What Everybody Ought to Know When Naming Your Scanned Photos – Part 3

by | Last updated May 17, 2017 | Scanning Photos | 46 comments

Photo Collage - menu item to save photo as Mom's Birthday 1??And so we reach part 3, the final installment of this series on how to give your photos a useful filename after you scan them.

In part 1, I introduced you to my 3-part naming system I use for my photos. With the first part, you start out the filename with the date the photo was shot in the order of YEAR-MONTH-DAY. Then in part 2, I showed you how to use useful keywords to build a description of what you see in the photograph.

In part 3, we will now be discussing how to add the last part to the filename – a block of easy to create “code” that will reveal to anyone with your “key” the exact scanner settings you used to scan the photo. Wait wait wait! Before you write me off as completely mad and click away to another page [gasp], please hear me out on this. It's really easy and most importantly helpful. I promise!

 

Part 3 – Add Your Scanner Settings to the Filename

Graphic - My 3-part formula for correctly naming your scanned photos

Even though I think this will eventually benefit even those with the most basic of goals for their scanned photo collections, I know it might be too much to ask of someone who doesn’t have the time or patience to be this thorough. But I beg you to at least follow me through my process here and see if I can convince you of its benefits. So first off, let's discuss the enormous pink elephant wearing silk boxer shorts standing in the middle of the room.

Why on Earth Would You Ever Want to Know What Scanner Settings You Used?

Let me answer that by telling you about the actual situation I was in awhile back that made it painfully obvious to me I needed to add this new bit of information to all of my filenames. A few months into my scanning, I did some testing with the “Dust Removal” setting in Epson Scan, the software that came with my scanner. Scanning magnifies all of the tiny pieces of dust on your prints and negatives, so I wanted to see if this setting could save me a little bit of this cleanup time afterwards in my image manger. You certainly don't have to do this clean up if it doesn't bother you. With my nagging attention to detail, it's an extra step I want to take. I did a bunch of scans with the setting on high, medium, low and then off. Comparing all of the scans, I came to the conclusion that I could use the medium setting without finding any “visible” loss of detail.

But then one day, months and months later, I noticed in a photo I had just scanned that it had a small clump of detail missing! It was like a digital smudge in someone's hairline. Was it a big deal? Probably not to a lot of people. But to me it was huge. It meant the setting was undependable for my goals because the fancy mathematical algorithm in the software could be too evasive at any time, unbeknownst to me. Without taking the time to study each new scan with the original, practically under a magnifying glass, I could easily run the risk of having many more of these digital “smudges” and never catch them until it's too late. That didn't seem like a road I wanted to go down for the rest of my collection.

For me, it's more important to have a “raw” unaffected scan and have to do a few minutes of dust removal later in my image manager than it is to use this “time-saving” filter at the risk of it subtly ruining each photo.

So not only did I decide to no longer use the Dust Removal filter anymore, but I also wanted to go back and rescan all of the pictures I scanned with it so I was sure I didn't lose out on any detail that I would regret later. But here was the problem – I couldn't for the life of me remember what day or even the photo I first started using the filter on! Ugh!! Why didn't I write that down!? You know, I don't think most people stick with the same exact scanner settings day in and day out with every photo in their collection. I think most of us experiment and adjust here and there to match our mood, or maybe something we read online or based on how another setting worked for us on a previous photo. It occurred to me that day, when I was pulling all of my graying hair out, that how I was scanning my photos – what settings I was using – was also part of my image's DNA and should be recorded in its “descriptive tattoo” – its filename. But I knew however I chose to do it had to be extremely easy to generate and also had to be easily understood by someone else new to reading it.

