If You Don’t Add This to the Filename of Your Scanned Photos, You’ll Probably Hate Yourself Later

Writing on the back of a paper print — photograph

Whether you keep all of your scanned master (original) image files in folders on a hard drive, or you allow an image manager like Picasa, iPhoto or Aperture to manage them inside a library file, you will still be required to give each photo a filename.

It could be as simple and non-descriptive as “photo-1.jpg” or maybe even simple yet somewhat descriptive like “mom at the beach 1984.tif “.

But, it’s actually a very important part of the process of scanning photos, that if done with a little bit of forethought, can save you a lot of time and headache later.

A Little Background

folder with three files named scan 1, scan 2 and scan 3 to demonstrate simple file naming by a photo scanner
Here’s how a folder of scanned images might look using a basic filename and number. (Mac OS X)

As I began to wrap my head around the complexity of scanning my own massive 9,000+ photo collection, it occurred to me that I was going to expect my digital collection to become incredibly neat and organized.

For example, if my brother came to me and said, “Hey do you remember that photo of you and I as little kids standing on chairs in front of the kitchen sink at the old house?”, I wanted to be able to not only respond that I most certainly do remember it, but that I could find the digital “scanned” version of it on my computer within seconds.

As I got to learn the power of non-destructive image managers, how you can do searches inside of them for text within the photos’ filenames and keywords (descriptive words usually stored as metadata inside of the photo file), I realized this goal of mine actually wasn’t impossible at all. In fact, it was very doable, and it just required some additional time from me to enter in some additional data.

In the simplest terms, I could give this photo of my brother and I the filename:

boys stand chairs kitchen.tif

If I later went into a program like Picasa, or the folders on my hard drive where all of the scanned image files are stored, and did a search for just two words “stand chairs”, this particular photo would come up in the results because at one time a while back, I took the time identify this photo with both of these identifying descriptive words.

Infogram that shows how searching for two word keywords can bring up a photo
Doing a search for keywords in image managers like Google’s Picasa (free) can bring up photos with the words in the original filename.

Once I realized this, it became obvious to me I wanted to come up with my own file naming system that I could use across my entire photo collection.

But also, I didn’t want to stop at just describing what and who was in each photo. It was also extremely important to me that it helped me to chronologically order all of my photographs.

My Own File Naming System for Scanned Photos

After a fair amount of trial and error, I came up with my own file naming system.

Alright! Wahoo!!

It think it’s a really good system. In fact, I thought I had nailed it. I thought it was near perfect for my collection. So, I decided to put it in action.

Here’s an example of a 1978 photo I scanned and then named using this system.

And keep in mind, this is the actual filename that I typed in at the file level — in Microsoft Windows that would be in “Windows Explorer” for example or in a “Finder” window if you are using MAC OS X.

Boys in Blanket Tent - Scanning Photos Adding Captions Descriptions
My brother and I loved making blanket forts!

1978-02-xx Blanket Tent Tunnel Winter Snow Day (ES-600-48b-UM-DRm).tif

By the way, If you want to check it out and see if you might like to use it, or even part of it, I typed it up for you as a 3-part series called “What Everybody Ought to Know When Naming Your Scanned Photos.”

Working with this numbering system was great. At least for a while. Then I started to notice there was a problem. And to me, it was a big one.

Let’s Play a little “Visual” Game

Let me try and explain it this way.

Scenario 1

One day you are going through your photo collection and you find a slide at the bottom of an old envelope. It’s a beautiful shot of a dolphin jumping at a marine park show.

You start to wonder if you have already scanned it, and if so, you would love to send a copy of it to your Aunt Betsy to remind her how much fun you both had together that day a long long time ago.

holding a slide in fingers — image of dolphin show kind of dark

This image here is what this slide looks like in your hand. You can make out the dolphins jumping in the middle, but the details are pretty faint. But, you know it’s just lovely!

So you load up your image manager Picasa and start searching for any and all photos from this marine park. And guess what, because you are totally awesome you find 4 images that appear to be from the same show and on the same vacation!


But, all the dolphin shots look about the same because they were all taken when the dolphins were in mid-air in just about the same place.

So you hold the slide up to the light, you do that squinting thing (you know I’m talking about), and you carefully inspect the film inside and compare it to the images on your screen.

Collage of 4 photos (each very similar) of 2 dolphins jumping through hoops

You think you know exactly which one it must be, but you can’t be exactly sure.

Now you are wondering if this is even one of the four you found in Picasa. Maybe it really is possible this slide got loose a long time ago and it was just never scanned.

Scenario 2

Here’s another situation. These three photos are pretty common in someone’s photo collection. It’s an amateur photo shoot of a little boy in a backyard.

3 very similar photos of a boy sitting in the grass from a photo shoot
I chose three shots that actually look pretty different from each other. But imagine if your photoshoot was 20 or 30 shots. I bet several of them would look almost identical!

It’s really hard to get your son to not only sit up and smile, but to also get him to look at you and the camera all at the same time… forget about it!

You remember the day though, you really wanted that shot so you took 15 shots thinking that maybe when you brought the prints home from the developers down the street, 1 of them would be perfect!

So you’re in Picasa and you have found this perfect image amongst all of the others. It was easy to find because you marked it with a star. Good thinking!

Now imagine how hard it might be to try and find the original paper print of it again that’s now in that plastic tub you decided to store all your original prints in that’s in the back of your bedroom closet.

Why would you need to find the original paper print if it’s already been scanned you’re wondering… right? 

That’s a good question. I mean, that might be why you spent all that time scanning them in the first place — so you never have to touch your originals again.

Well consider this:

Maybe your Aunt Betsy loves your photography so much now, she is asking you for an 8″x10″ copy of this perfect shot of your son printed out so she can frame it and hang it on her wall between her bedroom and the bathroom. You think it would look nice there too and you likely have no say even if you didn’t!

