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 Jennifer Labin on

    We recently started this project also. My husband has been blogging about these sort of scenarios. In his latest post he lays out his plan for archiving. He plans to update this weekend with the categorization topic.


  2. posted by FB @ on

    This came at a great time

    I JUST spent 6 hours scanning in 90% of my pictures, and I was thinking on how to organize this.

    My idea was to do by date and therefore, also by event

    Like Grandma’s birthday 1990

    And then to sort the major sections of events into categories like: Family, Friends, School, Work, Trips, Other

    ..and so on

    I still have a couple more albums to finish, but I’m tossing ideas around as I’m doing it

  3. posted by FB @ on

    Oh and as for entering data.. yeah, the fastest way is just to do it yourself.

    No other way. Unless your friend is uber organized and can take the time to do all the captions in another album/event for you on your account while you’re doing another album.

  4. posted by FB @ on

    Sorry, one last comment.

    I am also scanning in all of my pictures en masse, but discarding as much of the physical copies as possible of pictures that don’t really add anything or matter.

    The scanned pictures will be cleaned up into a digital album on my computer, and I am not putting them online at all because I don’t like the idea of those private photos online, even in some “secure” online storage area.

    I can make a slideshow or album from my computer with the pics..

    The rest of the selected photos to keep (mostly very old photographs of my parents or grandparents, or when I was a baby), is going to be archived in a very nice scrapbook or album. Haven’t decided on this yet.

  5. posted by Karen on

    I’m on a Mac and I use iPhoto. It’s very easy to name photos, date them, enter descriptions of them, tag them with keywords. The new “Faces” feature also identifies people in photos using facial recognition technology. It’s not perfect, but it is a start. If you’re not on a Mac, I’ve heard that iView Media is also very good (works on Windows and Mac). It’s supposed to handle very large numbers of photos better than iPhoto.

    I organize my scanned photos by date, because that’s the way the photos were organized before I scanned them. Adding metadata with a program like iPhoto/iView allows other possibilities. If you tag a photo “Vacation”, it’s easy to create a smart album of photos with that tag.

    I scan photos that I’ve borrowed myself. As I scan the photos, I name them lastnamefirstnameyear. I had my own photos scanned professionally by I’m not going back and renaming them. Too much work. I’m just using iPhoto to tag them.

    Good Luck with your project!

  6. posted by Gloria on

    I have all my family photos in albums in chronological order. Not exact, but I get the year right. When organizing, make stacks according to decade. Then go back and try to get the year. Exact doesn’t really matter when you’re talking about 30 years ago, etc. You can usually make educated guesses by the hairstyles and clothing. For “extra” photos of friends (graduation, school photos, etc.) I have an album just dedicated to them and group them by person. I did a large scrapbook of my son’s life, 25 years, and by weeding down to the important photos, he doesn’t really need all 3 overstuffed photo albums.

  7. posted by JennT on

    I use Creative Memory’s Memory Manager (at this point just for my digital photos, but I may get ambitious and start scanning in old photos) and one of the things I love about it is it automatically organizes chronologically, and then I can put each picture in as many “sort boxes” as I want – I do one for the month, with folder for event if there are a lot of pics from one event. Then I put the picture in a folder for each person that is in it. That will let me easily pic out pics of, say, Grandma and my son, to make a special gift for them…

  8. posted by Lose That Girl on

    I would love to do this job but it’s such a daunting task! I have two very large boxes full of photos — all organized by date — but to scan them all, it will take months and months. I must say you’re all an inspiration so maybe I’ll take that giant leap and have a go.

  9. posted by Simba on

    After a lot of different trials of categorising I am finally happy with the following (all I wanted was the ability to find photos based on time, occassion and/or people) :

    In Flickr, I have collections for each year, under which collections for each of month of the year, and then under that different sets for the occasions in that month. Under every month, I also have a set called “Random Pics” for those without a particular occasion. For each photo, I add tags with the names of people in the photo (for simplicity, I only “name-tag” close relatives and close friends. For the rest I simply use the generic “friends” or “relatives” or “colleagues” tags)

    So, as an example of the structure :
    2009 (collection) -> June (collection) ->Rohan’s Birthday (set)
    There would be other sets under June including the “June09:Random Pics” set.

