Obliterate my excuses for not scanning this stuff
May 9, 2014 1:17 PM   Subscribe

I bought a photo scanner... a while ago... and have not even opened it because I'm not clear how to go about the project of scanning my photographs, and I don't want to get halfway through and then wish I had done it differently from the beginning. Please help undaunt me.

I mostly want to scan photos, at least at first. I may then move on to other kinds of documents and mementos. I've taken almost all of the photos in question; we're talking vacation and goofy friend pictures, not yellowing portraits of my great-great-grandparents or anything. The scanner handles prints and negatives. I have the negatives for a lot of these (I assume it's always better to scan from a negative?), and just the prints in other cases. My questions are:

1. At what resolution (is that even the right term? I'm basically wondering about image quality) should I scan these, and to what file format?

2. How should I organize the image files? Is there a recommended naming convention or folder structure?

3. How should I store the files? My hard drive is going on four years old. It probably won't hold everything anyway (but I guess that hinges on the decision on question 1). Are there any affordable cloud services that are user-friendly and well suited to storing (and occasionally accessing) photos?
posted by payoto to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If you scan from negatives, I think the image is clearer/less grainy. Or you can blow it up larger. I mostly scan from photos, as when you scan from negatives, I think you have to tweak more. (Maybe there's a setting I haven't found yet? The holes in the negatives mess with the color identification.)

I tend to scan at 1200 dpi (my scanner goes up to 2400). I think it depends on what you think you may do with the photographs - if you think you may blow them up later vs. are you just going to look at them on your computer. I save to a jpeg. the more dpi you save at, the larger you can blow it up, as I understand it, but the larger the file is as well. If it's a random photo of someone's yard or something, I scan at 600 dpi.

I tend to put them in folders according to what they are - granny family photos, road trip 2005 photos, etc. My partner separates photos by year, and then puts subfolders inside with events (i.e., DragonCon 2013, etc).

For old family photos, if I know the names of people in them, then I name them that way (Granny Marie Bob 1985, for example). Otherwise, I just let the scanner pick the img### for it. You could also do "2013 - DragonCon - John Smith as Yoda" if you want to be really specific.

Currently, my photo files are on my laptop, but I plan on backing them up to the external hard drives (where we back up the rest of the files). I also put some of the family photos on smugmug (so that others will have access to them) and may pay for an account on there for a while. This probably makes more sense for old family photos that you want other people to identify than for vacation and goofy friend photos.
posted by needlegrrl at 1:47 PM on May 9, 2014

JPEG uses compression, which means a smaller file at the cost of throwing away some data.

Instead of 1200ppi JEPGs, consider 600ppi TIFFs. TIFF files are bigger, but they are the standard for images in design & prepress. You can always sample the TIFFs down later, but once they're compressed as JPEGs you have surrendered a lot of the extra pixels that scanning at 1200ppi got you in the first place.

My pre-pres career ended about a decade ago, but I think that JPEGs are still not considered a good format for archiving.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:16 PM on May 9, 2014

Another image format to consider is .png. It's lossless data compression. Not everything reads it, but if you want a higher quality compressed image, png is a good way to go.
posted by cleverevans at 3:43 PM on May 9, 2014

If you're scanning old material, make sure you have a static-free cloth and one of those bulb brushes for dust. It's far better to clean the photos or slides before you scan than after the fact, although there will always be things you need to revise on screen.
posted by zadcat at 5:01 AM on May 10, 2014

Probably not best practice, but I've scanned a lot of old family photos at 600dpi to jpg and they look fine to me. I don't worry too much about folder structure but I've used Picasa to extensively tag them by name, age, etc.

I have them backed up on a local NAS and I've been uploading them to Google+ which seems to have reasonable sharing options.
posted by crocomancer at 7:47 AM on May 10, 2014

For online storage, Flickr is the go to choice here - 1 TB of free storage space. Other choices would be Dropbox and Google Drive. Google is good to use together with Picasa software which will help you manage and sync on and offline. But pretty much any cloud service will work fine.
posted by roaring beast at 3:51 PM on May 10, 2014

Compression-wise, JPEG isn't *horrible* for photographs - that's what the compression format was designed to do best. high dpi/ppi JPEGs look very good when printed on a 600 - 1200dpi printer, because the artifacts are going to be as small as the tolerance in the printing method, so they won' t be very noticeable at all. Set the compression level at 8 or 9, and that will get you a small file with good quality.

TIFF vs PNG: PNGs don't compress anything but cartoons very well at all; they're like GIFs as far as compression goes, which means very little at all for photos. TIFF is a 'container' format, you can put a variety of image files and compression methods inside a TIFF, including JPEG -- but you can also use a variety of lossless compression methods, LZW and ZIP both get smaller (but not as small as JPEG) files than uncompressed, and keep the highest image quality. An 8-1/2 x 11, 300 dpi uncompressed TIFF or BMP is 24MB, but a ZIP compressed TIFF is probably around 2 - 4 meg, and a JPEG is about 400K - 600K. Storage is cheap these days, an external 1 - 2 TB drive is around $100. Buy two, save everything to one, back up that drive to the 2nd.

Logic would say to always scan the images at the highest possible resolution, because you don't know what you're going to do with them in the future. If your scanner isn't fully automated, the first issue is going to be time -- scan a picture at different resolutions and time each. Higher resolution is going to take longer -- if you don't have the time to do the scanning, it doesn't matter what DPI or compression you're going to have.

DPI is a 'shorthand' for resolution, like megapixels on a camera, but only physically affects how big you can print the image. Don't rely on the DPI the image file says -- that's an arbitrary number. Look at the image dimensions, and divide by how big you want to print the image. The image is 3264 pixels wide, and I want to print it at 8x10...that works out to 326dpi, which is pretty low and is going to look pixelly and grainy. but, at 3.5x5, that's 650dpi, which is around the point where the human eye can't tell the difference between the pixels without a magnifying glass.

Organization: think about what you'll know two years from now when trying to find a photo. Are you going to remember what roll of film it was on, or what day you scanned it? Probably not. Will you remember the year it was taken, and where it was taken at? Probably. The way I organize my personal photos is by year - "2002", "2003", etc. -- and in the year folder are a bunch of folders like "fourth of july", "sept rummage sale", "misc january-february". It doesn't have to be exact -- if I think that's where the photo belongs now, in two years that's going to be where I remember putting it.

Print or negative: test both, see which one you like better. It all depends on the scanner's optics and transport method; you might scan both at the same "dpi" (see above; that's an arbitrary number if you get the same pixel dimensions from a 35mm negative and a 5x7 photo) but if the negative has little lines on it because of how it feeds, then it's not going to be that great of an option. Or, if lining up the film properly takes 10x as long to set up a good scan vs a print, refer back to my 'time' comments above.

When it comes to flickr and other online photo organizers: figure out the time for those, too. Uploading, titling, metadata, etc., all take as much, if not more, time than the actual scanning. Cloud backups have the advantage of running in the background or while you sleep, but I don't have any personal experience with those. I have a Linux "NAS"-ish server I save mine on, which gets backed-up not as often as it should but gets new hard drives every couple years to ensure as much protection against loss as possible.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:51 AM on May 11, 2014

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