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10 Steps to Scanning, Preserving and Sharing Your Photos (Part 2)

Please see 10 Steps to Scanning, Preserving and Sharing Your Photos (Part 1) for the first three steps in this project to scan your precious family photographs.

10 Steps to Scanning, Preserving and Sharing Your Photos (Part 2)


Step 4: Choose Your Scanner

There are different types of scanners available. Some are better for photographs, and some for documents. Some are wonderful for taking on trips or using while sitting on your sofa, while others are best on your desk beside your computer. You want to be sure you are using the right one to scan those precious family photos you recently organized.

Flatbed Scanners

Flatbed scanners can scan different sizes of photographs. These scanners allow you to scan more than one photo at a time, then crop the main image into individual files later. For options see Flatbed Scanners - Which One is Right for You?


Portable Flatbed Scanners

There are portable flatbed scanners such as the Flip-Pal which is best for photos no larger than 4x6”. I love the Flip-Pal but it is a personal choice. View this free video class on the Flip-Pal -  New Genealogy Technology: Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner in the Legacy library.

Handheld Scanners

There are also handheld scanners available. If you are happy with the scanner you have, check to see if you can change your settings to the preferred format (.tif or .png) and resolution (600 dpi or 300 dpi).

Using Your Cell Phone as a Scanner

There are apps that allow you to use your cell phone as a portable handheld scanner. These are very handy if you are out a library or archives and don’t have any other method of capturing an image but I can’t recommend them for scanning your treasured family photos.

Step 5: Clean Your Scanner

It’s a good idea to clean your scanner bed with a dry cloth like the kind you clean your eyeglasses with. You will probably want to wipe it down every so often if you are scanning lots of photos. Don’t use liquid to clean the bed.

You’re almost ready to start scanning but there are a few more decisions to be made.

Once you are ready to scan, I suggest scanning one sorted box of photos at a time, scanning them and transferring them to your computer before you continue with a second box. As you complete each batch of scanning, you will probably also want to rename your files from the file name assigned by your scanner.

Step 6: Naming Your Image Files

Consistency. That’s the key for naming your image files. Decide on a consistent naming system. Stick to it. I like to name mine in this order:


So an example for a photo of Lillian Fuller taken in Guelph Ontario ca 1924 would be “fuller-lillian-guelph-ca1924” followed by the file extension

I don’t use underscore to separate words for two reasons:

  1. I am too lazy to hit Shift and the Underscore key
  2. Underscores are often illegible when viewing in a URL in a browser, or even when typing out or printing a local file path.

It’s also not adviseable to put spaces between words. I do not use any upper case in the file names but that’s a personal choice.

Step 7: Add MetaData to Your Image Files

Metadata is data describing context, content and structure of documents. With each document you can add metadata which includes words and properties to a document to help search for it in the future. I add the details and the source in my metadata.

One way to add metadata is to use a directory program such as Windows Explorer. Find an image file then click only once on the image. On the bottom of your screen you will see various metadata fields such as author, subject, tags, etc. Click the fields to add your information. Photo editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop Elements and Adobe Lightroom have built in functionality to help you add metadata.

This is a photo of the Guelph Lumber Company Picnic.

The Guelph Museum sent a copy of this photo to me but they did not know the year or who any of the individuals were. But I recognized my grandfather, grandmother, mother and aunt.

Based on the estimate of my mother’s age I calculated the approximate year the photo was taken. So I added that info to the metadata.


Step 8: Add Tags

Add tags to your image files. Tags are like keywords. They help you find certain people or topics. So for the photo of the Guelph Lumber Co. Picnic I used the tag Fuller (for my family) and Guelph (so I can more easily find any photos I have that relate to Guelph)

Step 9: Back up Your Image Files

You’ve saved all your scanned photos to your computer hard drive. Now you need to make some backups. Your choices include:

* Cloud storage such as Dropbox, Bitcasa, iDrive, Amazon Cloud, Google Drive, etc.

* Burn to a CD Rom to keep or share with others

* Save to a portable hardrive such as Western Digital Passport

* Save to a personal cloud storage system such as Western Digital MyBookLive

* Create a Photo Book through an online self-publishing service such as Shutterfly. You can publish copies for family members and keep one for yourself.

Personally I do all of the above except burning my files to a CD Rom. I do not recommend a flash or thumb drive for storage backup as these devices are meant for temporary storage, not permanent storage of files.

Whichever method(s) you choose, remember that technology changes very rapidly and if you choose the CD Rom for example, eventually it will not be viewable by anyone or it will degrade. That is why my motto is to never put all my eggs in one basket!

Step 10: Editing Your Scanned Photos

I don’t recommend cropping out backgrounds or the original edging of an older photograph. Even though Aunt Edna may be a tiny figure surrounded by houses, lamp poles, and sidewalk, if you crop the photo to show just Aunt Edna, you lose any historical or personal significance to the photo. You lose clues – perhaps one of those houses in the background is your great-grandmother’s house!

I do straighten an image if it scanned at an angle.

If I am going to adjust the colour (Darken, lighten, etc) or do any editing of the actual photo, I save the original scanned image and work only on a copy.

