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10 Steps to Scanning, Preserving and Sharing Your Photos (Part 1)


If you have been following along with my previous blog posts - 10 Easy Steps to Organizing Family Photos Part I and Part II - you are ready to begin scanning, preserving and sharing those wonderful family photos you just organized.

1. Make a Plan

You need to decide on several things before you even begin to scan your photos. How will you organize your images on your computer? Will you organize by date? By event? By family? By surname? How will you name your files? What format will you use to scan your photos? What resolution should you scan in? What kind of scanner should you use? What is the end goal for your digital images? Are you burning the images to a CD-rom? Saving them to the cloud? The options are endless and you need to have some idea of how you will tackle each of these questions before you begin.


Organize Photos 1-5
Photo credit: Lorine McGinnis Schulze

In the steps below I am going to walk you through making these decisions and starting your scanning project. It’s important that you realize there are many ways to tackle a project such as this one. That means many of your decisions are going to be personal choices.

2. Decide on your Folder Hierarchy

Create your electronic file hierarchy system first, before you begin to reorganize the electronic documents you want to file within it. With your system in place, you easily can drag and drop files into the appropriate file folders, without stopping to create a new file folder.

Set up your file structure within one master folder; this makes backing up and moving stored files easier. I like to create a master folder within the “PICTURES” section of my Mac hard-drive. On my Windows 10 Computer I create a master folder by choosing File Explorer then Pictures Directory.

You may want to create an electronic file hierarchy structure that is the same as your paper file organization. This keeps data organized under one structure instead of trying to maintain multiple structures. Whatever method you choose, be consistent!

* Create subfolder categories. Depending how many photos I have for a surname (i.e. how many image files I end up with) I create subfolders. So for my Simpson family I would have a main folder labelled “Photos Simpson” and then subfolders for each of the children and the parents. In case you are wondering I start the folders with the word “Photos” so they are all together. But for my McGinnis family where I have very few photos I could just have a main folder for that surname.

There is a little “trick” you can use to cut down on your typing and at the same time be extremely consistent. If you set up your subfolders with the surname of each family (for example Simpson), and within each subfolder you have the identical subfolders of “Ancestor <name of ancestor>” “Parents” “Siblings” you can copy and paste these 3 subfolders into every surname folder you have created.

Using my Simpson surname folder as an example, my Simpson ancestor is my grandmother Ruth. I have photos of her, her parents, and all her siblings over many years. So in the subfolder “Ancestor Ruth” I put all photos of Ruth from birth to marriage. In the subfolder “Parents” I put all photos of her parents. In “Siblings” I am going to create even more subfolders with the names of each of her siblings. I have too many photos of them to lump them all together.


3. Understand Scanning Resolution, Image Format & Color vs Black & White

Resolution (DPI): The higher the resolution (this is your DPI) the better the scan is. The downside is that higher resolutions are larger files and thus take up more room on your hard drive. DPI stands for dots per inch.

300 DPI is safe and will give you a decent digital image at the same size as the original photo. If you are going to enlarge your photo you will need to increase the DPI for scanning. 600 DPI is the most recommended for good quality

Remember that you cannot make a blurry photo clear no matter how high your DPI settings are.

Format: The most common image file formats (the most important for cameras, printing, scanning, and internet use) are JPG, TIF, PNG, and GIF

  • JPG files are small, so they take up less room on your hard drive, but their quality is not as good as other formats. Each time you alter a jpg file the quality suffers.
  • GIF – the downside is reduced colors. It uses compression and thus reduces quality.
  • PNG is similar to TIF in that it is lossless but similiar to jpg and gif it is intended for the internet because of its compact files size.
  • TIF is considered the highest quality file type because it is a "lossless" format (ie the file quality remains the same no matter how many times your save it).

The recommended format for photo scanning is TIF.

Color vs Black & White Scanning: Usually scanning in color works best, even for black and white photos. Some badly damaged black and white photos may be better scanned in black and white if you plan on editing or restoring the photos later.

We'll continue with 7 more steps to scanning, preserving and sharing your treasured photos in Part 2.


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.


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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How can I get parts 1 and 2? Thanks

Good article, I enjoyed reading it. I am a professional photographer as well as a family genealogist and have acquired a huge amount of digital images. I have had some opportunities to visit older relatives who had a lot of old photographs and took along my laptop as well as a smaller size scanner that I own and while we sat at the kitchen table looking through old albums I was able to do high resolution scans on images I would otherwise never had had access to. I have several professional editing programs and usually can restore damaged images. I normally keep TIFF files and then save the image as needed in smaller files if they are being sent out to family members, usually JPEG since it is easy to view on most computers. If I am saving the file for Legacy Family Tree media I save as a JPEG for screen viewing.

As far as labeling and filing away my images I use the same RIN and MRIN numbers that I use in Legacy Family Tree software. I do this because in my family tree the same names often keep popping up, for instance my great grandfather was Nicholas Thiry and it seems like every branch of the family that descended from him used that name for someone in honor of him, there must be 20 or so and this is true for some other family names. Using the RIN and a letter like a, b, c, etc. for additional images pertaining to that individual ensures I keep them connected to the right individual. I use MRIN for any pictures or images related to the marriage of a couple. I usually save scanned documents such as birth and death certificates and newspaper clippings in JPEG and do the same filing for them as well. So when I go to my media file and look at a particular individual listed by their RIN I can see everything related to them all in one place.