    Each photo in the sets will have tags (which I add when uploading to save the extra task) for the persons in the photo.

    Searching photos for a timeline (eg. when Rohan was 6 months old), for an occasion (eg. Rohan’s b’day in 2009) or even finding photos with certain people (eg. Mum + Rohan) is now a breeze since I changed to this structure.

    Hope this helps.

  10. posted by Pedro on

    Try digikam,, it has advanced metadata editing options. The version 1.0 Beta 3 has templates for metadata.

  11. posted by Simba on

    Almost forgot to add, getting all photos for a certain time together is easy using Flickr’s search feature. You only need to create the sets with your search results. Can’t wait when Flickr comes up with a “Smart Set” feature like the one in iTunes for Smart Playlist πŸ™‚

  12. posted by Amanda on

    My mom organized several boxes of photos by writing down dates on a notecard so that she could organize them chronologically. It helped to have other people aid her in figuring out the year. “Did we go to West Virginia before or after the vacation to Myrtle Beach?” Also maybe think of having a grouping of photos of single important individuals; favorite niece, great old neighbor, mom & dad, etc.

  13. posted by Meg on

    Getting all that data in is a very overwhelming task, but great for current & future historians in your family.

    Some suggestions:

    Categorizing Photos:
    Sometimes I like year, but other times I like to do it by event or (for travelling) by location. The important part is to group things the way that *you* think of them. when you want to look for something, will you be thinking “I’d like to look at photos from 2006?” or, “I’d like to look at those photos of Sue’s graduation” or “Where are those photos from our trip to Greece?”. The answer to how you look for them is the answer on how to group them.

    – break it up.
    Make the first part of the task to divide your photos into groups – year, event, person, etc. Organize them into your level of importance (graduations may be more meaningful than birthday parties?), and just do one batch at a time. Using this method, you will have an easier time recruiting family members to help out. Kids may wish to do the labelling/grouping for their milestone events.

    – set small goals. If you have around 2,250 pics, decide to come home from work each day and sort 50-100 photos into the directories. [day 1: Making major directories/folders for the files!] Using 100 photos/day, at the end of only one month you’d have them all sorted and ready for the next step!

    – hire a local teen for some initial data entry at a flat rate/hour. (do a test first to get an idea of about how long it would take to do a reasonable amount). You would probably still want to proof/review, but that is a task that can be done more easily than all of the data entry. And can possibly be done while you watch tv/movies at home.

    – grouping the photos
    This will also be important because after you get them grouped, some of the photo programs will most likely let you add some of the labels en masse. In some programs, you can probably add some labels (year, event?) to all of the files in a directory at once.

  14. posted by Jess on

    Disclaimer: haven’t read the comments yet, sorry for repeats!

    I’d organize by date – I find that easiest. Does iPhoto/Flickr have a tagging option? Then you could look up, say, “erin” and “birthday” and see all the pics of your birthdays over the years.

    I’d also recommend getting together with a couple of girlfriends or a sister and making this a Girls’ Night project. Grab a bottle of wine and some cheese, decide on some good, easy to remember categories (no “Miscellaneous”!), and get tagging!

  15. posted by Rebecca on

    All my photos are done, so I name in a system, using no specialty software at all. I name folders by year, and every file is as follows: Year-Month-Date-EventTitleOrPerson. So it would be 2009-02-04-Skating for a fictional Feb. 2 skating event. That way if things ever get messed up, I can refile chronologically by file title.

  16. posted by Rebecca on

    Sigh. Feb. 4, I meant. Need coffee.

