Digitising Old Photo Prints

A couple of years ago I spent some time digitising all my 35mm slides - well, not exactly all - I often found that a roll of 35mm film had perhaps only one or two slides worthy of archiving.

The results were put on a CD using Picasa and the CD had a copy of Picasa to make viewing slide shows easier for those without Picasa. I copied the CD and distributed it to family members.

I've now started on the prints; when 35mm prints became cheaper I preferred prints to slides so I could avoid the use of a projector. My scanner has a half-decent slide scanner attachment, so I can scan prints, or preferably negatives at up to 4,800 dpi if available.

So there are the usual decisions to be made; without EXIF data I'll have to use a file numbering system of the sort 1989-07-25_france_dordogne.jpg so that they sort chronologically, and should I file high res TIFFs or low res JPGs? The exercise is quite a lot of work and I want it to be future proof.

So what storage format should I use? Already the use of optical drives is diminishing, and Apple are starting to ship computers without them. It's quite likely that in ten years time no-one will be able to read a CD or a DVD, even Blu-ray. The emphasis is on Cloud computing and network storage.

So I could upload the result of my work to Picasa or Flickr or Google Docs or DropBox, etc. and email the family with instructions on how to view my photos.

But I'm getting long in the tooth and will die in the relatively near future - and all my online storage, like me, will disappear in a puff of smoke.

So what is a good, future-proof way of storing family photos?



Thanks for that Ian. I found the comments even more interesting than the article. I've Windows 8 running in a VM under Mac OS and it's no great shakes I can tell you. I'm looking forward to watching the this chapter.

A pointer to the slow death of optical disks: "Windows 8 will not play DVDs"

Hi John,

I agree with (almost) everything you say. Optical drives are on the way out and I've got a 2TB back-up external drive with both important files and a bootable clone of the whole computer backed up.

I'm also fairly well into the exercise - which has been helped by the wet weather keeping me out of the garden. I've found that scanning slides at 1200dpi is quite adequate and it's reasonably quick; Scanning at higher resolutions merely more accurately reproduces the blur and the faults in the original negatives. Each scanned negative I pass through a quick photoshop-type process, mainly to correct colour balance, gamma, crop to improve composition and I sometimes use a sharpen mask which produces a picture somewhat better than the original and is perfectly acceptable on my 26" monitor.

Where I don't entirely agree with you is in the use of the Cloud. IMHO the data security of cloud providers such as Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive is probably considerably higher than that of my system which is subject to risks such as hardware failure, lightning strikes, mains failure, mains over-voltage, house fires and plain old geriatric finger trouble.

I've had Dropbox for some time and it's never given any trouble; I've just fired up Google Drive on my Mac - it seems to be a tarted-up version of Google Docs and thus has a reasonably well-proven code base. So I'd be quite happy to drop an insurance copy of my pictures into either or even both of these providers. Adblock means that I don't even see the adverts!

What does worry me, and I've no answer to this, is the "Digital Will" aspect. Should I shuffle off this mortal coil tonight, my wife has the master password to my LastPass account. But she is no IT guru and would need help to get at anything on the computer or its drives or my Cloud subscriptions (which would lapse) in order to transfer stuff to the ungrateful children before they zoom off to Claridges in their Lamborghinis.

With my previous exercise with slides, at least I was able to send optical disks with all the scanned slides to the six children and the former wife. How would the current incumbent deal with that, at a time when she had far more important things to think about?

I think I have to cling on to life with my fingertips until the Aurelius-Haddock Digital Will app, with Napoleonic add-ons for France, is released on the App Store!



Always store them on local hard disks Ian. Maybe three if you are paranoid about hardware like I am. For example a disk on your PC, a back-up external disk and a just "in case" external disk. I wouldn’t worry about how the physical storage media will change over the next twenty or thirty years, it will still be bits and bytes. Transferring from one medium to another will be made easy because every one will have to do it. The problem with CDs and DVDs is that they deteriorate physically over time. I wouldn't dream of storing anything important or valuable only in "the cloud" yet. You have no control whatsoever over it. Using a cloud copy of your data as a sharing mechanism with family and friends is fine but always make sure to have the primary copy of your precious data on a hard disk chez vous.

Regarding DPI and format. I find scanning still quite slow so there’s no point is wasting time scanning to a level that you will never use or scanning a damaged or dirty print to a level beyond its quality. I scan (hundreds and hundreds) of negatives to JPEGs on an Epson V500 which has some good dust and scratch removal firmwear (but once again can be slow) and the results are fine on a 27” computer screen.

This is such a good question on so many levels, especially the point about ones digital existence on the web, after the reaper has paid us a call.

In answer to your first question, always scan at the highest possible rate, as you can always cut it back later, but you can't increase it once it's done.

I agree about CD/DVD, it is dead technology, and the cloud is currently the way to go. You are going to have to read the T&C's of any provider you pick, and find out on there policy for long term storage are. There will be a cost no doubt, but see if you can sign up for a number of years. There is always the risk of company failure, in which case, you may wish to use two large suppliers as backup. Expensive I know, but security of data always is, if done properly.

The main problem Ian, is we can't second guess tomorrow, as the data storage formats will change, and in 10-20 years time it could likely be organic storage or something equally strange. If however they are in the cloud, you have a level of abstraction, so to some extent you won't care what media they're stored on. The other issue is the format of the files and how in 50 years time will someone with Ubuntu 50.04 , Windows 20 or OSX 25 be able to read them. The formats you have selected are widely used, and one can only hope that developers in the future will do two things, offer the ability to open older formats, and offer the ability to convert to any new formats they have invented. This is the case now, and I see no reason for that thinking to change.

I have thought long and hard about the concept of a digital will, holding all my on-line details.I use so much encryption, that no one would be able to look at any of my data without the keys. I haven't found a solution yet, but I'm working on it ;-)

I currently think Lastpass offers a great way forward for your web presence. I use dual factor authentication, and it is the key generation software I will need to pass on. This currently requires a physical device which will probably have to go in a safety deposit box.