Family Photo Sharing
August 11, 2007 5:05 PM   Subscribe

GenealogyFilter: I need a scanning strategy and general advice for family photos.

My plan is to grab me one of those big ol' WD MyBook USB drives, grab my computer & flatbed scanner, make the rounds of several relatives and grab as many family photos as I can.

Seems straightforward, eh? Scan photos, slap'em on a CD and pass'em around to the family. Lots of nice highly detailed antique stuff. Some beautiful sepia tints -- not to mention regular documents. But every time I sit down to do this, I freeze. I just can't settle on an optimum size and pixel resolution. And I'm also I'm torn between doing neutral scans or pre-tweaking them.

I need some words o' wisdom.
posted by RavinDave to Technology (5 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Do the easiest thing that works - doing it somewhat suboptimally >> not doing it at all.

For a really easy solution, just get a decent camera and make digital versions of the old photos by taking photos of them (no flash, decent ambient light). If you want to go neutral, shoot RAW and convert to JPEG later in Lightroom or a similar tool designed to process lots of photos at once (faster workflow means you're more likely to actually do it).
posted by zippy at 5:12 PM on August 11, 2007

In my own opinion, the mistake is that you need to separate the archival and sharing jobs.

ARCHIVAL: Scan the photos at the practical highest resolution (300 dpi) for your own archival purposes. Store these on a hard drive with a DVD-R backup. You're done with the paper pictures.

SHARING: Now for the family copies, just create another directory on your computer and use a program like ThumbsPlus to make downscaled copies at a more convenient size (like 900px wide). Remove the pics you don't want anyone to see. Distribute that collection to the family.

The archivals are what you pass down to your descendents and re-copy for posterity. The shared versions are temporary versions you give to Uncle Bob and Grandma.
posted by rolypolyman at 5:19 PM on August 11, 2007

Also I'd say don't do a lot of tweaking for your masters... just scan them in neutrally. It's better to goof something up in postprocessing rather than during scanning.
posted by rolypolyman at 5:19 PM on August 11, 2007

I've just started doing this. I made the following decisions:

Preferred method: Negative scanning. For this reason, I got a scanner with a light-lid (a light box that illuminates the negative). The scanner&lid was cheap, and because the lid came with it, the scanner software had nice negative-scanning options, would turn off the flatbed light while scanning, etc.

Resolution: Higher than the film grain where possible - storage is cheap compared to the hassle of making a scan, so the scan wants to be so good as to preclude any desire at a later date to try to obtain a better scan.

Tweaking: Neutral scans for "master" copies. Copies can then be tweaked or tidied up later according to what use you intend for them.

Uses: I have the master collection. It is not easily browsable for non-techy types, but it doesn't need to be - from this master collection I can assemble selections to give to others. Or use print-on-demand services like MyPublisher or LuLu to make albums that people can buy online.

A problem to look into - how do you scan photos that are behind plastic when the negatives aren't available? The scan will be noticeably better without the plastic, but it means taking people's albums apart - you might need to be persuasive :)

A tip: If you can't get a lightlid scanner, I've had success using a 6MP digital camera in macro mode. Put the camera on a tripod facing the window facing the sky. Build a stand with a clip to hold the negative, put it between the window and the camera, tape white paper over the window to give a flat-white backlighting to the negative, set your apeture as narrow as possible (so your depth of field helps keep the negative in perfect focus), and use that rig. It's actually quicker using the camera than the light-lid scanner, since scanning at 2400dpi takes so long.

An advantage of getting the scans right off the negative is that you don't lose the darks or lights that aren't in the printed photo - you can actually get better prints than the printed photo, because you care about the colours, while the original print was probably just some minimum wage person struggling to make a not over or under-exposed print.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:58 AM on August 12, 2007

I tried scanning around 100 pics (as high-res tiff files) with a flatbed scanner, then fixing them up later in the Gimp, but iit was just taking waaaaay too much time.

So the Kodak Scan Van scanned 600 of our photos for around $65 on Friday. The pics are now in the online Kodak Gallery. According to the Gimp, they're 1552x1033 at 300 DPI. Here's a sample of a 20 year old picture.
posted by exhilaration at 2:30 PM on August 12, 2007

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