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.
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.