The Simplest Way to Know Which Photos You Have Already Scanned

The letter S on pink plaque
Photo: Leo Reynolds

Unless you have found a way to scan your entire photo collection in a pre-organized “beginning to end” kind of way, I’ve found you’re going to need a way to identify tomorrow, or possibly months later, whether or not you have already scanned a particular photograph.

And you’re going to want to know by just looking at a print or slide in front of you – without booting up your computer to do a search. Trust me.

One way to avoid this problem is to immediately move the slides or prints you just scanned to a different storage place – a new photo album or a new archival page for example. Then you can tell yourself anything in these new “containers” have been scanned for sure. But for a number of reasons, you may not be able to do this.

I know, it sounds pathetic. You may think this won’t happen to you because you have razor-sharp memory. But, if you’re like me, you’re spreading the task of scanning and organizing over months or [gulp] even years.

And therefore it’s quite easy to be unsure at a later time whether or not you have already scanned that 12th photo in a series of 27 of your brother opening up his presents at his 8th birthday party. A lot of them look awfully similar don’t they?

Photo Pages with "S" marking 2 photos Scanned
An archival page with prints I’ve already marked as “scanned”

“S” Marks the Shot!

As you’ve heard before, sometimes the best solution is the most obvious one. And for me, the most obvious one just happened to also be the simplest one!

I found a mechanical pencil I liked that could easily write on the variety of photo paper surfaces used throughout the years. Very carefully, I have been writing the letter “S” on the back side in the right lower corner immediately after I pull the print or slide from the scanner bed. The “S” tells me this photograph has already been “scanned.”

I’ve chosen that location because a description of the photo is often handwritten all the way across the top. And sometimes my Mother has written some sort of a “code” number in the bottom left that was used to identify or organize the print in one of her series of “brag books” she used to carry around. So this was the only place I knew would almost always be free for markings.

You can of course use any letter, word or even symbol you want as long as it makes sense to you and you won’t forget what it means this time next year!

Here are some tips I’ve learned doing this:
  1. Pencils: Make sure you press down lightly. If you aren’t careful you could create an imprint through to the front side of your photo!
  2. Pens: I’m not at all against using pens. Just make sure it’s a pen that’s suitable – preferably one that states it’s “photo safe.” Use a pen that doesn’t smear (it could come off on a photo that’s faced backwards in a stack). Be careful with rollerball pens because like pencils, they could possibly create imprints to the other side. And if you are writing on prints, you want one that won’t bleed over time through porous paper stock. Not all paper used through the generations have been glossy.
  3. Consistency: If you start marking them as I did with an “S”, continue with an “S” from then on. Don’t change your mark halfway through. It will confuse you or anyone who might help you at a later time.
  4. Establish a Routine: You’re human. It’s going to be easy for you to forget to mark every single scanned photo before you move on to the next one. So try and establish a routine where you either mark the photo right before you place it in the scanner or right after you take it out. Then stick with it so you do it almost without thinking.
Letter "S" written on back of photograph
See, “S” Marks the Shot!

I would love to know if you think this will work for your collection. Or maybe you have a better way to solve this problem. Please let me know in the comments below.


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My Top 6 Favorite Tools I Use to Scan My Photo Collection (Including My Scanner)

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3 Comments on "The Simplest Way to Know Which Photos You Have Already Scanned"

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Gina Nylund

How do I mark my negatives? I have them all in archival printfile sheets in safe t binders. My numbering system on sleeves are year- number for film. So first film in 1994 would be 94-01. If 2 sleeves are needed for 36 pic film I label 94-01a and 94-01b. How would I label each frame as I scan it? I just got my epson v700 scanner today and am very excited to get started! I have slides, negs and prints that don’t have negs( from family) I’m too obsessive to throw out negs! Many prints are already in albums, how to i label them without messing up my scrapbooks? I do archival scrap booking using creative memories albums. I also use their memory manager software that works great for organizing photos and noting stories for each photo. I did call them to ask if the software stores non- destructive and it does!


Just read this comment…not sure if you still need an answer
Here’s how I track my film scans.

Way back when I shot film…I numbered very similar to you…
Like yours…my first roll of 1994 was
1994 – 1

Because prints often got separated from negatives….I would add the frame number to the back of the print….

1994 – 1 – 18a

year – film roll – frame

I’ve carried this over with the scanning of negatives…

just add the frame number to what you are already doing and you will know which frames you’ve scanned!


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