The problem is, after trying to print the digital version out a few times on your fancy new inkjet printer, you realize there just isn’t enough detail (resolution) in your 200 dpi scan you made a long time ago and it just looks terrible when print it out this big. It’s way too blurry for Aunt Betsy and her new prescription glasses.

So, you decide the only way to make ol’ Betsy happy is to re-scan the original print at 600 or more dpi and then you will be able to print it out just fine.

Too bad you can’t figure out which print is which because too many of them look alike after all these years!

And maybe this problem is compounded by the fact that your family made a lot of duplicate prints through the years of this photo shoot because of all of those 2-fer and 3-fer-1 priced deals!

Plastic bin filled with paper photographs ready to be scanned
Does this photo collection look familiar to you?

Which one is it!?

I think you might be getting the idea now. But, just so I know without a doubt that I have hit you over the head with this, consider this last example.

Scenario 3

Here’s a shot of a beautiful beach during a rain storm. Or, is it 2 separate shots? You tell me.

2 photos almost exactly alike looking at a stormy beach

Yes, you probably noticed the difference in the palm branch in the top left corner of each shot.

It’s 2 shots and you know you have scanned one one of them. But, you have these 2 slides in your hand and now you have to do that squinty “comparing” thing with your eyes again.

Which one did you scan last week? They just look so similar. Ugh!

There just has to be a way to solve these problems right!?  Just make this all stop!

The Real Problem and the Missing Element that Solves Your Problem

With a collection that is as massive and as un-sorted as mine, I realized there was one missing “element” to my naming system that I needed to add and fast. In fact, I knew whatever this “element” turned out to be may actually be the most important part of the entire filename!

I couldn’t believe I didn’t come up with this from the very beginning!

If you use my 3-part naming system as I had originally created it, the problem is that you haven’t yet created any kind of a functional link between your original “physical” print or slide and the newly created digital version of it.

In many photo collections, it may be next to impossible for you to match up the original print to the digital image at a later time, for one of many reasons, because neither system lays the foundation for links between the two.

infographic demonstrating there is a missing link needed between original photos and their digital versions

Unless you are one of a very small percentage of people who are considering giving away or trashing all of your original prints, negatives and slides after you scan them, being able to “match back” and find your original physical masters is very important. And how easily you are able to “match back” is almost as important because it can save you or your loved ones lots and lots of time and headache later.

Side note: Please don’t throw your originals away. Seriously. That just makes me very sad. If you’re really thinking about doing this — do they really take up that much room in your closet?

How to Easily Create a Link Between Each of Your Scanned Photos

Creating a link between your photos is actually a very simple process.

I certainly can’t take credit for this idea, because it’s that simple. For all I know, the earliest men and women probably used a variation of it for something! And I certainly know Melvil Dewey came up with a brilliant variation of it when he came up with his library classification system for books.

All you have to do is give each photo a unique number and then use the same number in the filename after scanning the photo.

That’s it!

Adding an ID "Barcode" number to all my scanned photos
Using my new Itoya Art Profolio Photo Marker to label my previously scanned photos.

On January 25th, 2012, for about half the day, I went through all of the digital masters I have stored in my image manager Aperture, and added a unique number on each and every one of their filenames.

Then I found all of the original paper prints and slides that I had scanned to make these images, and wrote the corresponding number on the back using a special ink pen meant for writing on photographs.

The basic idea for me was to start at the number 1 and work my way up until I was finished scanning and labeling my entire collection.

For me, I know I have close to, if not more than 10,000 photos, so the numbers would get pretty big.

You can create any kind of  a numbering system that you want, as long as it makes sense to you, and it’s easy for you and others to follow it years down the line.

Numbering Systems

Here are a few examples of a numbering system you might come up with as well as example filenames written below using each system.

(Please note the filename examples aren’t necessarily how I would personally suggest you name your files, but are there to show how you could possibly implement each numbering system using various naming methods you choose to use.)

Numbers Alone

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 … 4726 … etc.

Examples: 1972-03-14 Dads Birthday Party – 5.tif
1972-03-14 Dads Birthday Party – 6.tif
1975-11-23 Lukes Swim Meet Orlando Florida – 346.tif

Numbers with Film Type Differentiation

s1, s2, s3, s4, s5, s6 … s3687 … etc.

p1, p2, p3, p4, p5, p6…  p6124 … etc.

n1, n2, n3, n4, n5, n6 …. n4001 … etc.

Examples: 1972-03-14 Dads Birthday Party – p5.tif
1972-03-14 Dads Birthday Party – p6.tif
1975-11-23 Lukes Swim Meet Orlando Florida – s346.tif

This is how you could separate your prints, slides and negatives by adding a “p”, “s” or an “n” before the number.

Year Plus a Number

1972-1, 1972-2, 1964-3 ….  1972-4056 … etc.

1964-1, 1964-2, 1964-3 … 1964-2389 … etc.

Examples: 1972-5 – Dads Birthday Party.tif
1972-6 – Dads Birthday Party.tif
1975-346 – Lukes Swim Meet Orlando Florida.tif

Notice in these three examples I show how you could put the number before the descriptive part of the filename if you wanted to. This would enable you to be able to sort your photos by the unique numbers in system folders and image managers because the numbers appear first in your filename. And in this example, they would be sorted by year.

My Numbering System of Choice

All three of the methods above would work and have their advantages and disadvantages. And I’m positive there are many other ways you could come up with that could be specifically tailored to benefit you and your own collection.

But, because I know some of you would want to know, I thought I would list for you the method I am currently using to number all of my photos.

I simply took the first method I listed above, the “Numbers Alone” variation, and added 0’s to the front of them so each number would be exactly 5-digits long.

