Are you considering a photo scanning project and don’t know where to begin? This is for you.
- It is worth doing some research into best dpi settings before starting:
- Whatever you decide, write it down for future reference. I like keeping a small journal on the scanner just for this purpose.
- Scan to “.tiff” if you can. (This is the only early setup I regret: I chose “.jpg” because I was afraid of how much space I’d need to store all my scans. It turns out that most small scans at 1200 dpi are 5 MB or less. That’s 200K scans / TB. I have 2 x 2 TB drives, so I’m pretty sure I’ve got room.)
- Decide how you’re going to name them. Here’s mine: [date] – [family name + Archive] [description] [If the photo has notes on the back: “w notes”] [dpi settings] [P / D / S = Photo / Document / Slide] – [5 digit unique ID number]. Example: A 1.5×2.2″ black and white photo print with a full date and notes on the back: 1922-05-22 – CYIP Archive birthday party w notes 1200 dpi – P00784.
- What if you don’t know all the dates?
- Pictures when you know the date: “1922-10-02” (YYYY-MM-DD)
- Pictures when you know the decade but not the full date, e.g, “194x“;
- Pictures where you have a month but no decade like this “19xx-03“
- Pictures wher you can only nail down the century and are otherwise stumped: “19xx” or “20xx”
- What if you don’t know all the dates?
- If you have lots of photos without dates, use the technique I call batch sorting. Get every clue you can before you remove materials from their boxes, envelopes, bags, or drawers**. Here’s my post on how batch sorting is done. (**I attended Denise Levinick’s webinar Secrets in the Attic, where she advises tackling drawers of memorabilia carefully, like you are an archaeologist, where the layers themselves might yield clues.) This part might take some time, but don’t rush through it to get to the scanning. It’s like painting your house – the bettter the prep work, the better the results.
- Don’t forget to turn over the photos and scan the other side (if there are notes). I’ll scan the other side for nearly any mark, no matter how trivial, because you just never know when something small will turn into something significant. I add the notation “w notes” to all scans done double-sided.
- If you change your mind about any of your settings, record the change in your journal and keep going. If you have to rescan a particular one at the new settings, go ahead and do it. (We all have perfectionist tendencies when we’re doing this kind of work, but my goal is get it done the best you can, with the key point being done, not perfect.)
- If you have to redo a bunch of scans, don’t feel you have to redo all the numbering – the point is having a unique ID number, not counting how many images you have. (I wasted lots of time getting aggravated about this until I let it go.)
- Use software to help you catalogue. I use Adobe Lightroom’s desktop program. It is well worth the cost and turns a Herculean feat into something doable.
- Scan everything. It’s too hard to make editing decisions while you’re scanning, and you don’t know what you have until you have all of it. You’ve got duplicates, even triplicates? Scan them. You’ve got photos of people you don’t know? Scan them too. You’ve got terrible photos of summer vacations and postcards? Scan them too. Everything.
- Take breaks. If you have more than one box of materials you’re planning to digitize, it’s okay to do it in batches with long breaks between. I tend to do all my scanning in the winter months, when it’s forty below outside. I also review each scan as I go, because I often get genealogical “Ah ha!” moments when I’m doing this work. (My very best post so far came as an “Ah ha!” after scanning my uncle’s photos. See The James Bonds of Chinatown.)
This is a follow up post to Behind the scenes – my scanning setup.
This whole topic was inspired by a conversation I was following on the Facebook group Technology for Genealogy (must have a Facebook account to access the link).