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

by | Last updated Apr 21, 2017 | Featured Post, Organizing Digitals, Scanning Photos | 57 comments

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.

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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Scanning All of Our Family Photos … What’s the Actual Point?

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For anyone with children, or with other family members such as nieces or nephews, the answer to whether or not we should scan our old family prints, slides and negatives may seem quite obvious.

But, when I received this email from Jennie, asking me why she should go through all the trouble of taking on such a big scanning and organizing project when she doesn’t have younger family to pass it on to, I was struck with the thought that many of you might be asking yourselves the same question. Maybe even for some of you who actually do have family to pass your scanned collections on to!

If you don’t have or know anyone that will truly cherish your scanned photo collection once you’ve passed, is there even a single reason to scan any of your old family photos?

A 70-Year-Old Silver Surfer Scans Her Entire Life!

A 70-Year-Old Silver Surfer Scans Her Entire Life!

Being a man of action as well as words, my son Mark bought me a slide scanner and taught me how to use it. I scanned in the slides of the Holy Land without much difficulty. I was delighted to be able to view them on my computer with the same ease as I could view the digital photographs that I had started taking in 1999.

The remainder of the slides came first. Then I started work on the prints in the photograph albums that I had lovingly curated over the decades. The physical albums had started to deteriorate to the extent that some of them were falling apart. Scanning the prints was an ideal way to remedy this. I also scanned in all the prints that had not made the cut for the photograph albums but I had kept nevertheless. I also spent several months scanning in approximately 4,000 negatives. All in all I must have scanned nearly ten thousand photographs in one form or another.

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Norm Riehle
Norm Riehle

Hi Curtis, Thanks for thinking of doing this website! …. Nice to have a place to start in at educating myself on scanning the family photos…. I’m a 5 year procrastinator at this…. I bought a Toshiba laptop with extra RAM and a fast processor, and a photo scanner [Epson V600], and an external HD to dedicate to these photos, but things came up and here it is 5 years later ! …. I inherited all the family photos after my folks passed on…. Luckily my late Mom had written identifying info on most of the photos…..Besides preserving them digitally, I want to make them accessible to any other extended family member that may be interested in them. Any suggestions on a platform that would be good for that? …. I plan to save to the external HD and also thumb drives for a double backup…. Your info on file names and numbering photos is interesting and will be incorporated when I get going on this…. One thing I plan to add to that at the outset is the family surnames involved as the initial identifier in the file name as I have pics from both sides of the family that don’t have any commonality other than they are both sides of my family, and then once I get into scanning my own photos I’ll probably use another specific name to ID that first, as well as use different topic names for pics that may be beneficial for…. I really like your suggestion to just use an ID number on each pic etc. and not try to use that number to include chronology or such, that will save me a lot of aggravation as I try to make file names descriptive, but adding any chronology later, after scanning will really help with that…. So now I need to start in on reading all these posts to glean what I can for my needs…. Thanks again for putting this ‘out there’….
Norm Riehle

Victory Barnett
Victory Barnett

Curtis, or Members,
I totally am on board with numbering the originals, “master” Print, slide, and or negative. I am wondering how many of us have old prints with no date on them? Maybe, after scanning, I can see the “master” file well enough to get a ball park on the decade, by clues in the image itself.
And, I know some images were not photographs I took. Like, from my Dad’s slides and prints. I will not have too many avenues to ask about the composition. Both my parents have moved to Heaven. I want the following generations to be able to access these “memories” with as much curiosity and wonder as do I . This is soooo cool Curtis B

Art Taylor
Art Taylor

Hi Victory,

Scanning at a high resolution, and including any border around a print, can indeed make it easier to identify people, places, and events shown in originals. A useful rule-of-thumb for determining your scanning resolution is to decide what the maximum size you may someday want to print a particular image. For example, if you decide you might want a 16 x 20″ print from a particular original, figure on printing at 200 to 300 dpi. A 300 dpi print, 20 inches on the longer side, should be scanned at 20″ divided by the actual number of inches on the corresponding longer side of the original x 300 (dpi). For a 4″ x 5″ original, that would give 20/5=4 x300 = 1200 spi. If you do all your scanning at whatever scanning resolution you determine with this formula, you can always get smaller prints made with no loss of resolution and sharpness, but if you use too low a scan resolution, you may not be able to make the desired size of enlarged print.

