How can I digitally archive physical photographs?
October 17, 2014 9:29 PM   Subscribe

I want to convert boxes of of photographs into digital files, good or excellent quality digital captures. I've accumulated 10 file boxes of photo albums, loose photos, scrap books, art and other family history kind of stuff. What are some systematic and effective ways to archive into digital images?

I'm looking for explanations of gear and process on archiving photographs. I think this is something I'm going to have to do. I have a Fuji Snapscan scanner, a point and shoot and a HP flat bed scanner. None of these are striking me as the ideal tools to complete this project.

Don't get me started on the slides, there's a bunch of them too. Video too that should also be incorporated in the media archiving.

Some of the albums go back at least to the 1920's.

I need to go through box by by, capturing album by album, photo by photo, newsprint, paper, artwork, and prints until it's all in a digital file of some kind. Then delete the duplicates of which there will probably be lots.

Then there's the virtual storage of this for availability, hosting and back up. The archive has to be in a format so you can find what you want at some point in the future, by tagging and ordering the media files in a way that makes sense. Then probably share them with my family in some format.

It's a big project. That's why I'm here. My idea is to get a camera I can run from my laptop, set it in a light box of some kind start taking high quality snapshots until done. FAQs or URL's for this get bonus points.

I'd like tips from anyone who's done this, particularly how to archive in a systematic manner.
posted by diode to Technology (6 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm a photo collector and erstwhile photo archivist, and have used a dirt cheap Canon LiDE 210 for a lot of personal and professional work. I recommend starting or borrowing cheap because, outside of scanning for large format printing, you can do a lot well at this price point.

For slides, I've used Scan Cafe and been happy w/the results for 35mm slides. Cheap, low effort, and as good quality scans as you can typically get from the originals w/out color correction (which I have done on my own).

I recommend doing two things on the front end:

1. Decide on a human-readable, richly descriptive file naming convention and stick to it. This is tedious, but will make the images MUCH more useful to you later in life, and to anyone who has to use them after you're gone.

2. Back up, back up, back up. Buy 2-3 large external hard drives, put regular backups into your calendar, and do them.

Also, it's easy to get sloppy with big, tedious projects like this (and it will be kind of tedious). Pace yourself.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:28 PM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

More to what ryanshepard said, I make a grand folder with many sub folders and such installed and copy that over and over to use as I house selections as I scan them, the extra folders are far easier to delete than making new ones, that combined with group naming of like subjects makes the rough scan and tagging a lot easier. Scan any reverse side annotations as you go too.
posted by Freedomboy at 10:44 PM on October 17, 2014

We've been doing a similar project ever since we moved my mother into a nursing home. There's really no big secret to it. You get a scanner (in my case, a Canon LiDE 600F) and go to work.

If archival quality is what you want, you need to scan at a relatively high dpi. To me, this means nothing lower than 300dpi. This is the minimum dpi for print. You will fill-up storage pretty quick, but that's the cost of high-quality.

The default file format for images is, of course, jpeg. At high resolutions, jpeg is acceptable. A lot of people use png for images, and this is a mistake. As fantastic as png is, it's not all that good for continuous-tone images like photographs. You could also go with the print workhorse tiff, but high-rez jpeg will be fine.

Once scanned, you may need or want to do a bit of color-correction to the resulting image file. This can be seriously tedious and time-consuming, as you will really need to evaluate and work on each image individually and not simply apply a batch correction to all of them at once, since no two images will need the same level of correction.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:50 AM on October 18, 2014

I used a Canon CanoScan 8800F. There's probably something newer now. It can handle slides and negatives. Slides are slow going so I try to have other work while it runs in the background. As for organizing, I stored in folders by year and month when I could determine. When I go in to color correct, I use Photoshop and enter title, and keywords into the metatags. You can put people names, places and dates; pretty much any information you have. If you upload to Flickr or other photo sites, it will read the titles and tags for you or you can search through file manager.

I did 4000 slides over a couple months. You can do it while watching television, or in my case writing for work. I really enjoyed the process, and I love looking at the old slides. You can see so much detail and things you would normally miss.
posted by iscavenger at 6:58 AM on October 18, 2014

You might find this post in personal archiving from the Library of Congress's digital website The Signal particularly helpful as it focuses on photographs. Actually, the bulk of the helpful material is on the website that they link to, which is a website created by Catholic University library and archives students that contains info and video tutorials on scanning, storing, and sharing your photos.
posted by kaybdc at 10:28 AM on October 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: It seems to me that setting up a light box and a decent camera would be a good way to capture photos. Using a typical flat bed scanner is a time consuming process, though I'm thinking of this in terms of placing a photo then using the scan software on my pc to set up a scan then repeat this over and over. I would think there would be a way to trigger a scan on the flatbed controls then placing a photo and scanning repeatedly would be quite a lot more efficient.

There's probably some form of photo duplication remover software out there as well. It seems to me I've done similar things in iPhoto. What I really need here is some kind of macro. Scan image to a folder, new image appears, image white space is auto clipped out, then auto color correction filter, then save as new file. Rinse, repeat, you've got a work flow going.

I'll probably try both a light box/camera and flat bed for different materials. This is not a professional archiving operation in the sense of passing this down to historical research. It's unlikely, for example, anything in this stuff would ever get printed, so is most likely to seen on a monitor. Getting a good quality image that displays well with a bit of color correction is the way to go.

The reason for the camera is that for example college scrap books are not going to scan well or other physical artifacts that are less than flat.

Thanks for the tip about Scan Cafe. That looks to be the way to do this for the slides. I have not seen this stuff since I was a kid as the whole slide projector thing kind of went out of fashion.

Thanks for the tips on file format. High quality jpg sounds like the way to go.

As for archiving and tagging, yes, that's a bit of a problem. The physical book or box the photo is in has some relationship to the photo, in other words that's metadata about the photo. There are labels and such in the books (when and where). I think my first pass would be a folder for the box, in that a folder for the photo book, then text files inside describing the book, images of the book itself and information inside that is not an actual photo.

I'd be recreating the actual box and contents in a virtual container, then that would be my raw archive. All goes to the cloud and local backups, so no worries there.

Pass two, eliminate duplicates. Pass 3, clip and color correct. Pass 4, tag and archive.

Exciting. Thanks for the tips.
posted by diode at 1:11 PM on October 18, 2014

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