Genealogy: Being organized for a large volume of scans

Being organized for a large volume of scansBy Barry J. Ewell

Here are a few tips for organizing, scanning and archiving your photos and slides:

  • The first and most important step in scanning a collection of photos or slides is to make the hard decisions about what you want to scan. A good rule of thumb is that you should only scan one out of five pictures from a roll of film. Most people can go through a set of 36 photos or slides and quickly see the 7 or 8 they would like to scan.
  • Of course, if these are the only existing photos of your parent’s wedding, then you will probably want to scan them all. Otherwise, be discriminating—nobody needs to scan out-of-focus pictures of a cousin’s, friend’s birthday party ten years ago.
  • The other important decision that affects how long a scanning job will take is the resolution that you use for scanning. Scan your photos between 200 and 400 dpi (dots per inch) resolution—most slides don’t need more than 2000 dpi.  For instance, scanning photos at 300 dpi will take twice as long and use twice as much disc space as 200 dpi, but few people will see much difference visually.
  • Scan all photos and slides to TIFF or JPEG file format, using your scanner software’s default settings. If disc space is an issue, JPEG files will take up only 10% of the disc space of TIFF format.
  • Use the automatic file naming capability of the scanner software. For instance, most scanner programs will let you scan images one after another and write them to files with a fixed name but in increasing numerical order (i.e., John Jones Funeral 1987-001.jpg, John Jones Funeral 1987-002, etc.). This can save a lot of time agonizing over what to name each scan at the time you are scanning.  Try to put the year into the file name—and maybe the place or event.
  • Scan images in batches, usually from one stack of prints or a box of slides. Use a common file name pattern for each batch (like Summer Vacation 1994-nnnn.jpg). After each batch, use an image viewer to make sure the images look good, and then move the images to a different folder on your hard drive.
  • Be very, very careful not to waste hours of time making scans, only to find out at the end that something was wrong and you have to re-do all that work. You’d be surprised how often this happens, so be careful!
  • 8.Whenyouare done scanning for the day . . .
    • If you have time, rename the files you scanned or schedule a time to do so. Make sure you back up the files you just scanned to a hard drive or CD/DVD.  If you are using CD/DVDs, burn every image you’ve scanned. Label the CD/DVD, and then make sure you can read the images from the CD/DVD. Burn two sets of CDs, keeping one set for yourself and storing a master copy separately. Only use the master copy if your main copy has problems, otherwise don’t touch it again. If friends or relatives want a copy, make them a copy from your main copy. CDs/DVDs can fail, wear out, get scratched, get lost—so keep two copies!
    • Print out small thumbnail images for each CD/DVD and store it with each CD, allowing you to easily find an image later. It may be easy to find images in a normal photo archive, but later on when you are looking for a particular photo, a stack of silver CDs/DVDs isn’t especially useful. There are lots of programs for making thumbnail image prints from a collection of files.

The key to successfully scanning photos and film/slide is to do a bit of planning and organizing before you start. If you do this, and if you don’t scan every photo and slide, it’ll be far less difficult than you think. After all, how many out-of-focus images of your friends do you need?