How best to organise old family photos?
November 8, 2019 4:05 AM   Subscribe

I have a few hundred old family photos that I want to digitise (using my iphone). Please give me your recommendations on how I might best organise and store them together with some text about each photo.

I plan to sit down with relatives and get them to tell me everything they know about about the people in the photos. I'd like a quick and easy way to attach information to each photo.

In the future I would like to add all of the photos and text to some genealogy software and put together my family tree (with all of the photos!). So I would like to do this in a way that is not incompatible with that.

I have no idea what the best way to do this is, but I have a lot of photos and so I would appreciate any advice on how best to approach this task.

What apps or software would you recommend?
What general advice would you give to ensure that this is as quick and painless as it could be?
posted by mnfn to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'd like a quick and easy way to attach information to each photo.

Small Post-Its attached to the back of each photo. Or, write directly on the back of the photo, preferably in pencil, or with a pen that will not bleed through the paper.

If you have access to a scanner, I would recommend using it to digitize the photos. Using your phone will work, sort of. But, unless you have a mount for the phone that will keep it still and squared-up to the photo, you will often end up with images that are a bit distorted and look like a photo of a photo.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:15 AM on November 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

+1 I got a photo scanner off Amazon that was under $30 and worked great. Old photo prints aren’t at a high resolution, you don’t need anything fancy. I just tossed everything in roughly chronological folders and called it good.
posted by momus_window at 6:20 AM on November 8, 2019

This is just a vote for using digital versions as a backup, not the final product (this includes your plans for the family tree with photos). Formats change, and digital files are more easily lost between owners. Physical objects will have more longevity over the long run.

I disagree a little with momus_window about scan quality. If you think you might want to make copies of old photos, make sure you're getting quality scans, especially if you think you/someone might be interested in printing enlarged copies. But maybe quality scanners can be found at a low cost, I don't know about that.
posted by a huckleberry at 8:44 AM on November 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you want to use your phone to scan in photos, Google Photo Scan does a pretty good job with the camera on your phone. You take 4 photos of the photo and then the app removes any glare. Not the perfect solution, but, it works really well for what it is.
posted by trbrts at 9:06 AM on November 8, 2019

I have scanned couple hundred old family photos using Photomyne app with iPhone. For my purposes the quality is good enough. It works best with black and white photos without glossy surface (to minimize glare). It automatically crops and color corrects the photos.

For metadata I used Metapho app to add approximate date and location for the photos.

Then I let the Photos people recognition detect faces and added names. The facial recognition is not that great so I had to add quite a few in Photos on my Mac.

I don’t have a good solution for adding stories to go along with the photos, other than adding tags to the photos on a Mac. If I ever need to export the photos outside the Apple ecosystem, I plan to add the people information using tags.
posted by baueri at 11:30 AM on November 8, 2019

I would not rely on any particular piece of software. After a few years, operating system upgrades will break the software you have, and ultimately the company may eventually stop creating new versions of it for the latest OS (plus it's annoying to have to keep investing what each new version costs). You can and should use a genealogy program that can output a backup in GEDCOM format, but the pictures won't necessarily go into the file along with the other data, and I've had trouble getting the old file to do the right thing in the new software, so don't expect to rely on this as more than a backup.

For my photo family tree, on my computer I store each scanned photo as a separate file, whose name begins with a number indicating how many generations back they are, followed by their first and last name, without spaces. This makes it easier to keep dozens of images straight. In the same directory on my computer, I keep a text file with additional information, which includes the filenames for easy consultation. I scanned in every photo at a high resolution so that I could print them. Do not go with less than the very best scan you can obtain! If the original photos are lost in some disaster, so will be valuable information on the details of what those ancestors looked like. High resolution is vital. It's so cool to be able to trace a line of eyebrow or shape of jaw through multiple generations. I used a flat-bed scanner to avoid the distortions that can result from taking a photo of a photo with the camera on a phone.

One issue with a photo family tree is that photos of many people may exist only as group portraits, which makes layout impossible if you have several generations. For the tree project, I made copies of each of these and edited (with Adobe Photoshop) to create separate images that each show only person, in matching sizes and aspect ratios. (Excitingly, a few ancestors whose photos I had only as bad black-and-white photocopies turned out to be available online as color oil portraits in museums!)

Next step, after editing everything to get matching sizes I printed every photo. My home printer was not good enough for this; the excellent printer I used to have produced photos that faded after several years on display, so I no longer bother buying fancy printers. I had Mpix print every photo on metallic paper, with a luster UV-protective coating so that I wouldn't have to put glass in the frames. (When a frame with glass in it falls on the floor, it's so much more of a disaster.) I bought an entire case of pretty little 2"x3.5" picture frames that were intended to be used for holding place cards for wedding receptions, at a dramatic price savings over buying them individually. It was most economical to get the prints as 3.5"x5" photos, so I used Adobe Photoshop to edit each image to have an extra band around it that I could trim off by hand.

After putting each photo into a frame, I wrote on the back of the frame with a metallic silver marker (since the material of the back of the frames is black), identifying each person and giving some info about them, such as birth and death dates and anything they were known for.

I used 3M Command picture mounting strips to hang the framed photos on my dining room wall. They're expensive if you buy the right size, and I had ultimately collected 56 photos to hang, so I got the largest size and cut each one into six long narrow strips that fit nicely on the sides of the picture frames, on the back, so that I can take a frame down and open the back to change a photo, if needed. (This was especially nice later, when a visiting elderly relative pointed out I'd gotten one identification wrong.) Without glass, the frames were light enough that I needed only two pairs of the little strips that I cut for each one. The 3M strips allow us to pull down a portrait any time we want to check the info on the back of the frame.

Finally, I used silver metallic pinstriping tape to draw the lines of descent. This makes it much easier for everyone to follow, especially in cases where somebody's picture is missing.

The whole project is very satisfying. It's much easier to grasp relationships when you have everyone visible at once, and only a wall is big enough to really do it right.
posted by chromium at 12:18 PM on November 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

(Send me a PM if you'd like to see what my photo family tree project looks like.)
posted by chromium at 12:24 PM on November 8, 2019

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