This is the first in a series of regular installments named “In the Works this Week” that will be posted as consistently as possible with the intention of keeping you readers up to date on the concepts, projects, etc. being worked on throughout the week at Xonikz Independent Industries. This week’s focus is archiving.
Due to a drastic change in media over the last ten years a lot of us have run into problems attempting to access our past media for use in current projects. For example, many of us have stacks of physical photographs sitting in a bin somewhere which is great if you’re sitting in your room pining away over some long lost love, but in the real world those physical photos are next to useless. There are plenty of companies out there that do scanning in mass quantities for those of us without time to do it ourselves, but if you are thinking of converting some old photos into their digital future version here are some tips to keep in mind.
1. Clean your scanner – The last thing you want to do is have to digitally remove the same fingerprint, hair, or tree frog off the whole archive of digital images post scanning because you forgot to check the gate. So before you begin any mass scanning or any important scanning at all, clean your scanner.
2. Set the quality – This may seem like an extra hassel, but will save you oodles of regret later in life if you do it right. Most of us won’t use our old family portraits for anything more than memories, but for those of us who have high quality shots from which we intend on doing high quality prints should scan at high quality. Back in the day (ten years ago) 1 gigabyte of storage space was a lot for the average user to consider, but now you can get cheap promotional thumb drives with over 30gigs of storage space on them. As such, there is no longer an excuse for not backing up your data at its best quality. Granted, most of us will never print a billboard for Times Square, but that is no excuse to default to a 72dpi scanning setting. You may run across a few scanning tutorials recommending this generic setting for standard home photo archiving. Ignore them. I worked in the pre-press department of a printing company for 3 years and here are some things I would recommend for archive photos. Scan at no lower than 300dpi. If you’re scanning negatives, or slides, or anything smaller than the average photo push it even farther. Pixels mean nothing in scanning analogue media so consider how clear you want the final image to be not how big. I would suggest scanning slide film at no lower than 900dpi you’ll want the ability to “zoom in” later and you won’t have the option at 72, 100, or really even 300dpi without significant degradation and digital artifacts. Keep in mind this is for scanning purposes only and has nothing to do with your current digital archive. The analogue dpi will be represented differently depending on which photo software you use to view it, but bigger is better in the long run. I’ve included a comparison link at the beginning of this segment but don’t get too bogged down with the reasons, just don’t ever scan anything at less than 200dpi. If you run into the issue of your scanned images appearing as “huge” keep in mind a 10.1 Megapixel camera has a pixel size output of 3872 x 2592. This “hugeness” is relative to your computer screen and most modern photo viewers will size the photo to the screen automatically.
3. Turn off image enhancing – Most scanners have some sort of built in software that sets all sorts of things up automatically to output a really bright picture with really saturated colors. You don’t want this. Make sure to create a new default setting which has all the built in image enhancements turned off. It will help you in the future if you haven’t scanned light gray as white instead of light gray. If you never run into a reason to change your picture’s color, then awesome; but for the rest of us who like the workability of a neutral toned picture this is key to avoiding future stress. All this to say it’s better to scan the picture as-is then to cross your fingers and hope the built in software doesn’t accidentally erase your child’s squinting eyes because of lack of contrast (lack of contrast is fewer contrasting levels and is recognizable by extreme blacks and whites with loss of grays in-between).
4. Naming conventions – Your digital camera names your files automatically with various titles and numbers to help you keep track of what the image you’re storing is. Do the same when you scan things. If you are scanning a batch of images, I suggest you decide your naming convention first to help save a little time finding things later. If you’ve chosen to number your files remember to use enough zeros to account for the amount of files to come. For instance if you know you’ll have 1000 pictures of your trip to Casablanca then name the files “Casablanca_0001” and so forth until “Casablanca_1000” is the last file. This will let all devices read them in the order that you scanned them. You can change the names later, but this will likely work best for viewing whole folders in order. Use meta-tags (mentioned later) for keeping track of file contents. I’ve personally started naming my files by year, month, day, hour, minute, second which sounds confusing and looks like this 20100607_193637 (yes, it’s in 24 hr time to avoid duplicates). I just take too many pictures to bother naming them all right away… I’ll name the selected shots later when I can come up with names for them.
5. Tag your files – Most current scanning software will ask you to tag your files and while this seems like a lot of trouble at first glance it can be a life saver later. Start generic. Use the location, event, and photographer’s name as the primary meta tags when you begin to scan the files. At each collection change interval go back and tag your photos with their primary contents (dog, plane, man-bear-pig) then tag the primary color in the photo (red, blue, green – no crayola color names necessary if you don’t want). The color tag is becoming rather prevalent these days and it will help you to get a jump start on what I’m certain will be a standard tag expectation in the next few years. The more tagged details you can put in your image’s meta data, the better. This will help when searching for the file in the future, particularly when you can’t remember where you were or what was in it. Searching for “the guy in the green hat” will give you much more accurate results if you record the “Casablanca, 2010, May, hat, green, man, guy, etc.” in the meta-tag (keywords).
6. Organize your folders by hand – While there are photo programs out there that sort your files into various structures based on whatever their preferences are, there is still nothing better than setting up your own filing system and keeping track of where your program saves files. This will help immensely to save space on your hard-drive. It will also help you not lose files during software updates or computer changes. I suggest running all your images off of a backup hard-drive and backing up that hard-drive redundantly on a weekly or monthly basis (or pay for an online data backup service if this all seems like too much work/control).
7. Store your paper photos for good – Now that you have all your old pictures available at the tip of your cursor, what do you do with the paper copies? Burn them…. cough, cough… no don’t do that. Ship them to mom… maybe not all of them.
8. Update your social network so we can all see how goofy you looked in the eighties.
9. If you went through all this trouble so you could use these photos for something other than social networking then you likely already have the software knowledge necessary for enhancing and editing the pictures to be usable for you purposes; if not… good luck catching up with the new generation of history makers.
Well, I hope you like the first “In the Works this Week” installment. Next week will be something equally long and boring… Cheers!