Inspiring Progress Report - Rising Chart Image

Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are.

~ Bernice Johnson Reagon

This is going to be the first of many monthly reports — if not every 2 months — that I am planning on publishing that will summarize my most recent progress to digitize my family's photo collection.

Scanning, organizing, labeling, and color correcting an enormous family photo collection is a major project that I am obviously not taking lightly.

In each of these reports, the first thing I'm going to do is mention what I've been doing the past month or two to either work towards my personal goal with my collection or just to improve this website. Next I will reveal my latest “Scanning & Editing” count that will show you exactly how far I have come with my own collection from the last report. And lastly, I will finish up with the most important things I have recently learned that I think you will benefit from and then possibly what I have planned for the near future.

A few key reasons I am starting to publish this series of posts:

  • By showing you what I'm doing — small and large tasks — my hope is to inspire you to do the same with your own collection!
  • By divulging my regular accomplishments, I am then obligated to continue providing more information and help to you with additional posts.
  • By updating you on my own scanning and editing counts, it will encourage me to keep a regular schedule scanning and editing my own photographs.

Note: If there aren't already links to posts and videos for several of the topics below — they're coming! I've recorded video and taken photos and notes on a lot of this stuff. Sadly, I've just gotten behind and haven't made them into something yet I can share with you. As I add these posts to the site, I will add the links to them within this post.

What I've Been Up to in January

Brought Home Thousands of Photos!

The year-end holidays the past few years have meant a lot more to me than just visiting with family, buying and receiving presents and gaining a few extra pounds. It's been all about raiding my parents' closets for our old photo collections and packing up as many as I possibly can in my luggage for the trip home. I introduced this experience in my post: “Is Organization Preventing You From Starting to Scan Your Photo Collection?

The problem is, as the amount of electronic gadgets I bring home with me increases each year — as does the price charged for each bag by the airline — the less photographs I am able to return with. For this reason, I actually considered doing something this Christmas that I never have in the past.

I looked at my parents and said, “You know, if I just bring home a few big envelopes full of loose photos every year, I'm never going to get our entire collection scanned. What do you think of the idea of trusting UPS with a box-full of photographs?”

Two large boxes filled photos

The two large boxes we filled with photos and trusted with UPS.

I was actually expecting them to pause and then shake their head before saying something like, “I don't now about that.” But they actually didn't seem to mind the idea. Even if they completely hated the idea, I suspect they at least were considering it because they felt bad for the amount of time and stress I've put into trying to haul these photos home a couple hundred at a time.

Within a couple days, I'm proud to say my wife and I had packed up two completely full cardboard boxes, closed our eyes, and trusted someone outside of the family to transport our irreplaceable photographic memories to the other side of the country.

I would have considered FedEx, but after watching an endless amount of replays of the employee throwing a computer monitor box over someone's fence all over the news channels in December, I decided not to push my luck! I'm sure some day I will watch Cast Away again and it will renew my faith in their brand. (Just kidding)

Sent Photos to Another Scanning Service

BritePix Scanning Order

My opened order from BritePix - Photo Scanning Service.

In July of last year, I sent 28 prints, slides and negatives out to a scanning service in California called BritePix. This wasn't to help put a dent in my own “to scan” count for my family's collection. Instead it was to finally get a start on reviewing the customer service and quality of work of the “major” scanning services.

Since I know a good amount of people won't be interested in the “chore” of scanning their own photos, I decided a while back when I started this website that I wanted to make sure I could offer anyone interested some help when trying to choose between all of the scanning services out there.

I have to say — and it's almost hard to admit — I spent many weeks writing up this first review. Seriously, it wasn't just a few — it was many. I felt like I was having a flashback and writing a huge book report for school!

The reason it took me so long was because I wanted to make sure I created a template I was happy with that I would then use for all of the subsequent reviews. And also I wanted it to be thorough. I didn't want to regret not covering certain areas of the entire process. I wanted to crush it!

After adding 50+ photos and 12,213 words, I published my BritePix scanning service review in the morning of December 25th. It was like a huge Christmas present to me finally getting this one checked off my to-do list!

Package being sent to another scanning service

Here's my package before I sent it off to my second scanning service for a review!

As much as I'd now like to take a year or two off from writing review posts after that first one (just kidding again — I think), I knew I needed to keep pushing myself to get on to the next one. So, in January I sent out another small batch of photos to another scanning service that will at some point become my second review!

I'm really excited to have two completed reviews under my belt because anyone can do one right? But two, that's dedication and will help give me momentum to go through them all.

Now, I can't tell you what company I sent them to — I mean, I think I have to at least try and keep some anonymity for this review just in case this particular company looks over search results for their brand name. Even though this isn't completely scientific, I would rather not have people be able to say, “Well [this company] knew you were going to do a review so they did a better job scanning your photos than a typical order.”