  17. posted by Melissa on

    Definitely use tags. I know it’s a hassle with large numbers of photos, but try to give each one as complete a description as possible; you’ll be glad you did, and in a hundred years some archivist will be VERY glad you did. It’s probably best to take it slowly – give yourself a goal of maybe fifty photos, or one folder, or whatever, for the week. If you break it down that way, it won’t seem like such a giant project. Good luck!

  18. posted by alfora on

    You said that you already have all your pictures in iPhoto. So you are able to use keywords and add comments and titles as you like.

    Use a top-down approach:

    1. Group your pictures into events or put them into albums, like “birthday”, “holiday in XXX”

    2. Use the “stack” command in order to add comments for the specific event to all pictures in the stack. you can do that multiple times but make sure you add the new comments instead of replacing them.

    3. Change the date of the stacks to match the date of the event they were taken. forget about the idea to make that perfect. One date is sufficient for a bunch of pictures of one holiday for example.

    4. If you have drilled down the pictures to managable stacks you can add the real comments you might have written on the back of you photos.

    Note that you can use the backup feature of iPhoto in order to export pictures including their comments and other meta-data and import them into another copy of iPhoto which might make it easier to share the load of writing all the comments.

    5. Don’t do everything on one day. πŸ™‚

  19. posted by Jen on

    Great questions!

    I would just do the data entering yourself. Do you have a favorite show that doesn’t require strict attention? Like an HGTV type show? I’d spend a half hour each day during that show entering data.

    I prefer to have things organized in date order but then you can tag things with things like vacation, Christmas, birthday, and maybe even with people’s names. Then if someone comes to you and says “i want pictures of Grandma,” you can pull them all up in an instant.

  20. posted by Corey on

    I would hire a neighborhood kid to do it. Why spend your valuable time when someone else will do the job whose time is worth less (and more plentiful). Just make sure he/she is trustworthy, with decent typing skills, and at least middle school age, to minimize mistakes writing the descriptions.

  21. posted by Soochi on

    I’ve done it a bit differently, mainly to keep from being totally overwhelmed. I’ve kept the best 15 photos of each person (father, mother, grandmother, etc.) in its own album online. So I can decide to spend time with a particular person.

    Done the same for vacations, trips, etc. I can take 300 photos on a single day on a trip and there’s no way I either need or can keep track of all those, plus there are almost/similar duplicates in there, but they do give me a good field from which to choose the best ones.

    I used to keep every photo but found that all I need is a visual memory jog, not every photo ever taken.

    I haven’t managed this 100% yet but am getting there.

  22. posted by Michelle on

    While having a neighborhood kid to do it would be “ok” you will only know if you have consistent and accurate imputing if you do it yourself. A kid could only do that if you have written on the back exactly what facts you want to save. The time it would take to write all that down on the back of the photos, you could input the info in the computer yourself.

  23. posted by Terry on

    meta tag optimization is not easy in my opinion. I have been a professional photographer for over 20 years and archiving has been my biggest issue. I know some photographers around for 40 years who have full time interns just to figure out their tagging.

    But it depends on what software you have. I think Bridge, which is built in to Photoshop, is great because you can select a range of images and make group tags, then go through each image and add extra tags as needed. The only problem, I believe (from memory here if someone else wants to double check this) that you need to add global keywords first else it will over write other tags.

    But I do think it’s ironic that the unclutter blog writer (no offense) isn’t stating that they went through all of these images and only decided to archive those that are important to them. If they were all important, then maybe you wouldn’t feel it was such a chore.


  24. posted by Tim Howland on

    Scan them now. Backup off-site now. Look through them briefly now. Organize and caption them when you are seventy. You’ll have nothing more pleasurable to do. (that you can do)

    Don’t throw away the originals unless you have a dedicated and relatively new scanner costing at least $200 (not an all-in-one) and know what you are doing, or the professional you hire knows what he is doing, to ensure the scans are the best possible color and highest resolution.