How to Add Your Scanner Settings to Your Filenames

So this is what I came up. I took the name of the setting and turned it into one or two letters. Then if the setting had it's own “pulldown menu” option, I would turn it into a one character value as well. (It's much simpler than it sounds. I keep promising you that it is, so let me show you so you can see for yourself.) Examples: Below is how it would look in Epson's “Epson Scan” set in one of the easiest modes – the “Home Mode.” This mode just means there are very few settings the user has to choose from. The program is set to scan a color photograph at 300 dpi (ppi) with the descreening filter set to on. (Please note: these examples aren't necessarily based on “settings” recommendations. I made them up just for the sake of explaining how they would be implemented in my naming system)

Scanner setting window for Mac version of Epson Scan in Home Mode

Epson Scan Window – “Home Mode” (Mac version)

So using this example, highlighted in blue is what I would add after parts 1 and 2 of a filename from my last post:

“1925-xx-xx Marvel Ruth House Front Illinois – (ES-300-DS)

Do you see what I did there? I scanned the photo using Epson Scan at 300 dpi with Descreening turned on. Let me show you another example that has a few more options to choose from. This again is using Epson Scan but set in the “Professional Mode”:

Scanner setting window for Mac version of Epson Scan in Professional Mode

Epson Scan – “Professional Mode” (Mac version)

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

In this one, the photo was scanned again using Epson Scan but at 600 dpi, 48-bit color, with the Unsharp Mask turned on and the Dust Removal filter set to medium. Cool huh!? And it's really that easy.

Putting All 3 Parts Together

Graphic - My 3-part formula for correctly naming your scanned photos So now you know the way I currently label all of my scanned photos. It's just a matter of combining all three parts into one “longer” filename.

If you want to start using this system, you might find it really helpful if you write down your entire formula on a piece of paper or a handy index card so you can pull it out and reference it whenever you decide to have a scanning session. They may be few and far between so having it at your fingertips is very handy.

YY-MM-DD – Event/Location/People – (Scanner Software – DPI – Color Bit – Filters/Settings)

You also might find it useful to have a legend (cheat sheet) written down somewhere of your scanner setting abbreviations. You may remember what they mean now, but maybe not in a couple weeks, or worse… 5 or 10 years from now.

Scanning Filename Legend
UM Unsharp Mask
DS Descreening
CR Color Restoration
BC Backlight Correction
DR Dust Removal
DI Digital Ice

And for my last tip, it’s important to make sure this information is typed into your filenames right after you complete the scan, or you will quickly forget the settings you used for each one. At the latest, type it in before you import or drag them into your image manager such as Picasa, iPhoto or Lightroom. So in wrapping up this series, imagine with me if you will, 30 or more years from now, a family member who inherited your collection is looking at your hard work. They don't have access to your original negatives or prints because they are gone, but this person does have your folders full of your master (scanned) images you were so careful to back up through the years. Which of the following two folders of photos would you prefer them to access? Which one would be the most helpful to them?

Folder with scanned photos with filenames that aren't very useful

Folder with scanned photos with very useful filenames

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my “Naming Your Scanned Photos” series and are able to implement as much of it as you like into your own photos! Please spread the word if you have the time by retweeting or sharing this article. Thank you so much! Cheers!

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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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Tammy Burns
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Tammy Burns

Thank you for your wonderful suggestions! I am going to carry your idea of a legend or cheat sheet one step farther and printed out so that I can take a photo of it and add it at the front or back of each folder of photos, so the legend stays with the group in case I lose my printed sheet. Maybe that way whoever inherits my digital files will also know what the initials mean. I will also take a photo of my legend or cheat sheet of the initials for people. In my family we have several Bob’s and several juniors and seniors. So my husband would be RBBjr and his dad, RBBsr.

Mark
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Mark

I appreciate the time and effort you've put into this body of work. I too have been stuck in the mud that is trying to come up with the “perfect” naming system and DPI settings. You've cleared up quite a bit for me but I still have a couple of questions.