So, even though I can't reveal who I am sending the order to, I will say I am extremely interested in seeing how this company stacks up. Even more so than the last one.

Archival Marking Pen

Itoya Art Profolio Photo Marker Capped

Art Profolio Photo Marker by Itoya.

In my post The Simplest Way to Know Which Photos You Have Already Scanned, I mentioned some tips on using common pencils and pens to write on the back of paper prints.

I've been using an old pencil and writing really light. But, I just really hate pencils. I feel like I have moved past pencils in my life. What I really wanted was a nice pen that I feel safe using on photos. Specifically, I was looking for a pen that would dry really fast and wouldn't bleed through to the other side.

The Search

One morning a few weeks ago, I looked on the internet for one. But honestly, I really didn't find many. So I actually left the house — I know right!? — and went to one of largest photography supply stores near me.

I finally found one at Samy's Camera, but only after I asked someone working there. I guess since this marker wasn't individually packaged for sale, they weren't able to safely stock them on their shelves. Instead, they had them in a drawer or something under the register. Wow, it really does pay to ask sometimes because I was almost ready to give up when I couldn't find one.

It's called an Art Profolio Photo Marker by Itoya. And that's not a typo — it's really Profolio not Portfolio like I immediately assumed. Fine print on the outside claims: “Permanent Ink: Great for autographing and for marking photos, film, transparencies, plastic, glass and metal.” Perfect!

After using it a few times, I'm pretty happy with it. So if you're also interested in finding something good for your photos, look out for a review post in the near future. Maybe I will find another pen and do some kind of a “shootout” for which is best.

My Current “Scanning & Editing” Count

Ever since I scanned my first family photo in August of 2001 with the purposes of archiving a high-quality master, I've set a goal for myself of doing the same thing to every single photo in my family's entire collection. I'm talking about thousands and thousands of photos.

The problem is, whether it was the 8 years plus that I spent putting off the project until I discovered the exact formula to scan and edit with, or the countless hours of time I spend writing posts, building up this website and personally helping readers, I've gotten way behind on making this dream of mine come true.

I've told myself if I just scan a dozen slides or prints every morning while I am having breakfast or drinking the first sips from my can of Seattle's Best Iced Latte, I will be on a good course of completion. Instead, I worry that my time is better spent writing another post for this site and that's what I do. It's easy to fall into this trap, feeling like using my free time to scan and edit my own collection only takes valuable time from this site and won't help you or it in any way.

But the real truth is, by continuing to scan my own collection, I will find more topics to write posts about as I solve the problems that just come up when getting through a massive project like this.

I believe you should get to see me go through the entire process that you are going through — or are about to start going through. I think it's more beneficial for you to see it this way than for me to write posts like I've already scanned my entire collection and therefore think I know all the best ways to do everything. I would rather be more transparent and honest. I've figured out a lot, but I'm still learning too.

So I say, let's make this a journey you and I go through together.

From this day forward, in the table below and in subsequent posts like this one, I am going to hold myself accountable to my own accomplishments scanning my family's photos.

  1. First I will list how many photos I possess — slides, negatives and prints. This number will change as I find or receive more of the collection. Then I will list how many of these I have scanned and imported into my non-destructive image manager of choice — Aperture.
  2. Following this I will list how many of these photos I have finished off by editing them. By this I mean the amount of them that have received the process of straightening, cropping, removal of dust and scratches and color correction. You may choose to have your scanning software or editing software do a lot of this automatically to save you time. I've chosen to take the long route and do it all manually so I can maintain more control. I not only want to preserve a raw (unedited) version but also a corrected one that meets my high expectations.
  3. And lastly, I will provide a total percentage of completion for all of this information to use as a quick gauge of how far I am in completing the entire project.

Counting and More Counting!

In order to create this table for the first time, I needed to know that total amount of photographs I have in my entire collection — or at least how many I currently have. Eesh!  What a job!

My wife started counting all of the prints while I was finishing up on a post. Hours went by before I joined her that night. She had just passed the 2,000 mark!

Count of a box of slide boxes

To give you an idea how I did it, here's a box filled with many small boxes of slides. After counting the slides in each box, I wrote the count total on a small piece of paper tape.

Over a couple weeks of small counting sessions (to maintain our sanity) and lots of strict organization into new plastic bins I picked up at an office supply store, we finally came up with a total count!

So, here we go, no more words — here are the numbers:

My Current Scanning & Editing Count
Type Total Photos Total Scanned Total Edited
Paper Prints 3508 335 0
Slides 5805 0 0
Totals 9313 335 0
Overall Project Completed
1.80 %

What You Need to Know About This Current Count

Wow! It feels really good to know where I stand. Closing in on 10,000 photographs. Incredible.