    Throwing away originals to save space? LOL! Sigh. Throw away some other big piece of modern must-have taking up much more space. (Pick one, anyone. Pick two.) If you really don’t have the space, then please, after scanning and offsite backup, leave them in the care of someone who does have the space. Surely someone does.

  25. posted by Oliver Ruehl on

    I’d make it more fun and be more positive about it πŸ™‚

    – Invite some friends
    – Take turns entering the data
    – Tell some stories about the photos

    It will take a while, but at least you’ll get it done with some fun.

    Kind regards

  26. posted by Rue on

    I think the easiest way would be to categorize by date, IF you know the dates of every single photograph you have. If not, then better to sort by category (vacations, birthdays) or person (Grandma, Mom).

    I’d enlist help to enter the notes if you ONLY want to write what’s on the back of the photos. I think that since you’re the one who knows the history of the photographs, as you’re entering these notes you may remember things about the photos that aren’t written on them that you might want to enter in a notes field as well.

    Doing this all yourself is going to take some time, but since you already have the photos scanned, I’d say the hard part’s over. Spending the time entering the information yourself will allow you to take a big trip down memory lane. πŸ™‚

  27. posted by megan on

    Erin — addressing the “meaningful method” question. Remember “a place for everything, and everything in its place”. Same is true for file metadata!

    You can edit the “Date Picture Taken” metadata field if you ever want to search by date. And you can use tags (some programs call them “keywords”) to add notes about people (erin, megan, sally) or events (birthday, christmas, july 4th). And the caption (or “title”) gives a pretty description that you’d see when looking at photos (“Megan’s 5th Birthday, 1984”). You can even add ratings to photos, so that you know which are best.

    Because you can use the metadata to solve your issues of finding pictures of certain people or events, then I’d recommend that you keep it simple when actually naming your files and organizing them into folders. I have 5 separate collections of photos that I’ve archived (my parents’, 2 sets of grandparents’, my own, my great grandparents), so I create folders like “Smith 1962” or “Jones 1978”) and put them in chronological order in those folders with clean names (“Smith 1962 Image 231”).

    A head scratcher example… my parent’s wedding. There are photos in both my grandparents’ AND my parents’ collections. Do I confuse the situation and try to put them together? Nope. I can always search by the Date File Taken to find all photos taken on their wedding day. Or I could search by the “wedding” tag and their names. Lots of way. Because I used metadata properly.

    I would be very careful to not try to use the file names and your directory structure as the way to find files. Keep it simple and chronological and let the metadata do the work it’s supposed to do. I have over 15,000 family photos from 5 different families and they are soooo clean.

  28. posted by gooseling on

    haha I have a three inch thick photo album for every year of my life thusfar (I’m 22) and it is one of my most cherished possessions, no matter how much ridiculous amount of space they take up. I find it strange that some people are discarding the physical photos and relying on their personal computers to hold all their precious memories.

    it is so much more fulfilling to be able to whip out a photo album and pass it around at a family reunion while sitting on the couch rather than crowding around a computer and trying to see them that way. and what if your computer fails? I’m a professional photographer and have unfortunately lost way too much information this way. so yes, back up in multiple places, but don’t get rid of the physical prints unless you don’t like the pictures. and pictures in shoeboxes are never going to get looked at and appreciated the way pictures in a book will. they will be better protected in a book too.

  29. posted by Beth on

    Megan, you have such a firm grasp on photo archiving, I only wish we were related. πŸ™‚

  30. posted by Pammyfay on

    Face it: You’re just gonna have to suck it up and do it! LOL! A little each day. You’ve already had somebody else do the scanning; that’s as big a task–or more–in terms of skill and time invested, so that was the best start to this project. You don’t want to leave this task to some neighborhood kid. You have all those memories in your head, and when you start to add the captions, you’ll also probably remember more than “Debbie and me on the beach in L.A. in the early ’90s.” You’ll probably think of some funny anecdote to add, and that will make the photos and captions more valuable to you. Contracting this job out won’t do that for you.

