the image that's available. If you're in a search engine like Google or Bing, look for a link that offers the full-size image rather than the thumbnail. Likewise, photo sharing sites like Flickr generally store more than one size of each photo, but your ability to see larger images could be limited by the photo's owner. If you see a link for All Sizes, click it.

Once you've got the largest version of the photo, right-click the image and, if you're using Microsoft Internet Explorer, choose Save Picture As. (If you use Mozilla Firefox, the menu item will be Save Image As.) Then save the photo to the desired location on your computer.

From here, what you do with the photos is up to you. You might want to check out some of my past columns for ideas. You could make a collage, for example, or arrange the photos into a shape. Another idea is to make a lifestrip. You could even make a poster-sized print. If you come up with a really creative idea, drop me a line and show me what you did.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This Week's Hot Pic: "Leaf," by Martina Helton, Stanley, North Carolina

Martina writes: "I took this picture in the golden light of a beautiful spring afternoon. As the sun as my backlight, I captured this leaf with a Canon Rebel XTI using the fill flash to get the right exposure and prevent a silhouette."

This Week's Runner-Up: "The Soaring Sun" by Michael Reed, Waggaman, Louisiana

Michael says that he took this photo with his Nikon D60 "on the spur of the moment" through the sunroof of his car while stopped at a traffic light.

To see last month's Hot Pics, visit our slide show. Visit our Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? Send me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

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