If the amount scanned and edited seems lower than you thought it would be at this point, you have to understand that for me it's been a long process of starts and re-starts. I would start to scan a huge amount and then realize I was scanning them at the wrong DPI for example. So I trashed all of these scans and then started over. Or I bought a new scanner at one point and decided I now wanted to re-scan all of the ones I had scanned previously with my older and (at least in my head) more “inferior” scanner. It's been a lot of that.

Also, up until this January, I've only had about 700 photos here at my house. So, I really couldn't get very far if I wanted to. Instead it's been all about perfecting my process.

And editing isn't as much of a priority to me as the scanning is. They can be edited at any time. The worry is that something will happen to my originals before they are scanned! (Think “fire”)

This total photo count of 9,313 is going to change. Even though I brought home two large boxes full this year, there are still plastic bins of photos at my Mom's place. And I haven't counted what few negatives we have managed to save. I will include them in a later count.

And what really excites me, is the thought that eventually I will increase the count by getting photos from other family members and friends. Maybe a friend's mother shot photos of me at his 5th birthday party when I was a kid. Or maybe I was in a few pictures at someone's wedding. Or what if my parents visited a relative and that relative shot photos that we never got copies of. Who knows what photos I will come across in the future!

They all are a part of the massive story about me and my family, and I want them all to make up my complete digital collection.

A 1.80% “Overall Project Completion” shows me I still have a long long way to go. But, all of us have to start at the same place — the beginning. And I am up for the challenge!

What I've Managed to Learn in January

After a batch of scanning I did a couple months ago, it became obvious to me I needed to adjust my naming method that I talked about in a 3-part series on how to name your scanned photos. There's nothing wrong with this method, except it no longer completely handles a collection like mine.

The problem with my family's collection is it's almost entirely unsorted — there is almost no logic at all as to why some photos are with other photos. Additionally, through the years there are a lot of duplicate prints that were made and given to family members to enjoy. As these family members passed, some of these duplicates were returned to us and were randomly mixed in with all of the others.

This is kind of tricky to explain, so let me give this a try:

Because I am not organizing and ordering my prints before I scan them, but will instead do that in my image manager software afterwards, I can't assume the first version of a particular photo I come to is the best and therefore the best copy to scan. And since all copies invariably have a different level of physical condition that they're in — some more worn than others, I have decided to just scan every photo, even if I know it's a duplicate. Once I am done scanning every photo in my collection, the best scanned copy of each print (with multiple copies) will become the main scan to represent that photo.

And then here is the real problem. When you're looking at multiple versions of a photo in a program like Picasa or Aperture, it's then almost impossible to match one of the digital images back to the correct paper print if you ever need to because they all look alike! Only if you're lucky will you find a unique fold or marking etc to differentiate it. I learned this the hard way.

Adding an ID "Barcode" number to all my scanned photos

Using my new Itoya Art Profolio Photo Marker to "barcode" my previously scanned photos.

Created ID Number for Each Photo

So until all of these issues with duplicates arose, I thought I could get away with not using a unique “barcode” number on each photo. But then I knew I wouldn't be happy until I did.

On January 25th for about half the day, I went through all of the prints and slides I had scanned and wrote a unique number on each one and then wrote the same exact number at the end of the filename of the digital master I have stored in my image manager.

So now, if I am holding a print in my hands and I want to quickly find the digital version in Aperture, I just do a search for just this ID number that's written on the back and it instantly comes up!

Is this necessary and do you need to do it? The answer is probably no and maybe — it's up to you. It definitely adds time to the process but to me, the benefits far outweigh the little bit of extra time required.

Giving My Thanks

Because I want to give credit where credit is due, I want to give thanks for the idea of this 3-part “report” post to a guy I really like and respect — Pat Flynn of The Smart Passive Income Blog. I've been reading his website for a long time now and have really enjoyed his monthly report posts that transparently show how he's earning massive amounts of passive income.

When I realized my site needed a “report” kind of post like his, I tried to come up with a different approach that was my own. After much thought, I pretty much failed. I think he nailed it with purpose and simplicity. And the more time I spent trying to re-invent the wheel, the further I felt I was getting behind and the more I knew I just needed to have this “Scanning and Editing Count” out there!

So I just went with Pat's brilliant template and moved on! So Pat, I hope you don't mind so much that I'm using your structure and take it as a compliment. smile

I would also like to thank my Dad for helping me create the mathematical formulas in my spreadsheet program Numbers (like Excel but for Macs) that I will use to to help me quickly generate the “Overall Project Completed” percentage every month. He's much more of an expert at spreadsheets than I ever will be so I was so grateful for his help last night!

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