5-Digit Numbers Alone

00001, 00002, 00003, 00004, 00005 … 01289… 03589 … etc.

Examples: 1972-03-14 Dads Birthday Party – 00005.tif
1972-03-14 Dads Birthday Party – 00006.tif
1975-11-23 Lukes Swim Meet Orlando Florida – 00346.tif
Writing number from filename of scanned photo on print
Labeling a print “00270” using my numbering system.

A few reasons I chose this numbering method:

  • Correct Amount of Digits — I made my system 5-digits long because I knew my scanned collection would easily reach 10,000 photos for sure and the odds of it reaching 100,000 (6-digits) was next to impossible.
  • Consistency — I like my numbers to be consistent. Call it being a little obsessive compulsive, or maybe just being thorough, but I like my columns of information (such as in file folders) to line up evenly. A “1” and a “8923” don’t line up as nicely as a “00001” and a “08923“.
  • Calendar Year Confusion — I also made it 5-digits so that I was sure to have numbers that wouldn’t be confused with a calendar year in searches. For example, if I did an search for photos that took place in the year “1972”, I didn’t want the possibility that the photo numbered “1972” would come up in the results. Instead, if you wanted to find this photo by number, you would just do an “exact match” search for “01972.”

Implementing My Naming System with My Numbering System

So, to bring this full circle, using the earlier example photo, here is how I have currently chosen to implement my numbering system into my file naming system.

Boys in Blanket Tent - Scanning Photos Adding Captions Descriptions
My brother and I loved making blanket forts!

1978-02-xx Blanket Tent Tunnel Winter Snow Day (ES-600-48b-UM-DRm-#03589).tif

TIP: Don’t Strive for Organizational Perfection

Whichever numbering method you choose to use, I would like to suggest you implement this one important concept based on my own experience.

Please do not drive yourself insane by insisting the numbers represent any kind of an order to your photos. 

What I mean by this is unless you have an absolute perfect collection, where you already have in your possession every single photo you will ever want to have in your collection, and you have already sorted and ordered them in a perfect order before you number them, the odds of you being able to assign a number to every photo in your collection in the exact order that you wish for them to end up being in is next to impossible!

So my suggestion to you is to think of this number to be just a way for you to identify the photograph and not a way to identify the order of the photograph.

And just to make sure I am perfectly clear on explaining this concept, let me describe it this way:

I am scanning my own photo collection with little concern for the chronological order of the shoot date — when the photos were actually taken. I have chosen to sort and chronologically ordering my photos inside of my image manager Aperture after I do the scans.

So, even though my goal at the end of this massive project is to have all of my photos chronologically ordered, its possible that a photo taken in 1984 will be given a number like “01489“. And then the next day, I will scan a photo from 11 years earlier in 1973 and give it the next number that I haven’t assigned to a photo which happens to be a much higher number — say the number “01502“.

The number is only a reference number — a way to identify the unique link between one original physical print or film to its corresponding scanned image file that you create.

It’s often not representative of order.

Do You Have To Number Your Photos?

Is this necessary and do you need to do it? The answer is probably no and maybe — it’s up to you.

You have to consider all the factors that will make your collection challenging.

If you have:

  • a lot of photos
  • a lot of duplicate photos
  • a lot of similar looking photos
  • slides or negatives that are hard to see without a magnifying glass etc.
  • an unorganized collection

… you just might want to consider numbering them.

It definitely adds some time to the process. But to me, the benefits later… far outweigh this little bit of extra time.

A digital scanned image of a dolphin jumping with the matching slide version linked - info graphic
Now that’s what I am talking about! Here is that dolphin slide again viewed from my collection in Apple’s Aperture. The “version name” holds the original filename and ID’ing number. Total bliss. smile

I hope you enjoyed this post!

I’m sorry if you felt it was a little long. Maybe I went a little crazy with all the info-graphics and photos. I just thought it might make it a little bit more entertaining that way!  smile

If you wouldn’t mind helping me

After reading this, can you think of any other reasons why you would want to number your photos like this that I left out?

I would love for you to let me know in the comments below.

I’ve got a couple more reason that I would like to share as well. So, I’m thinking of taking the best answers I receive from you all and I’ll make a collective post out of it. I’ll credit you of course, so make sure you spell your name correctly. wink



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45 Comments on "If You Don’t Add This to the Filename of Your Scanned Photos, You’ll Probably Hate Yourself Later"

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Art Taylor

Hi Curtis,

Thanks for another good post.

A few additional comments, especially about descriptive file names and the use/lack of leading zeroes in unique ‘accession numbers’, to borrow an archivist’s and librarian’s term. While it is often tempting to include a description as part of a file name, this can lead to problems. Most, if not all, computer operating systems will show only a finite number of characters (letters or numerals) for a specific file name. While this number may vary from Macs to Windows to any version of Linux, at some point a file name will be truncated, at least in list displays in Mac’s Finder or Windows’ Explorer so you might end up with something like: ‘two_boys_sta…’ for each of several similarly named files, even though there might be a discrete number at the end of each file name so the apparently identical file names don’t over-write one another. While I’ve used an underscore between words in this example, some operating systems may require a hyphen or an underscore wherever there’s normally a space and some systems will accept spaces between words within file names. To be on the safe side, always use one or other of these symbols instead of leaving spaces to avoid problems for someone trying to open a copy of your file.

Any computer will sort files by numeral first, then alphabetically whenever the file name field is chosen as the sort choice. Thus, if you don’t include leading zeroes, you’ll see file 1xxxxx.ext, 10xxxx.ext, 100xxx.ext, 1000xx.ext, then 2xxxxx.ext, 22xxx.ext, 222xx.ext, and so on instead of 001xxxxx.ext, 002xxxxx.ext, …009xxxxx.ext, 010xxxxx.ext, 011xxxxx.ext, and so on, where the extra ‘x’s substitute for other numerals/digits or letters and the .ext represents the three letter file extension operating systems like Windows require to identify the file type, for example .jpg for JPEG, .psd for Photoshop PSD, or .tif for TIF(F) files. This is related to your point about the file names ‘lining up consistently’ but it goes a little beyond by keeping lists in correct numeric order.