First, is about, I guess we'll call it work flow. So I scan an image in and save it as a .tif file, this is now my “new master or original”. Untouched from any corrections or editing. I open this image in photoshop and “clean it up”, remove scratches and anything else that stands out. Now I save this with the same file nameplus “-edited.tif. So this becomes my working master of the scan. But now I have to .tif files basically doubling my storage needs. I'm not worried about storage I have terabytes of storage. I still wonder if doing this makes sense because maybe what I edit or correct will be different to someone else or future technology may offer better ways than I can do manually. Basically I give the future person an untouched original scan. Thoughts?

Secondly, I want to save these as jpgs so others can browse through the collection and download what they want. I have to assume a greater portion won't know what to do with a .tif so that's why I want to save it as a jpg. But I can't decide on what size. Since I don't know what they'll use it for I tend to lean towards saving it as large as my dpi settings I used for my .tif file. In other words, if I use 600 dpi for my master .tif scan, use the same for the jpg. Again assuming someone may not know how to resize a jpg for web or email use I could make multiple jpgs and appended with what they are (-large.jpg, -web.jpg, etc). Thoughts?

Ok, third question. It sort of goes with me not worrying about storage capacity but more towards future use of a scan. While 600 dpi seems to be the consensus, I still wonder about using 1200 dpi (my scanner doesn't have anything in between, Brother MFC-490CW). This is still with an eye to the future. I don't want to assume just because I don't see a need to ever want to blow a picture up to a certain size that someone else wouldn't either, so they have options. Future home printers may make this more possible or places that put the image of items may work better with the larger 1200 dpi.

I know I can't contend with every future possibility, but I want to do my best within reason. There will be file formats long gone and new ones that will be as common as jpgs are today. We are so far at the bottom of the technology curve, we don't even know it's a curve yet, it looks like a straight line. But that will be something the next generation and beyond will have to deal with, I just want to pass on something they can work with in their time.

And thank you for your time and thoughts on my crazy talk of future technology.

Please keep up the great work
Mark Velasco

Dave
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Dave

Mark, you ask some of the same questions that I have been dealing with. I've pretty much handled it in a similar fashion to you. I use the original tiff scan (or dng file if I use my camera to “scan”) as a ‘digital negative' that gets filed away on an external drive dedicated for this (that also gets backed up nightly). These are my peace-of-mind files that let me restore anything I goof up or loose while processing. They also allow me to reprocess select photos from scratch using any new editing software I might acquire (the new AI features are great!). Years down the road, I don't expect these digital negatives to have much value once all my processing is finished. My working TIFF/DNG files go into my digital asset manager (currently I use Lightroom Classic CC, but Adobe Bridge would work equally well). I can process them in Lightroom or using any of several programs that have Lightroom plug-ins or setup as external editors.

While TIFF/DNG files are great for lossless master copies, they don't play well with the online world. Friends and family want JPEG files to share, save, and view online. I will export any desired pictures into JPEG format using their full resolution. Since I use Google Photos for much of my online photos, they have a size limit of 16 megapixels for their free storage, which is close to full resolution.

I tailor my scanning DPI to what I am scanning. If the original photo prints are of poor quality, 600 dpi may be overkill, while a high quality print with lots of small important details (think group photo where you might want to later enlarge a single person) may benefit from scanning at higher resolutions up to 1200 dpi and above. I will usually do several test scans at varying resolutions to find where increasing the dpi fails to give any significantly increased scan detail. After a while you can judge the resolution you'll need just by looking at the print with a magnifying glass.

As far as future-proofing my image collection, I'm not too worried. When new standards develop, there are always means to translate old common formats into the new improved ones. The key is to make an image collection important enough so that someone will want to do the updating. It needs to be organized and easy to navigate with lots of informative metadata embedded into the image files. A family history collection that is memorable and widely shared.

I've gotten many great ideas and suggestions from this site. Now I just need more time to actually get those pictures scanned.
Dave

Mark
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Mark

Dave,

Thanks for your input. I also came to the conclusion of having master tiff or raw file and working off a copy tiff or raw for the same reason. Altering the photo in a lossless format just made sense. And as you stated jpgs just work better in the online world.

