You’ve scanned some family photos. Great! But who is in them? With file names like IMG_1092.jpg, it isn’t readily apparent who is in the photo. How can you label scanned photos? You can embed the data into the metadata of the file, but there are two problems with that: time and access. It takes time to type all that up. And what happens when you email that photo to a cousin? Will they figure out how to read that metadata?
Fortunately, there's an easy, low-tech way of labeling those photos while you're scanning.
Getting Started - What You Need
This is a photo of my grandpa with his mom. When I scanned it, I ended up with a file name SCAN0115.jpg. I can enter the data within the metadata using a program like Photoshop, but that takes time and my cousin probably won’t be able to find it.
What I need is a piece of paper and a pencil. (I told you this was low-tech.)
Next, I write my “label” and lay it down on the scanner with the photo.
Scan both at the same time.
This makes one image. (I did crop the one below so it would fit on the blog better.) I have the photo and the label together.
NOTE: This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use your photo software to tag your photos. You still want to do that. But this step of writing out the label and having it as part of the visible image makes things easier down the road.
If you're wondering, "Why not have all of that information in the name of the file?"... glad you asked. Not all scanners give you the option of changing the file name when you scan. Also, if you're using your phone or other camera as a scanner, you can't change the file name when you take the picture.
You might be thinking, “That doesn’t save a lot of time.” Actually, it saves time and frustration.
- I can send the image to my relatives and they can see in an instant who it is.
- I can embed metadata at my leisure later, without worrying that I’ll forget who was in the photo. (Yes, I’ve had that happen. Very embarrassing to have to go back to my mom and ask, “Who did you say this was?”)
- Having the label visible also makes it easier for me to rename the file and to arrange into albums/folders on my computer. Having that information in front of me – literally – means I don’t have to go searching for that data, which saves me time and effort.
- Yes, it takes time. So does any method of labeling. Sorry.
- You need to have handwriting that is at least half-way legible.
- You relative could crop off the label. But that’s their decision. Besides, you still have your copy of it.
Tips for Labeling
It seems weird to call our ancestors by their full name. (What do you mean Grandma’s name isn’t “Grandma”?!) But that’s what you need to do when you label your photos.
If I had labeled this one “Grandpa with his mom” and I give it to my daughter, she could wonder, “Whose grandpa? My grandpa or mom’s grandpa? And which side of the family?” When you list people by name, it takes out that ambiguity.
Add the location and a date if you know it. I don’t know either the date or the location in this photo.
Make It a Group Activity
You don’t have to do this all by yourself. One person can write the caption, one person can scan, and one person can then write the information on the back of the photo. (Use a pencil and don’t press down too hard!) This would be great for Thanksgiving evening or Christmas night. (Just be sure to get all of the food off the table first. Family photos and food DO NOT MIX!)
I hope you’ll give this suggestion a try. When you do, let me know how it goes!
Also, for tips on how to preserve those old family photos, check out this interview I did with Denise Levenick, the Family Curator.