Because every operating system has an upper limit on how many letters and/or numerals it permits in a file name, although this limit varies from system to system, it’s safer to confine the file names to unique accession numbers, with or without date, and put any description(s) into a caption or description field or fields within the EXIF and IPTC data included in cataloging software databases.

As you’ve suggested, the unique accession number should not be considered as having any significance in terms of sorting files by topic or date. Like the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress system of call numbers for library books, it should be only a unique identifier for each file. If you’re scanning and naming an unsorted batch of prints, negatives, or slides, it doesn’t matter if your first scan is of a print from 197x, your second is a slide from 200x, and the third is a negative from 198x, they should be identified as 000001p.ext, 000002s.ext, and 000003n.ext, where the p, s, and n indicate the type of original image. These accession numbers should also be written carefully, with appropriate, archivally safe pen or marker, on the original, at the time the scan is made to tie the original to the digital ‘surrogate’. The date the original was taken, when known, as well as the date of the scan, should be included in the appropriate IPTC data fields. Please note that any date automatically applied here, will be the date the scan was made, NOT the date the original image was made.

If you’re scanning rolls or strips of negatives that have individual frame numbers along the edge of the film, a common practice among professionals is to assign a unique accession number to each roll of film, then add a hyphen and the frame number for each frame. If, as often happens with 35 mm negatives, two consecutive numbers appear beneath a specific frame,then it would be ‘accession number-xx-xy’ instead of ‘accession number-xx’ and ‘accession number-xy’ for the next frame. If the negatives are kept in archivally safe polypropylene or other pages, a unique page number for each page could also be included in the file name and should be written on the storage page to help tie the original and the digital file together.

“The DAM Book”, by Peter Krogh, has an excellent discussion about file naming strategies and is highly recommended as a permanent addition to any serious photo collector’s personal library. (No, I don’t have any financial interest in recommending this particular book. I’m just very impressed with Krogh’s book and bought the second edition several years ago when it first came out.)

Mary Gilbert

You are right about file names being too long. I have had problems several times when restoring files from a back-up to the same computer. I get error messages about a file name that is too long to be copied. Then I have to screen capture that message, skip the file and then after everything else has copied, I have to go back and hunt down those files and shorten the names so they can be moved. I find it annoying that my computer let me use names that were too long and then not allow them to be copied back later.

Dawn Del Guercio

Though our system is not identical, reading this article in addition to your 3 part series just confirms how smart I was when I labeled every photo I scanned, and used that -5 digit, with leading zeros- number as my filename. I love organizing by date, and eventually I will likely add my dating system (yyyy-mm-dd) back into my filenames between “Scan_ and “#####”, but for now, I’m feeling pretty good about my index number system smile Enjoying reading through your website and commenting on my own experiences, now that I’ve got some scanning and organizing history “under the belt”.

Art Taylor

One more note: don’t be so sure your collection will never exceed 99,999 scans. You never know how many more images may turn up from relatives who know of your collection and want to add to it from their discoveries. While it might seem to be unlikely to ever have 1,000,000 or more scans, it is possible. If you go initially with at least a 7-digit number, you can more easily incorporate your digital camera originals into your single file system. I’ve taken over 300 images with my new D-SLR in the past week alone, although some of these were obvious discards taken while I was learning the camera’s controls and functions and had no intention of ever keeping. An enthusiastic photographer can easily take several hundred shots in one day, especially if photographing a wedding or other special event. My previous digital camera recorded up to 99,999 shots, uniquely numbered, then started over at 00,001 again. I was on the third cycle, somewhere in about the 8x,000s, when I got the D-SLR last week. I had used the old camera for a little over six years and took a combination of stills and video clips with it. Since all the images in your computer are digital, whether they were ‘born digital’ in a digital camera, or were digitized by scanning, it makes sense to include them in one comprehensive folder or collection so you can see how limiting a 5-digit identifier may become in relatively little time, especially if you have a lot of images to scan and continue to take lots of digital photos.

Art Taylor

Hi Curtis,

I think you’ve told us only half the story about the unique ID numbers on your original analog images so far. You should also describe how you use that number to physically find a specific original, once you’ve decided that you want to re-scan image 12345n, for example. How do you find where that specific negative is kept? A review of your system would be helpful as a ‘Part 2’ to this post.

If the ‘n’ for ‘negative’, ‘p’ for ‘print’, and ‘s’ for ‘slide’ were used as prefixes instead of suffixes to your numbers, a computer sort by file name would automatically sort the formats for you.

Using the prefix system would also permit the use of similar suffixes to identify ‘derivative’ files. For example, if you’ve used VueScan to save .DNG files at the highest available resolution and color depth, you could later resize and possibly reduce the resolution of an image for printing, retaining the same base number to tie this derivative file to the original, but add a ‘p’ suffix to indicate it has been adjusted for specific printing purposes. If another copy was resized and resampled for use on the web, a ‘w’ suffix would immediately show the image had a reduced size and resolution, as would an ‘e’ for emailed images.

Anyone who scans images should be keeping the original high resolution, high color depth file intact and using derivative copies for any particular applications. To save all the time and work put into resizing, resampling, or otherwise manipulating images, they should be saved with unique file names but these names should also relate to the original name. Yes, it’s possible to keep web-sized images in a specific, appropriately named folder, but if the original file name is retained for the derivative as well as the original, it’s all too easy for the derivative image to be saved instead of the original, especially if it gets moved out of its proper folder at any time. There should be some practical system used to tie derivatives to their original source files but using unique file names. The inclusion of derivative files in the catalog will also increase the total number of images in the group and, depending on the naming system used, might require a significant number of digits in the file name. This aspect (dealing with derivatives) might warrant a ‘Part 3’ to this post.