I keep the images on my main drive as well as a backup drive that I update periodically. And I usually make a printed copy that goes in my physical office file cabinet where all the folders are also in RIN and MRIN numerical order. If I have actual photographs of an individual and it isn't framed on the wall the photos go in those files as well. As long as I know the number of the individual or the marriage I can find anything.

D - thank you for sharing your organizational ideas with us! It is always helpful to hear how others accomplish this task.

Weldon, Parts 1 and 2 are linked to the posts in this article. Just click on the text " Part I and Part II " in the first paragraph

Here's another resource for photo preservation:

Lorraine, You might like to take a look at my book, Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage (Information Today, 2013) Chapter 2 has a photo of how I stored my collection of 22,000 slides going back into the 1950s--in cigar boxes! Chapter 4 discusses some software platforms for archiving photos. Other chapters discuss several other aspects of personal digital archiving.


D - Am so interested in your system of filing and labeling. My son has been trying to get me to use this system, but I need to see a visual for better understanding. I am a senior citizen who is self-taught on the Legacy system and not the most knowledgeable person in regards to using my PC. Would D post visual examples of his file setup on his computer?


Hi Don

Thank you for the information about your book.

Lorine (not Lorraine)

As a self-appointed family tree researcher, I have one folder with two subfolders, one for my side and one for my wife's side. I did that to keep people straight in my head.

My file names are [surname] [space] [married name][-][given names][-]followed by "Photo" or "Gravestone" or "Marriage Record] or "Obituary" or "1940 US Census", and so on as required. The [-] is a dash with no spaces fore or aft.

An example with made up names might be "Smith Jones-Amanda Jessica-Photo.jpg" or "Jones-James Family-1940 US Census.jpg" or "Johns-James & Amanda Jessica Smith-Gravestone.jpg".

I use the dashes as marked for breaking up the file name after removing the ".jpg" from the copy of the name I am processing. The first part up to the first dash is the surname, the second acts like a given name, and the last part identifies the type of record it is. Thus, Access can parse most filenames for me and I can assemble the parts as I wish such as [given names][space][surname].

As you can see, the given name part can be used for two people: the "Jones-James & Amanda Jessica Smith-Gravestone.jpg" translates to James & Amanda Jessica Smith Jones Gravestone" which I use as a title or caption.

As a kicker, I developed an Access database for each photo. I have the file name, an image, the person's name, their birth and death years, and a comment. I also list the type of photo it is, a digital photo, a census record, and so on.

I have a report in Access to show each file with its image and info. I can filter the report so that only photos show up if I wish. I distinguish between scanned photos I made of actual photographs on hand from photos from the Internet or from ones where I do not have the original.

I have all of our photos in two envelopes, one for my side and the other for my wife's side, with an appropriate report in each so that we can figure out what's what. I use the image on the report as a key to the photo, but I could add a photo ID in the database and put that number on the back of the photo. It hasn't been necessary but it certainly can be done.

I'm sure you could think of ways to improve the system. It does put people together by birth surname so the husband and wife may be removed from earch other in the sorting. I tried the revers of listing the surname of the husband first followed by the maiden name, but it was too confusing for my already dyslexia-prone mind.

Bill I am blown away! Talk about being organized. I am not sure I completely follow what you've done. I would have to block it out on paper but it sounds amazing! I'm afraid I will never be that organized but kudos to you.

The naming of photos or the arrangement of a folder hierarchy is too complicated especially for photographs containing many people that you are interested in.
What I do is simply give each photo a number and increase the number by 1 for each new photo, and I keep a separate 'index' in a spreadsheet which gives each photo a name/title and cross references the people that are in the photo.
So to find any photo I want to I just look for keywords in the title, and to find any photos of people that I want to, I simply look for which photos cross reference the person I'm interested in.
Very simple and works very effectively.

Thanks for the idea Dave. It's always interesting to hear how others solve the naming of files issue!

"Some badly damaged black and white photos may be better scanned in black and white if you plan on editing or restoring the photos later." This is the first time I recall reading this particular advice. Everything else I've seen suggests scanning such photos in at least 24-bit (or 48-bit if possible) to include as much digital data as possible for later editing and restoration. Photos scanned in literal 'black-and-white' will have only black pixels and white pixels to work with. If they were actually scanned as 'gray scale', they will have a maximum of 256 levels of gray from pure white to pure black, in only one color channel. If the same photos are scanned in 24-bit color, there will be 256 levels of each of the Red, Green, and Blue color channels or a total of more than 16.7 million bits of data (256x256x256) to work with. Going from 24-bit color to 48-bit color will definitely greatly increase the file size but there will be literally billions of bits of data to work with during editing and restoration. When all the editing and restoration are finished, an archive copy can be safely converted back to gray scale and saved as such. If the original, edited and restored version is also saved, any future revisions will be possible with minimal repeated work being required.

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