Print photographs have been scanned: Now what?

Earlier this year, I had all of my old print photographs professionally scanned (I used and it was around $150 per box of 2,250 pics). Next, I uploaded all of my digital scans to my Flickr pro account and to iPhoto (so far, I have decided not to upgrade to Aperture) on my laptop so that I have the files backed up in multiple locations in addition to having them on DVD. As far as these processes were concerned, the process was easy as pie. (Mmmmmm, pie.)

I am now comfortable with knowing that if my house burns to the ground, decades of photographic memories will not be lost.

However, I am a bit frustrated about the next step in my photo organizing process and I’m looking for some advice. I wish to enter all of the text that I have written on the back of the photographs into the corresponding image’s Notes/Description field. And, I wish to categorize the sets of images into meaningful groups. Doing these two steps, however, seems to be Herculean.

Does anyone out in the Unclutterer readership have a suggestion for how to speed up this process?

  • What is the fastest way to enter data from the back of a photograph into a Notes/Description field? Should I enlist the help of a friend? Hire a neighborhood kid to do it? Streamline the process in some way?
  • What is the most meaningful way to categorize groups of photographs? Is date order always the best method? What other systems do people use that have proven to be worthwhile?

Let me say, “thank you,” ahead of time, because this has been a bit of a nightmare for me. I look at the box of photographs that have been scanned and feel overwhelmed by the next step in the process.

77 Comments for “Print photographs have been scanned: Now what?”

  1. posted by Karl B on

    ACDSee is a $40 image management program. You can add categories, keywords, and rate the photos.

    This will create a searchable database that makes finding photos very easy. There is no easy way to accomplish this, but once you complete it, you will be happier and more organized.

    It will take time, but just get going on it in bite-size pieces.

    Lightroom is also great for organizing, but unless you want to utilize the image editing part of this program, you will be overpaying for it.

  2. posted by Nicole on

    Please don’t get rid of the originals! Yes, floods, fire and environment are threats to photographs, but so is technology. Professional archivists scan photographs for access, but never for preservation. Long-term digital preservation is still a long way off. CDs and DVDs will start to corrupt after five or ten years. Backup onto hard drives you refresh often, and migrate every few years. Try to keep the scans in a format such as TIFF which has the most “information” and a better chance of being readable in the future. Be wary of proprietary photo management software which a) saves your metadata separately from the photo (the link could be lost) or b) saves your photos in a format which is not TIFF or JPEG (might become obsolete and unreadable in a few years)

    The originals should be kept in a cool, dark place.

    Aaaaaand I’m off my soap box :)

  3. posted by Another Deb on

    Great advice everyone. Thank you! I am about 600 scans into a slide preservation project and have yet to transfer the information from the slide holders. This column was timely motivation to begin the restoration process and archiving the info.

  4. posted by links for 2009-07-28 at So It’s Come To This: on

    [...] Print photographs have been scanned: Now what? | Unclutterer (tags: photography organization scanning) [...]

  5. posted by SLY on

    I like the suggestion to think about archiving them by how you would look for them. I’ve started doing that and am finding pictures more quickly. Some of it wouldn’t make sense to someone else. But it works for me.

  6. posted by Amy in Ann Arbor on

    We are just at the scanning step, but I will read these suggestions with interest. For certain photos, I would like to also capture the notations on the back visually.

    I made a large “heritage” album for my parent’s photos taken during and shortly after WW II, and included photocopies of the backs of many of them. Now, I really enjoy reading notes in my (deceased) parents’ handwriting. That is surprisingly meaningful to me.

  7. posted by rachelle on

    “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. ”
    Thanks for this post and all the comments, seems to be lots of great ideas. I love your blog. Just jumped here from India Flint’s site. I will get a big cup of coffee and sit here and just read this blog. I need what you’ve got. Pared down and back to basics. Thanks for the inspiration. x

  8. posted by Random Wanderer on

    If money is not a big issue, how about having the same company scan the backs of the photos in the same order? There are some applications out there that can scan those digital images for words and “translate” them to text format which you can then copy/paste where needed.