Enjoyed reading your blog. You might consider Namechanger, an app that makes it relatively easy to change the names of many files at the same time. You can also number a series of related photos with a click.

Art Taylor

Is “Namechanger” a Mac-only program or is it also available for Windows?


E McAndrew

Thank you for the time and effort you put into your articles. I volunteered to catalog my parent’s photo collection after my father died. We cleaned out the house and everything has been sitting on the floor of my workroom for a year and a half because I didn’t know where to start! Now that I have some direction, it’s time to get busy.


so, not only did our parents have the same green photo album.
they had the same kitchen cabinets!

Karin Knutsen

In exactly which field in Aperture do you add your filename? If in the Version Name field, do you write over what was there? Do you first copy that information to another field?

Many thanks!


I have a huge problem with numbers and because of this I can’t rename my pictures with 0000 etc. Also the date form in the uk is totally different to the US. For example, for December 25th, 2013 it would be 25.12.13.

I have to rename my pictures with the date in full: Wed, Dec 25th, 2013.

Is it ok to name the pictures like this or will it cause problems later on?

Art Taylor

Sorry I’ve been quiet for a while, but a couple of projects have kept me busy lately. Another way to keep both the front and back of individual photo scans permanently together is to open a matched pair (front and back) in Photoshop Elements (or any other image editing program that works with layers, then save either the front or the back with a unique filename. In this new file, check the File Info to see what the pixel dimensions are, then go to Image>Resize>Canvas Size… (in PSE 8, likely similar in other versions and programs) and add at least the same width as the original image to either the left or right side of your existing image. If the original is vertical/portrait format, so it’s taller than it’s wide, add the extra canvas area to the right side. If the original is horizontal/landscape format, try adding the extra to the bottom instead. Save your new image with the enlarged canvas. In the second file (probably the back of the scanned original), go to Select>All (or All Layers). Then use Edit>Copy to copy the entire image to the clipboard. Switching back to the enlarged canvas file, use Edit>Paste to paste the copied image as a new layer. Use the Move Tool to position it beside (or below) the existing image, placing it completely in the blank canvas area. When you’re happy with its position, you can safely deselect everything, and if necessary, use the Crop Tool to eliminate any extra canvas area. (An alternative way to enlarge the canvas area is to zoom out so you can see the work area on all sides of your initial image (say the scan of the front), then use the Crop Tool to crop from the top left corner of the image to an adequate distance beyond the left or bottom of the image to give sufficient space to paste in the second image.) Be sure to Save your new composite image.

Either of these canvas-enlargement techniques can also be used to add a blank space above, below, or to either side of your image(s) to let you add a typed caption or description of who and what are shown in the image. This gives you the benefit of not only having that information permanently and easily legible with the image , but also avoids obstructing the image area with your text. This is NOT meant to be a substitute or replacement for entering this data in your EXIF data area but it does reduce or eliminate the problem of some software/web sites eliminating (or at least not recognizing) your info.


All this info is great food for thought thank you. To catalogue my photos is daunting! I use iphoto on a Macbook pro. My camera (right now) is my iphone 5 that I regularly back up to my Mac. Also in my Iphoto are photos from several older cameras and also photos sent to me via email from friends or given via cd from family members. So there are varying names and descriptions – some just names, some with dates from devices and others without identifying factors. There are even some with future dates from 2018 to 2020 due to a faulty camera setting at some point (which I worry about- can I change these dates to their correct earlier ones by batch?). Also, in Iphoto when you connect yr iphone for back up to the Mac, you are asked if you’d like to import yr photos and delete from yr iphone. My last download (for example) had 1000 photos and when they get downloaded into iphoto they seem to go in under one batch with a name like “untitled event 29/10/2013 20/5/2014” This presents several conditions which I’d appreciate comment on. You’d appreciate that there is 8 months or so of photos there (yes I agree i should keep on top of this earlier ), but now I am faced with the task of naming and catalogueing (and this is just one lot of photos to differentiate and do). While it seems that the iphone seems to have an info with the individual image like IMG_4551 that shows itself when you click on the thumbnail (in a right hand sidebar), it does not show it (or any name you give it (in the ‘add a description field’))directly below the thumbnail. How do you split groups of photos from an event (untitled or titled) when iphoto calls everything you download at one time an event (ie “untitled event 29/10/2013 20/5/2014”)? How do you breakdown 8 months of photos into ‘real meaningful events’ categorised for yourself?
At this point I will say ‘why I came across your blog’. I found you online when I tried to find a ‘how to’ on how to move the original copy of a picture of my dog from the afformentioned 8 months of downloaded iphone photos into his own album in Iphoto. I want to keep pics of him in his own Album and delete them from anywhere else. What I found was that there seems to be no possible way to do this. If I then delete the image from the ‘event’ page, it is gone from the Album. So… by extrapolation then… is the ‘event’ page the master page? ie I have to leave any photo I want to keep, in the event section in order to have a copy anywhere else, like in an Album for instance? So where in Iphoto is the best place to try and set up/name appropriately a master filing system that takes in all past and current cameras and mediums and can accommodate sub genres as per dog or person or place or time (by way of categorisation exampe)? Can you help me please with these questions?

I currently use all Apple devices.