    (This is the same situation faced by people who haven’t cleaned their basement–or whole house–in years. It seems an overwhelming task until you realize that it just gets done a little at a time, knowing the goal in mind.)

  31. posted by Glenn on

    Wouldn’t it Just be easier to have the photo place do another run but have them scan both the front and back?

    They may even be able to name them something like 101_front, 101_back. Or you could probably find a program or write a script to rename all the odd numbered files by subtracting one and appending a suffix like “_back” to all the files.

    It wouldn’t be searchable, but it would probably be a lot cooler 20 years down the road to also see the handwritten notes on the back.

  32. posted by Niels Bom on

    In my opinion there are two ways you can go about categorizing items (in this case photos), hierarchically or with attributes.
    -an example of hierarchy based (HB) item-management: files on a computer, emails in Outlook or Hotmail, physical photos in a box.
    -an example of attribute-based (AB) item management: tags, Gmail labels or songs in iTunes/iPod.

    I prefer attribute-based item management because it has a number of advantages. I can easily make “views”, “playlists” or “sets” that let me see a certain subset of the items in a way that I want to see it. Sorted in a certain way, with certain specific exceptions.

    Let’s compare how we would go about browsing through such a digital archive:
    For example, I’d like to see all the summer pictures with “Hemingway” family members in it, between the years 1960-1980.

    In a HB system I’d have go into a large number of sets and subsets and subsets and manually include and exclude a whole lot of items. I would then probably copy those to another location or manually make a list of them to show to others or view again myself. If I’d wanted to see a similar set but then for the “Salinger” family, I’d have a lot of work all over again. If more pictures were added, I’d have to search all the sets and subsets again. A lot of work.

    In an AB system I could simply ask the computer to find all items that have certain characteristics (or attributes). I’d let the computer look for photos in the months june/juli/august and with people in it with a surname of “Hemingway”, and a year between 1960 and 1980. For people who are familiar with Gmail, MS Access or Relational Databases: you call this writing a (search) query. The good thing is that such a query can be changed quite easily to search for different attributes (Hemingway OR Salinger, or maybe both). Because a computer does this quite fast, I can easily add photos and new results will turn up automatically if they should turn up.

    An improvement of the AB system is the facet based search, in which I can drill down in my search results and see how many items turn up from various categories. For an example of facet based search: Amazon, In my search for “Oddysey” I can see how many books from each category turn up. If I click one of those categories, the search limits itself to items that have “Odyssey” in their name and are in a certain category. Using a facet based search system with photos could let you search for “summer holiday” and give you a list of the years with after the year the number of photos of that year there are.

    Back to the problem at hand, I see a lot of people proposing various systems: iPhoto, Flickr, etc. The problem I have with those systems is that they aren’t very portable. What if you go through thousands of your pictures, tag them correctly, give them a good date and all and then Flickr goes bankrupt? Or you might decide that another superior service steps up and you want to take all your pictures and the metadata to that other service? Same goes for iPhoto, what if you’ve invested a lot of energy in getting your photo collection done right in iPhoto but then 5 years later decide you want to use Ubuntu instead of OSX?

    My suggestion is: put the metadata IN your photos themselves, that’s where it belongs…and not in an external system. The same system is used for MP3’s and that works quite well, think iPod, iTunes. Or look at Gmails labels, every email has its own labels (or none), although the drawback there is that you can’t export an emails labelas afaik. Another great example of this is, every bookmark has it’s own tags and you can export them all, with tags!

    Another nice effect of using an AB system is that it doesn’t matter at all how your photographs are put into directories. You could put them all in the same directory. Look at how the musicfiles on your iPod are all garbled up and randomly (?) divided over weird-named folders. But you can still browse through all of them by Genre, Artist, Album and what have you.

    So where to put the photo metadata?

    I don’t know what the best solution to _that_ problem is but I do hope I’ve convinced some people of the merits of an attribute based item management system.

  33. posted by Russell Limprecht on

    I use Evernote (private) and Flickr (Public).