  9. posted by Tim Howland on

    @Laura – Good point about taking a second to note who is who in a photo for future generations. I would hope this could be done in bulk at the folder or tag-level, with a few exceptions.

    @Nicole – Agree! + add other’s comments about warmth of physical albums. Scanning & keeping the originals gives you the best of both worlds.

    Funny story for everyone: I never print any of my digital photos, mainly because we’re happy with online viewing now. Last Christmas my sister and her husband gave me a printed photo album of dozens of my photos. Kind of reverse-scanning. Someday, someone might scan *that* album, if they can’t find the *originals*, my JPEGs. :-)

  10. posted by BigAssSuperstar on

    I’ve been scanning photo albums and loose prints from boxes of photos while on vacation … *and* I woke up this morning from a dream about searching through boxes of 5 1/4″ floppy disks for old stuff and panicking over how to read the disks … so, this post really speaks to me. So far, I’ve been naming my files as best I can with a goal of tagging them later — but I’m still stumped as to which program to tag them with. That comment about hierarchy-based versus asset-based searching sounds spot-on. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could tag *in* the file — I thought any solution would be external! Good to know!

  11. posted by Kelly on

    I catagorize primarily by association, meaning childhood family photos go in one place, college friends in another, high school friends in another, friends from various locations/jobs/organizations each in their own. I have moved regularly, and know which years I was in which place or with each organization, but if you have been in the same city/house/job for 5 years or more, this would never work for you!

    The reason I do this is because the main reason I pull out the old photos is to reminisce about a certain person or time in my life. If I want to think about a high school friend, all photos of us together from high school to reunions are desirable – looking up all the various years to locate these pictures would be ridiculous. I hate to admit this, but this organization is particularly poignant when a friend or family member finds out they are ill or passes on – one of the top reasons to find photos quickly.

    Conversely, with more regular characters (like my husband), I do break things down by occasions like vacations. These would be more chronological.

  12. posted by Courtney Ostaff on

    Ditto Glen’s note re: associating the back and front of the photos. See also: Evernote. And if you have neat enough handwriting, OCR (tip of the hat to Emmanuel)

    As for organization, that’s personal.

    As for backup, hi-res scans will do it for most of us, and you can pay for backup online.

  13. posted by Candied Fabrics on

    3 words: Adobe Bridge CS4

    This simple program lets you group, arrange, sort, tag, digital photos (without making duplicate copies – like so many other album programs like iPhoto). It then has all these neat output functions that lets you create albums to print out, save to your computer or post on line.

    I’m just learning the whole CS4 shebang, and I’m amazed at it’s power – but this Bridge program, all by itself is an amazing organizing tool!

  14. posted by Snitzels on

    If you have Adobe Bridge, it will let you group the sets of pictures without re-filing them all, and it will SUGGEST keywords and can actually recognize FACES and tags them for you(CS4). I would strongly recommend it, it’ll speed up the process quite a bit! go to the website and look under Bridge if you want more information.

  15. posted by Snitzels on

    By the way, anybody every faced with scanning old slides and know some reasonably affordable way to get them digitized?

  16. posted by megan on

    Snitzels — I use ScanCafe for my slide scanning. It’s 20-some cents per slide (I don’t remember right now). They hand scan them as opposed to sending them through a feeder, and you can review your scans online and pick-and-choose which ones you want to keep (as long as you pay for at least half of them). Much easier than sorting this out when in tiny slide form!

  17. posted by Tim on

    With a substantial number of photos you may want to consider storing the images themselves using a unique filename that can just be a serial number. Then, put the other information such as subject, year, location, etc. in a database system along with a filed that holds the filename so there’s a link to it. I’m not familiar with databases for the Mac but I’m certain there are several good ones from which to choose.

    The advantage to having a true database is not only can you search for a photo or event easily but you could at a later date more readily generate reports on what you have in your archives… “find all photos from July of 1997″, “find all photos of Aunt Betty from any year”, “find all photos from the Smith family reunions”, etc.

    The down side is it will take some up front effort. The upside is over time it will save you a lot of frustration if you routinely need to get things from your archives.