And a further extrapolation question, how can I future proof my filing system and data storage? – when as we know, mediums and files are changing all the time. For example, I just recently bought a Mac importer that allows me to import both vhs and mini dvd tapes onto my Mac. While this may seem odd to some, I have a film making background, and on the vhs have some old images of me presenting creative projects (kept just for nostagia) and on the mini dvd tapes I have the only really amazing cultural documentation of significant landmark cultural events in Australia – which should be catelogued and archived and probably handed over to our national archives in some relative cases. Now most mac computers are not made with cd or even dvd drives… so before long, these cds and dvds will be defunct back ups. Hmmm hard drives… makes the set up of our filing systems all the more important. And being able to be set up for cross platform reading, relevant as well.

Many thanks for listening, and aiding me with as straight forward as possible answers to my conundrums.



Art Taylor
Hi Ro, One important point: DON’T let iPhoto or ANY program download and delete your photos from a phone or camera or any other device. ALWAYS download your photos to preferably at least two separate hard disks or partitions, other than the one your OS is physically located on. If anything goes wrong with the download process and the software you’re using is set to automatically delete after download, you will likely permanently lose at least some files. When you’re finished downloading all the files you want to include in a batch, visually check the downloaded copies to be sure the download worked properly BEFORE you manually delete the originals from the phone or camera. If you did encounter a problem and one or more files downloaded incorrectly for any reason, you can then go back and manually try to download them individually. Also, visually check any files you copy to CD/DVD/BD or hard disk for backup and archive copies to make sure they copied correctly and completely. I’ve read of people copying and pasting or dragging and dropping copies to DVD and only later learning that not all their files transferred correctly. This may have been because the total number of characters in the filename and path was too great or special characters were included in the file name. Mac OS, Windows, and Linux each has a list of illegal characters which cannot be used in file names and each OS has a finite number of permissable characters you can use. If you have too many characters, the excess ones get dropped off so you end up with apparently identical file names and may end up having only the last file copied since its name replaced all the previous, identical names. Currently, the UDF naming system is the most versatile for writing data to CD/DVD/BD, since it is cross-platform compatible and has the largest number of allowed characters. See if your burning software offers UDF as an option and use it if possible. The older ISO-9660 and Joliet standards allow far fewer characters in file names, even though they are still cross-platform compatible. Not being an Apple user, I’ll defer to Curtis for comments re most of your questions. However, for Macs and other computers/laptops/tablets without CD/DVD drives built-in, these machines usually have at least one USB port. You can get portable, USB DVD burners that will read and write both CDs and DVDs (DVD+R, DVD-R, DVD-+RW, DVD-RW, DVD-DL+R, DVD-DL-R). which you can use with any computer with a USB port. Such burners can be found for anywhere from about $35.00 on up in Canada and probably comparable prices in Australia. If you want to maximize future compatibility, you might consider a portable, USB Blu-Ray (BD) burner instead. Several models are available (at least in North America) starting at about $125.00 (Canadian dollars). Check the specifications of any particular you might be considering since many lower-priced units actually burn only CD/DVD and read both those formats and BD but don’t write BD. Many of the specs list read/write capabilities for a variety of BD formats, such as dual-, triple-, and quad-layer media, both write-once and write-rewrite media but so far, I’ve not seen any triple- or quad-layer media actually being available to buy. Staples, a Canadian/US stationery supplier, currently offers 3-packs of single-layer, Verbatim brand, 25 gigabyte blank BD disks for about $30.00 Canadian. Since one 25-gig BD holds almost 5 times the quantity of data of a 4.7 (really about 4.4 gig) DVD, that’s not an unreasonable price when you consider how many fewer disks you’ll need to store any sizable photo collection. When it comes to planning naming conventions and file formats for possible donation to the Australian National Archives, check with the Archives staff and learn what system(s) they use and if they’d accept your potential donation(s). If you were to use their recommended naming conventions and file formats for all of your data, at least you’d be using a standardize system that virtually anyone, now and in the future, would be able to easily use, even for your strictly personal/family data. For your VHS and Mini-DV tapes, use an uncompressed .mov format (or uncompressed .avi format, if available on your Mac system) or H.262 or MP4 for compressed formats if you have no other option. MPEG-2 is the standard format for current DVD-Video files (like those found on commercial movie DVDs) but it does use compression so at least some of the originals’ data is discarded when it’s recorded to hard disk. I’ve recently been transferring some VHS tapes to hard disk using my HT VidBox, a Dell laptop running Windows 7 Home Premium, and a WD My Passport external USB hard drive. I’m using a factory refurbished Magnavox VHS/DVD combination player to play the VHS tapes. The tapes were recorded about 20 – 27 years ago and some of them were apparently recorded at EP speed to get 6 hours of recording onto a 2 hour tape. When I set my PowerDirector 12 Ultra recording software to record the NTSC standard signal (you’d use PAL in Australia) 640 x 480 pixel, 60 fields (30 frames) per second, many of these tapes suffered numerous video dropouts and showed only a blue screen instead of an image, while the audio was fine. My Magnavox player kept telling me the program was copy-protected and recording was prohibited before it stopped recording after about 2 seconds of this blue screen. By setting my PowerDirector to record to DVD-HQ (720 x 480 pixels, 60i (fields per second), I was able to record, in a single file, a 3.5 hour program onto my NTFS-formatted hard disk. I still got blue screens but many fewer dropped frames, even in that length of program, in a single 7+ gig file. My reason for trying and preferring the .avi format is that it was an uncompressed format so it wasn’t dependent on any specific codec (code-decode) software being installed on a computer for… Read more »

Curtis, just discovered this site. Lots of great ideas and suggestions and food for thought. Thanks for that. (You too, Art! Great dialogue here.)

I’m just now embarking on the daunting process of archiving and organizing our family photos. MANY of my own images were “born digital” and I currently have them spread across various machines and devices and cards. That’s my first task: consolidation.

Is there a particular piece of Windows software you can recommend for combing multiple drives/locations and putting all your image-type files together into one target/destination folder? I think that’s my first step. Once I set up my destination master directory/hard drive with a naming schema that makes sense to me, I’ll then start scanning and importing physical media directly there.