I suggest scanning every photo in its entirety, with any border included in the scan. Then, when the main subject(s) is/are relatively small in the original, do at least one additional scan of the original but move the crop rectangle in to include just the main subject(s). Consider using a higher scan resolution for this cropped image. Sometimes an enlarged object in the background will help identify a place or date range. If you can read the labels on products in a store window, for example, you can do more research and find out when those labels were commonly available. If they were available only in a specific area, such as “Bob’s Maple Syrup, product of Bennington, Vermont”, you can concentrate on researching family members who may have lived in or at least visited that area. Maybe the enlarged background will show a recognizable landmark.

The style of white border, if any, can provide an approximate date range, as can the total dimensions of the print. In the 1940s & 1950s, as well as possibly into the early 1960s, rough, decorative, edges were common on drug-store style prints. Later prints had smooth edges, and from the 1970s, especially for color prints, borderless prints were common. Many prints, smaller than 3.5 x 5″, are likely contact prints, made by placing the negatives directly on the printing paper. Up until at least WW 2, enlargers were not commonly used, so prints were made the same size as the negatives. Any color prints, except for some, relatively few hand-colored ones, will likely be from after 1945 when color film and printing paper became available. Up until the late 1960s, color film and paper were too expensive to be commonly used by most people, so chances are any color prints are post-1960. Kodachrome slide film started in the mid-1930s as the first-ever color slide film, so color slides must have been made after then, regardless of brand or film type.

When it comes to naming the people in a photo, don’t just say something like “Mom and me at Banff National Park in 1968.” Future generations won’t know for sure who “Mom” and “me” are. Instead, use something like “Mom (then her full name) and me (your full name)…”, It will be totally clear who is shown and the relationship between them. Others have found, as you may have already, that family pictures with such ambiguous naming are not much more helpful than they would have been without any names. If you use a program like Adobe Bridge, especially with the IPTC Cultural Heritage Panel, and fill in as many fields as possible, with as much information as you have available, that metadata will be written directly to each file and not get trapped in a proprietary database of some program which might not be available in the future. People looking at your images in the future will appreciate your time and effort invested in adding as much info as you can.

When you know, or at least are fairly sure, who took a particular photo, add that info as well in the metadata. If you don’t know for sure that your dad, and not your mom, took a particular picture, you can indicate that you suspect that the photographer was your dad (include his full name), but that you think your mom (full name) may have been the photographer. That might well be the case where your dad is shown in the photo but your mom is not. Likewise, if a different family member is missing from a group shot, that individual may have been the photographer, thus explaining why he/she is not shown.

Jill Marie Young
Jill Marie Young

Hello. I cannot find the date on this old 90s photo. Is there a way to ID the number print from this photo? Can you guys please help me! Thanks! https://photos.app.goo.gl/5oBHquDwRwfT9CwG9


Thanks for the great ideas. I haven’t settled on a naming system yet. I inherited a large number of negatives and slides (and a few prints) that go back about 100 years. I’ve put all the negatives in PrintFile archival pages and have made “contact print” scans of the BW pages, as they required special treatment due to wide variations in exposure. (I wrote a Python program that displays the page and allows me to draw rectangles over parts of images I want to enhance, then it applies a little image normalization to the area inside the rectangles. It was tedious, but all of the images on all of the contact prints are clear now.) I’m thinking of giving a serial number to each page of negatives with a number indicating which negative it is, such as “CP00345.7”, meaning “contact print 345 negative 7”. Then if “CP000345.7” is included in the filename (or as metadata in the file), I will be able to easily find the original negative by matching it with the number written on the PrintFile sheet. (I use a Sharpie to write on the PrintFile sheets, is that bad?)