    Check out

    Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere. Did we mention that it’s free?

    Use Smartsetr to auto organize your Flickr photos.

    SmartSetr is a site that allows you to create SmartSets for your flickr photos. SmartSets are fully managed by the SmartSetr site.

    SmartSets are sets on Flickr that are updated for you in an automated way. For example, if you have a SmartSet based on the tag “flower”, anytime you add photos to flickr tagged with “flower” they will automatically be added to your flower set for you (after you click refresh on SmartSetr).

  34. posted by Laura on

    @Tim; Don’t wait to caption photos. You never know how long you’re going to live. I have awesome photos of relatives from the late 1800’s, but I have NO idea who they are because nobody took the time to write anything down. Yes, they’re displayed quite beautifully in a leather album, and it would have taken less than 30 seconds per photo to write down at least a name.

    Such a shame.

  35. posted by Melissa A. on

    Hmm, not sure about transfering the text written on the backs of photos (most of my photographs are not written on). However, I have my Flickr photos organized into broad “Collections”, and then “Sets” usually based on even, date, or theme. I have 7 Collections:

    – around the house
    – Halifax (where I live)
    – people (friends, family, related events)
    – events & special occaisions (parades, fireworks, etc.)
    – knitting and crafts
    – vacations and trips
    – misc.

  36. posted by Jackie Pettus on

    Thanks for the tip on where to get old photos scanned. I need it…I have decades worth of photos from before 2001, when i got my first digital camera. Since then I print “contact sheets” for each month using iPhoto. At the end of the year I put them in an 8 1/2 x 11 binder with tabs for January-December, and the year printed on the spine.

    The binder serves as an index to my iPhoto collection, and makes it easy for me, or other members of the family to find photos for a particular event. We keep the current year’s album on the coffee table, and I can’t even tell you how often friends and family pick it up to look at the photos, resulting in fun recollections and conversations. (What good is organizing photos if no one looks at them?!)

    Now all I have to do is find the time to get the previous 30 years worth of photos

  37. posted by luke kurtis on

    Lots of great comments. The one thing I will say that no one has mentioned: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom! Lightroom is similar to other programs that have been mentioned (i.e., iPhoto, Aperature, and iView–now MS Expression Media). I have found Lightroom to be the most versatile system for my needs–AND it’s both Windows and Mac, a plus for me. One of the things I really like about Lightroom is that you can manage your photos through a combination of the filesystem folder structure as well as metadata. Plugins are also available for numerous tasks, such as uploading to Flickr.

  38. posted by Bryan R. ( on

    Hi Erin,

    First, we are ecstatic that you found us and that we were able to help you with such a project. While we don’t have an exact answer to your questions at the end of your posting, I can suggest some points of view on it.

    In regards to transferring notes from the back of photographs, there isn’t a quick, easy way to do this, at least that we have found. Instead, look at it this way. Yes, typing all of those notes can be slow but think of the history you are going through. Encourage your kids to help with this project. Use it as a time to bring the family together and relive memories or share family history with those too young to remember events or people.

    As for the categorizing conundrum, I use a little bit of both in my categorizing. Some are based on event, some based on people, some based on event and date (if I can remember it). I also have a Misc. group that I have no idea what they are and I then email select photos to family to see if they can help out. This, again, is another great way to share the process. I know my mom loves to see old photos and I get emails in great detail about who and what is going on the photo.

    Hopefully this helps and if anyone has any other questions, anyone can feel free to email me any time at [email protected]

  39. posted by Emmanuel on

    Use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) like Project Gutenberg (if your writing is legible enough). Simply scan the backs of the photos, run it through the software and hopefully it will create a text file to be associated with the photo. Perhaps you could automate the process with a script.

  40. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    Lots of great information here!

  41. posted by megan on

    @Beth — Thank you! You can join us anytime, we’re not exclusive. πŸ˜‰

  42. posted by enigma on

    Irony hits me again … hard.