Lastly, any updates on the software front since you last wrote about the subject? Sounds like Apple is killing off Aperture in favor of “Photos for OS X.” I’m a Windows guy but I do have an older iMac. I’m looking for something between Picasa and Adobe’s Light Room but I’m not sure it exists. smile Complicating things, for me, is my pipe dream of combining photo organization/management with some degree of automated sharing. Picasa and Google+ I know… Thing is, I’m not crazy about giving Google all of my family’s facial maps (via Picasa). Maybe I’m getting paranoid in my “old” age (38). Privacy. Easy to use. Convenient sharing. Cloud backup. Those things seem impossible to find in one package. That’s a whole separate article and conversation right there.

Macworld article on Aperture: http://www.macworld.com/article/2452232/life-after-aperture-and-iphoto-what-to-do-with-your-image-library.html

Thanks again, will definitely peruse the site further…

PS: was it a conscious decision to leave dates off your articles? Some of this info is definitely “timeless” and I can understand not wanting an article to look stale; however, on other articles, especially those about software recommendations, readers (or at least I) would benefit from knowing when you wrote something to better understand what may or may not have been available at the time the article was written.


Art Taylor
Hi, Thanks for the mention of me. I just read your reference about Aperture to see what Macworld said about its future. Not being a Mac user, I have no experience with either iPhoto or Aperture but from what I’ve read on Curtis’ blog and elsewhere, I’d suggest going with Lightroom or possibly Corel’s AfterShot Pro 2, since it’s now available for Macs as well as Windows and Linux. I’ve just downloaded AfterShot Pro (AS P) and haven’t yet had a chance to get into using it but I have used Lightroom for a year or so. One concern I have about Lightroom (LR) is that now that it’s offered as part of Adobe’s subscription service, it may not be available as a stand-alone program for much longer. While any subscription software does have advantages, such as automatic updates whenever they’re released, I’m not keen on having a program on my computer that no longer functions, just because I might happen to be late making a subscription payment. Since you can download free, time-limited trial versions of both LR and AS P, I’d suggest giving each a try to see if you prefer one over the other, then buy the one you prefer. For collecting all your digital images in one location, I suggest you dedicate a partition or, better, a separate hard disk, possibly an external USB one, to your images files. You might label the partition/disk as “MY IMAGES”. Within the root directory of MY IMAGES, create separate folders by date in YYYY-MM-DD format (e.g. 2014-08-15 for 2014, August, 15. If you happen to shoot in various locations or various subjects on the same day, I’d add a brief note to that effect such as: 2014-08-15-flowers-address; 2014-08-15-CN-Capreol; 2014-08-15-CP-Sudbury. Once you’ve set up your folders like this, when you download files from your camera/phone/scanner, etc., you would place them in their respective folders. In this example, all the flower shots from my wife’s garden would go into the first folder, where I’d replace “address” with our street name and number; shots of Canadian National trains taken in the town of Capreol in the second folder, and shots of Canadian Pacific Railway trains taken in Sudbury in the third folder. When I visited the B&O RR Museum in Baltimore several years ago, on the same day I took digital shots at Thomas Viaduct, a stone viaduct near Baltimore built in the 1800s and still in daily use; shots of locomotives and train cars on display outside the museum buildings, and other exhibits displayed in the buildings. For that day, I created folders with the date in the given format, followed by a hyphen and a single digit number (first location getting a -1, second location (exterior shots) a -2, and the third location (interior shots) a -3. Each folder then had a hyphen followed by the name of the location, YYYY-MM-DD-1-Thomas-Viaduct; YYYY-MM-DD-1-B&O-Museum-Exterior, YYYY-MM-DD-3-B&O-Museum-Interior. This naming system lets my folders sort in Windows Explorer (like Mac’s Finder) in chronological order by date and location so if I want to find all my shots of flowers in the garden, I can search by date + “flowers” + address. I can use the same technique to search for all shots of either CN or CP trains in any location. Lightroom lets you use folder names as tags so with just a few mouse clicks, I can tag entire folders of images and search by tags.Of course, you should use folder names appropriate to your particular photo collection. By dedicating a partition or hard disk to your image files, you can easily locate all your images to copy to extra hard disks/DVD/BD or other backup/archive media. LR and AS P both let you add images and some other file types to their respective catalogs from anywhere on your system, without needing to physically copy those files to a dedicated LR or AS P catalog. The programs just add pointer information to whatever physical location your files occupy so if you want to include a specific image under multiple categories, such as a particular steam locomotive from the B&O Museum, you include a link to it from whatever category you want to include it in — B&O, steam, museum, 4-6-2 (a particular type of steam locomotive), Baltimore, etc. Any of those keywords/tags becomes searchable. Unlike either iPhoto or Aperture, your files are not ‘trapped’ in a proprietary database so they can be easily accessed by any image editing software, although any edits made outside of LR or AS P, will not be included in their respective databases. Likewise, if you physically move files from one physical location to another outside of LR or AS P, you’ll need to open your program and let it find and re-link those files to update its references to them, but that’s easy to do. When you’re ready to start scanning, I strongly recommend you buy a copy of VueScan Pro (about $80.00 US) from http://www.hamrick.com. The Pro version, but not the cheaper version, lets you capture .dng, .tif, and .jpg files in one scan pass. It also lets you create a base file name to which it adds an incremental number for scanning batches of slides/negatives/prints and automatically assign discrete file names. If you want to maximize your output capabilities (multiple resolutions for file archiving, emailing, image re-touching/editing, etc.) set your scan resolution to at least 2400/3200 ppi for slides/negatives, 600 ppi for 3.5×5″ prints or 400 ppi for 8×10″ prints, 48-bit color (even for black and white negs/prints), or, if your scanner includes I-R (Infra-red) dust and scratch removal (like the Epson V600), then use VueScan Pro’s 64-bit (48-bit color plus 16-bit I-R) to record the maximum amount of detail in tonal values for each color and from pure black to pure white. For archiving images, I normally scan 35-mm slides/negatives at 3200 ppi, 64-bit color, and save as .dng and .jpg. The .dng format records ALL the data the scanner is capable of capturing for the greatest… Read more »
Art Taylor