LFT Shutterfly Books Use copy
Example of some of the family books I have created to share and preserve my family photographs.



Don’t let what is probably a large project overwhelm you. Break it into smaller chunks. Only scan one box or one pile of photos at a time. Scan a bit every day rather than spending hours and making mistakes or exhausting yourself. Make it fun! Enjoy looking at your wonderful memories. You will be so proud of yourself when you finish and you’ll no doubt feel relief that not only have you preserved your precious family photographs but you can easily share them with others.

Be sure to see "Digital Images for Genealogists and Technologists: Scanning, Organizing, Editing, and Sharing Your Digital Images" by Geoff Rasmussen in the Legacy Webinar Library. You can also check out the Digital Imaging Essentials book by Geoff Rasmussen.

Photo Credits: All photos by Lorine McGinnis Schulze 

Lorine McGinnis Schulze is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved with genealogy and history for more than thirty years. In 1996 Lorine created the Olive Tree Genealogy website and its companion blog. Lorine is the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books.








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For many of my photos, I have used Microsoft Picture manager to crop the photo leaving leaving a white space at the bottom to further ID the people in it and add dates or other info. This leaves the photo un-obstructed.

Hi Maggie

I use a Mac and am not familiar with Microsoft Picture Manager but most graphic programs would work for anyone wanting to use your suggestion. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Excellent tips! Digital photos are a pain. It looks like you're using a Mac and I don't think it's as easy fixing metadata/EXIF data on images in Windows. It used to be much more simple until the copyright thing has gone out of control. Not that there isn't a reason for it, it's just made it difficult for making information searchable. Windows photo tagging software comes and goes and then all the good work you put into it disappears along with it (I'm speaking mostly of Picasa, which was excellent until Google dumped it).

One suggestion I would make is keep one original high resolution scan always and forever. No straightening, no touchups, nothing. Just the raw original itself. I have found that there was something I missed, or something that changed when I straightened it (it interferes with resolution) or did something else to it. This way I can always go back to the original really large hi-res photo.

I had a Civil War photo that I straightened. Years later someone said "I have that same photo! Did you see his brother in the background?" Background? I looked at my copy and it looked like a bush. It wasn't a bush. All I did was straighten it and the software moved only a few pixels out of the way but that was enough. Fortunately, I gained that original back by using my cousin's copy.

Oh and if anyone is curious, how she knew that was his brother, it was written on the back of her copy! Mine was a scan I had done then returned the original to its owner. I either didn't see what was written on the back or my copy was a duplicate without it written.

Cindy thank you for such a great comment! Your tip to save the original high quality scan is absolutely correct and I apologize for neglecting that in my article. I love how you found out there was more in the photo and actually managed a second chance at scanning it.

I inherited a very large collection of photos and negatives and for several years have been scanning them and then putting them into an album for safe keeping. The first thing I did was clear the table and start to sort them all out. First I sorted the photos by shape and size because there were so many sizes of film that were used. Then I sorted each size by the subjects of the photos. Also photos often have numbers on the back that will give you the roll numbers and sometimes even picture number. The next sort was by date, as well as I could guess by the ages of everyone in the photos. I put all the scans into a folder for each of the scanners I have and then when done scanning for the day sort into folders by category. I currently have 32 categories. My harddrive is partitioned so even if the windows os crashed I could reformat it without losing my partition labeled "Grafics" and all my photos. I also have an external drive with backup copies and periodically make dvds to give to family members.

My current project started in the Baltic Sea area on the Island of Oesel in the late 1800's and is up to my dad's military service. I looked up each of the bases he was stationed at and printed a bit of info about it, usually from Wikipedia, and included a letter and envelope from that base. I have stopped at the point he was overseas in WWII and next will print out what I have found about where he was stationed in North Africa. I do not do any fancy scrapbooking because the photos are whats important. I do use whatever colored paper pages seem appropriate for the photos. Also, I use the old fashioned looking black photo corners for each picture so that they can be removed if needed.

Once in a while I work on the negatives and have found some of my best photos there. Whether I am scanning photos or negatives I always scan at a pretty high resolution without any modifications and save it as a tiff file. If the photo is sepia colored instead of actual black and white I scan it in color because I like the old looking sepia tones.

One last comment is about a problem that I am sure every has. That group of pictures of babies, school kids, guys in uniform that you cannot begin to identify. I take them all to family gatherings and have everyone go through them to see which ones can be identified. Usually, I give them the photos of their family member because I have way more than my share. One of my favorites is a young sailor and a girl getting married. No one has been able to identify it and several nights ago I saw it on ancestry in a tree belonging to a cousin from across the country. I was so excited I started looking through her tree for more photos and forgot to note who was in the picture. One night I will go back and find out who that young sailor is.

Hi Bonnie

Looks like you sorted the way I sort :-) Loved your story and I hope one day you do find out the name of that sailor.

I hope you saw my earlier articles on organizing photos

10 Easy Steps to Organizing Family Photos Part I

10 Easy Steps to Organizing Family Photos Part II

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