Art Taylor
Art Taylor

That sounds like a reasonable naming system, Kerry, but I recommend you replace the dot/period before your last digit with an _ (underscore). Windows interprets the dot/period as a separator between the filename and the file extension so everything after it will be interpreted as the file extension and Windows won’t know what program to use to open the file. If you do go with this naming format, be sure to include both a digital note AND a printed hard copy note with your physical contact sheets so you and other (future) users will always be able to know what the code letters and numbers mean. If each PrintFile page holds a complete roll of 35 mm film negatives, you’ll have at least some two-digit numbers after your separator since you’ll have negatives 10 – 20, 24, 36, or maybe even 39, depending on the length of the original film. ( I consistently managed to get between 37 and 39 slides/negatives on a 36-exposure roll of film.) Up until about the mid-1970s, 35 mm film was generally available, at least in North America, in either 20- or 36-exposure rolls. About that time, the 24-exposure rolls replaced the 20-exposure rolls. I’ve seen 12-exposure rolls listed in catalogs, but in about 50 years of photography, I don’t recall ever seeing one in a store. Another situation you may encounter with negatives going back about 80 years is one in which pros and some amateur photographers bought bulk, 100-foot long rolls of 35 mm film, then loaded their own cartridges with whatever length they needed for a particular shoot. While 40-frames (about 6 feet) was about the maximum that would safely fit into a standard 35 mm cartridge, they might have loaded any shorter length if they didn’t intend to shoot more than a few frames, especially with special-purpose films like Infra-Red black-and-white film or Kodak Positive Film, used to make positive black-and-white slides from regular negatives. Negatives from pre-1934-35 are most likely NOT 35 mm since 35 mm film first became available then. Other film (rather than glass plate) negatives you have may be any of a number of different sizes and formats but you no doubt have found the appropriate PrintFile sheets for those different sizes. Like 35-mm negatives, such negatives likely have individual frame numbers printed along the edge(s) but because different cameras could use 120 or 620 or 220 film but had different image sizes and formats, a roll of 120 film from one camera might have only eight 6 cm x 9 cm images on it, but the same length of film in a different camera might have more 6 x 6 cm square negatives on it. If your sheets hold more than one roll’s worth of negatives, you’ll likely have duplicated frame numbers on the actual negatives, so you’ll need to mark your negative number on each negative’s location in the PrintFile sheet to avoid possible confusion. It probably wouldn’t hurt to do a scan of the PrintFile sheet with your numbers on it and keep the digital copy with the digital images for that sheet so the digital files can be positively linked to the analog files.

Tom K
Tom K

Curtis, first time poster here. This website is very informative and “real-world” in nature.

Something not addressed in this article is, how do you write a unique identifier number on a negative?


I am suggesting to try “Long Path Tool” program.

Art Taylor
Art Taylor

Susan, regardless of what hardware/software you use to scan your photos, it’s going to involve a lot of time and effort. Save yourself heartache later and scan at the highest possible quality (resolution and format) currently available, especially if you’re disposing of your originals. Who’s to say that a week or a month from now, you’ll be going over your shots and decide that one in particular is worth enlarging to 8 x 10 or bigger? With easily available software, it’s very easy to restore faded colors in photos, IF you have sufficient digital data available in the image. If all you have available is the equivalent of a 300 spi digital JPG, and you’ve discarded your original, your options to restore color and contrast or to enlarge your image will be extremely limited. While it might be possible to go out and take a new photo of a flower in your garden or some other local subject, it’s not likely you’d be able to repeat your travels to get similar shots. A good rule of thumb for digitizing any document, photo or otherwise, is to “Scan ONCE at the highest available quality, resolution, color/bit-depth, and format (DNG or TIF) for the largest anticipate output needs (print size). That way, you are prepared for almost any output requirements and have the most digital data available for editing as your needs and skills develop over time. Your current digital images may meet your needs today, but what if you decide a month or year from now that you’d like to try to restore the colors from some of your travel shots? It doesn’t sound like you’ll have much digital data available to work with so you’ll be limited in what you can do, regardless of what software you use and how skilled you become using it. It’s easy to reduce quality/file size for specific needs, such as email, but once quality is gone, whether from too low an original scan size and resolution, or repeated saves in a lossy format like JPG, it can’t be recovered.

Susan Bray
Susan Bray

hi Curtis. Great posts! You asked about other situations where numbering originals may be useful… I’ll explain my situation.

I’m just starting to scan old albums into my digital collection using Google’s PhotoScan, which is OK for my purposes although not very high quality yet. I don’t think I or anyone else will want to see these photos outside of their digital environment so it’s OK for me. They tell a story of some amazing travel adventures – and it’s the story that counts.
Plus the original photos have lost a lot of colour so I don’t see me blowing them up and hanging on the wall.

Seems I’m one of the few people who am throwing away my paper photographs after scanning (wanting to live light and streamlined). However… I do sense that maybe at some point in the future, there may be a few photographs that I may wish to do something else with – print out, hang up, whatever. Google PhotoScan renders the photographs as JPEG not TIFF. So… I am going to keep only the paper photographs that I feel I may at some point want a better quality scan for.

So wll keep and number only these photographs.

Or I will scan them at a higher resolution right away. Not sure yet.


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