  18. posted by Jude on

    I’ve been scanning slides for awhile. I uploaded quite a few to Flickr. After a few hundred, I realized that I needed to assign an accession number so that I could find them a particular slide again. I still haven’t finished annotating all the slides I already uploaded to Flickr, and I have about 2000 more to scan, so that project is on hold for now. Similarly, I delegated the process of photographing our local cemetery to my daughter (I currently lack a camera). I still haven’t annotated those. With the slides, they’re organized by year or decade, although sometimes I make sets for special events or categories of humans (e.g., my Mexican cousins). It’s not fun to do any of this organizing stuff, but it is wonderful to be able to share the photos with anyone. I could never afford to pay a professional to scan my photos.

  19. posted by Joe on

    for organising photos digitally, I order by date.

    the folders are labelled, starting with the year, so 2009.

    then, using the (reverse for me) month and day the photos were taken on – so the final folder is labelled, for example, 2009-0731.

    that’s rather strict, though, as it leaves no room for collections of photos and such, unless you want to do that yourself. personal preference really, but ordering by date is very convenient.

  20. posted by Rae on

    This is a fantastic article, and the comments are incredibly helpful! I’m at the very beginning of organizing my photos and I had no idea there were so many options. Thanks so much to everyone. You folks are great!

  21. posted by Mandyfuji on

    As a scrapbooking enthusiast and a mom of 2 young kids, I have lots of digital photos that need organizing. I love the Creative Memories’ Memory Manager program.

    It’s so easy to use even a tech dummy like me is able to quickly learn how to use it. It allows you to add journal with each photo, perfect for transferring the text in the back of the photos.

    As for the quickest way to enter all of them, I would suggest breaking down the process into smaller steps and set a goal to do a few a day so the project doesn’t seem too overwhelming.

  22. posted by Jenn Ryan on

    I store each event in a folder – for example, last Christmas would be “2009-1225 Christmas”. I always start with the year for easier searching. I use Windows Live Photo Gallery (free) to organize. One awesome feature is the ability to change the date taken – for all those scanned pics and the ones where the date is reset to 01-01-1900 on your camera. You can easily tag photos as well; each photo can have multiple tags. I tag pics featuring different people, pets, even pics of craft projects I’ve made, so they are easy to find. Not sure about a fast way of adding notes, sorry!

  23. posted by Inki on

    I’m late to the party, but just wanted to recommend Keyword Manager ( for iPhoto – makes entering keywords SOOO much easier! You can enter hierarchies of keywords, it suggest keywords based on ones previously entered and names based on what is in your address book… And no, I don’t work for them, I’m just a very happy customer :-)

  24. posted by RHPotter on

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned this yet, but–

    For iPhoto, the ‘batch edit’ (I think that’s what it’s called, I don’t have the software in front of me) is my best friend. I can grab a group of photos, whether an entire roll or just certain ones, and change all their titles, descriptions, dates, or other data to the same thing all at once. So say I come home with fifty pictures taken this last Christmas. I can grab the entire roll, and batch change the titles to ‘Christmas 2008′, and Iphoto will append a -1, -2, and so on to the ends to keep them organized. Then I can throw them into a folder or subfolder, as I like.

    Sadly, this won’t help with comments for individual photos–you would still have to enter those by hand. But it might help with the organization of your photos collection up to that point.

  25. posted by consumer_q on

    Check out (from the library) the book entitled _The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers_ and read the chapters on archiving, file naming, and metadata. The book will help you knock out a workflow and put a digital asset management system into place (one that is “future proof”). You and your family will learn to appreciate the time you invested to thoroughly tag and organize your photograph collection (using industry standards, of course) when they are looking for “that one photo with…” :-)

  26. posted by halifaxgirl on

    I too am looking for the correct way to catalogue my photos and spent some time wondering whether or not if I label (tag, descriptions) all my photos, how future-proofed is this work? Will they transfer between programs as technology advances? I found my answer here and I hope that you check this article out before you do all the hard work….seems like it could be wasted time unless you pay attention to some techy details about future transferability….

    Hope this helps!!

  27. posted by David on

    Some thoughts on folder/filename structure can be found here:

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