Hi Greg,

Just recently I came across ACDSee Pro 8 Ultimate, a great program that runs on 64-bit versions of Windows. If you don’t have 64-bit Windows, you can still use the ACDSee Pro 8 regular version. There’s also a Mac version of ACDSee available. The Ultimate version adds to the features of the Pro 8 version the ability to work with layers, thus going a step beyond Lightroom. ACDSee Pro 8 has a 15-day free trial version of their cloud hosting service which can be subscribed to for additional money. There’s easy sharing included with all the Windows versions; a Map view which will let you locate images on Google Maps and/or Google Earth; Reverse Geocoding to enable including actual street addresses in image files, along with just latitude and longitude coordinates; extensive IPTC,EXIF, and ACDSee metadata fields which can be edited; all metadata can be written to the image files as well as being stored in the ACDSee data base; and decent image editing capabilities; and the ability to work with numerous camera RAW formats and DNG files. It’s possible to generate slide shows, PDF and PPT shows, and output file listings with numerous properties for each file included. You can download free trial versions of all the ACDSee programs from http://www.acdsee.com/en/free-trials?gclid=CNii3djglMYCFQWTaQodvqsAvA. When Curtis checked this out a month or so ago, he promptly bought the bundle that was on sale at the time. Give it a trial run and see if it’s what you’ve been looking for.


Thanks for the helpful input, Art. Will check out ACDSee. Cool name. smile

Art Taylor

More info about file names and path length limitations. I just found this information on a Facebook group. It adds details to my previous comments about such issues.



Grace Wilfong:
Warning. My husband was trying to recover files for my girlfriend. Some of her file names were so long, it wouldn’t copy them. Apparently, she didn’t have trouble saving that way but in copying them, it used the pathway as well and it made them too long. He finally got them copied but it was a big hassle. What he ended up doing was pasting the name in the properties comment field and shortening the name of the file.

Diana Thompson:
Yes, this is a limitation of Windows. I have been wondering seeing the long names and really deep folder lists if this was going to come back and bite some folks in the future. Let me see if I can find out if it is still a limitation in Win 7 and 8

Jeff Jahn:
The long name itself I haven’t run into a issue with but when trying to copy with the path way then I have.

Diane Gould Hall:
I too have found some of my long files name don’t copy. So, I use abbreviations where I can. Cert for certificate, Cem for cemetery. I’ve always typed the full name of each state, but think, going forward I will use abbreviations. MA has got to better than Massachusetts.

Joan Hostetler:
I tell clients to limit file names to 31 characters, use no spaces, limit characters to numbers, letters, -, or _, include no punctuation, and use lowercase. Here is a good document about file names with explanations: http://www.controlledvocabulary.com/…/filename_limits.html

Jeff Jahn:
Everyday use I haven’t run into issues but with genealogy its tough because to organize some stuff you have to use a longer name, at least for me so that I can link more to that item without having a ton of the same files.

Diana Thompson:
There is a file path limitation: In the Windows OS the maximum length for a path is MAX_PATH, which is defined as 260 characters. A local path is structured in the following order: drive letter, colon, backslash, name components separated by backslashes. For example, the maximum path on drive C is “C:\some 256-character path string” this includes the file name. Now this seems a lot but remember most files are located in C:\users\username\documents\genealogy\familyname\birthcertificates for example that is 66 characters. But if I am moving documents from one computer to another that could easily double as the.



Hi Curtis,

I discovered your website a couple of months ago (and signed up about 2 weeks ago), and I have been working my way through all of your old posts. There is a lot of great info here, and I really like your writing style. You, Art and I all suffer from the same problem – once we start typing and explaining things, we can’t stop ! I love it smile

I am extracting as much knowledge from your posts and everyone’s comments as I can, and trying to devise the “best” system to use for the scanning, naming and archiving of my family’s large collection of photos, slides, negatives, and home movies, before I start the “long march”.

That’s enough introduction. Now for the reason I’m writing:

I agree that using a unique number for each scanned image (even on those from digital cameras) is a great idea, but I am wondering how you plan on being able to find a physical print/slide using only the id number from your digital image.

I saw that Art asked you about this on July 14, 2012 at 8:56 am, and you replied at 2:12 pm “Yup Art — I assure you there will be some follow-up posts!”.
Have you written that post yet ? If so, could you please provide a link to it, because I haven’t been able find it so far.
If you haven’t written it, perhaps you could give us a brief insight into how you would find a single specific photo or slide in your collection.



I was writing a lengthy question/thought and accidently hit the back button. Doggone it. But I was finding typing it out helped organize my thoughts to realize I already knew the answer and just needed to accept it, so it was helpful regardless smile I wanted to take a moment though to say thank you so much for your detailed articles. They’re giving me confidence that I’m on the right path and that I have NOT been over-thinking this. I dread starting off wrong and changing my mind nearly as much as never getting done. I’m gleaning a few final details from your wonderful site and am ready to begin on my 100 YEARS worth of prints, after finally doing my measly several carousels of slides wink
You are so detailed and articulate and kind, it is refreshing in a world of pumped-out online articles meant to only attract or sell more than actually help it seems. And even your commenters are top notch- they actually use good grammar and capitals and periods too, and are oh-so helpful. I was beginning to despair we’d all forgotten how to write, along with our manners.
Thank you again! ~Angela


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