    My non-digital photos drowned in the recent flooding along with their negatives. Photos and negatives stick together now and when I try to separate either, well, theyΒ΄re ruined for good.

    Plus, the negatives are of a format that most shops cannot process anymore, so even if I could save the negatives and have them cleaned there would be no quick/easy/cheap way of getting them in a digitized way.

    I cannot express how sad and mad that makes me.

    Also, keep in mind the technological advances … I have lost data and files by not keeping an eye on the file formats and/or software needed.

  43. posted by Fazal Majid on

    While some apps like iPhoto have facial recognition built-in, tagging photos is incredibly time-consuming. An app with a decent UI like Shoebox can help somewhat, but the only way to do it right would be to outsource the work someone in India or the like. I wonder if there is any such service available.

  44. posted by megan on

    enigma, very sorry to hear about your flood. Keep in mind that you get better scanned results from negatives and slides, not the paper version. So if you have negatives that you can’t get processed — even better for digital conversion!

    I personally use Scan Cafe. I had a lot of negatives and slides to scan, and they do this by hand (no auto-feeders).

    Also, I must plug Mozy. I have a SmugMug site for displaying all of my great photos, but I still use Mozy as an automated backup service. Not any help to enigma who has lost everything, but to everyone else… the question of “will my hard drive crash” is not “if”, it’s “when”. No hard drive lives forever. And there is no warning.

  45. posted by Liesl on

    To build on what Karen said: in iPhoto, I think you can select more than one picture at a time and change the date, and then iPhoto will put them into different events.

  46. posted by Nana on

    I’m still working through photo albums; will worry about digital another year. Safety tip: mail negatives to someone in another state for storage. With luck, you won’t BOTH have a disaster. Never store prints and negatives together.

  47. posted by Jan D - Fibrowitch on

    I am a long time scrapbook fanatic, so most of my pictures were already labeled in scrapbooks. When I scanned my Grandmother’s pictures each one was labeled and placed in an orderly file.

    I started a database with all the pictures, so now if I want to search for pictures by subject I can. Doing it bit by bit, each time I take new pictures makes the task an easy one. As for starting the database many years ago, well once I started scanning it just flew along. I would scan and label while watching baseball games.

    Works like a charm. Never got on flicker or any other photo sharing site, never needed to.

    I should mention I’m an occupational engineer so stuff like this is second nature.

  48. posted by David D on

    I had my grandma’s photos scanned by They did a good job with the scanning and were affordable. I use Phanfare to back up my photos. I am going to try and use Flickr’s face recognition software to organize them now that they are scanned.

  49. posted by Erin on

    Sorry if this is redundant (didn’t get through all the posts): hire someone. Gretchen (Happiness Project) was most helpful when she gave the advice “ask for help.” My husband never wants to part with his receipts, even though they most likely will never be looked at again. Our solution – Neat Receipts plus ScanSnap. But I realized it would take me FOREVER to scan all the old receipts in (I can maintain, but not catch up) – but there are no shortage of high school or collage kids who will do it for $12/hr. I found someone I trusted and I feel so much happier! I’m sure for $12/hr you could find someone to sit in your living room and label all your photos.

  50. posted by Lou on

    I won’t repeat comments by others, but I do want to suggest a “Portraits” category, with name, year, why that person matters. Great memories are more likely to center around persons, rather than dates, vacations.

  51. 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.

  52. 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 πŸ™‚

  53. 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.

  54. 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) […]

  55. 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.

  56. 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.

  57. 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

  58. 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.

  59. 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. πŸ™‚

  60. 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!

  61. 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.

  62. 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.

  63. 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!

  64. 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.

  65. posted by Snitzels on

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

  66. 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!

  67. 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.


  68. 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.

  69. 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.

  70. 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!

  71. 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.

  72. 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!

  73. 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 πŸ™‚

  74. 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.

  75. 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…” πŸ™‚

  76. 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!!

  77. posted by David on

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

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