I just people direct links to my master jpg files on OneDrive which has a 2GB per file limit or this newer service I came across Forever.com, where you don't rent online storage, you buy it, either monthly until paid off or a single payment. Prices vary but you can add more storage as you need. Full high resolution photos, videos or documents. They guarantee your content for your lifetime plus at least one hundred years. They will also convert your content if a new standard comes along. And you can name a person to take over for you once you pass on. You can of course provide direct links to some or all of the content you store just like OneDrive. What I like is there no on going monthly fee, unless you're paying for your storage monthly. But once your paid in full, no more charges unless you buy more storage.

So once I get this naming structure standardized, I'll feel much better about what I'm leaving future family members. I have a ticket open with Microsoft about max path length and max filename length since an article from one of their KB sites implies that they are on the way to making that a non issue, but it's a little technical and while I am a Microsoft Certified Professional, this is more in the development of the underlying platform that makes up windows. smile

Carol
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Carol

Thanks for your articles Curtis, they have really helped me. I tried to scan my family's photos years ago but never finished. Now that I read your articles about naming, I realize that was my problem before! I kept getting lost in an endless sea of similar filenames and I just had to walk away from it before it drove me nuts. Thanks to your naming system suggestions, and the suggestions of a few members who left comments too, I think I can do this! You have made my life so much easier now. Thanks so much. grin

Jeff Streeper
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Jeff Streeper

Some back-up systems have a problem with dashes
I use an underscore (_) which does not run afoul of backups.

Jason
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Jason

Excellent tips! Maintaing a scanning “key” isn't a bad idea because it tells family the original photo exists with hopefully the negative. Including the key (and your article) as a file along with the collection, or parts of, that passes on ensures they know how the photo was edited.

Gene Welsh
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Gene Welsh

Hi Curtis: I have been reading all your articles and post, and am Blown Away! I just bought a V600, cleaners, dust brush, etc. I have a Mac 10.6.8 Snow Leopard, with iPhoto. I want to scan several 1000 slides, and make copies on disks for family members. I am leery of iPhoto after reading some comments on your sites! My concern is: after scanning, (and using Vuescan?) and using a manager such as Lightroom, can I store on a disk, and let others access the images without their having Lightroom software? I realize that my questions are very elementary, but the process seems very comlplicated! Maybe I should just charge in & start scanning! Thanks, Gene Welsh

Mark Velasco
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Mark Velasco

Hi Curtis,

Great info and very useful. I did have a question that I can't seem to find much info about. When there's a group shot of , say, family, The date/people/event/location format still makes sense, but the peoples names is where I get hung up. I'm thinking down the road when 30-40 years have gone by and having just first names might not make sense to the person looking at the image. There might be 3 or 4 last names because of marriages, basically branches on the family tree. Even first names, Zach or Zachary, Jenn or Jennifer, Fred and so on. I could put that in the metadata but still that metadata would get huge with first, last names and abbreviated first names. I get that it makes sense now when looking at the image, but a couple of generations from now who knows who will be trying to make sense of this picture. And this isn't even getting into the thousands of images yet to be scanned.

Your insight would be appreciated. I could make a note on the formatting doc instructing the person managing these images to look at the metadata for more details. Who knows what capabilities will be available to them much the same way we were blown away when we could store 512MB of data, that was insane, who would ever have a need for that much space.

Thanks
Mark

Randy Vaughan
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Randy Vaughan

I'm pleased, in a demented sort of way, to learn I'm not the only person this “ocd” about photos and images. I have scanned images of old photos dating from before I was born in '52 (passed down from my parents) to those taken until 2004 when I finally switched to digital cameras, all together some 35,000 photographs. I don't remember when, exactly (those xx-dates) I started dating exactly as you “suggest” (I demand the same thing), but 2016 0812 (today's date) now seems like the only “natural” way to say the thing. But all along the way, this search for the “perfect filing system” was the same, the idea that fifty years from now someone is going to look at these images and I want them to know, if nothing else, when it was taken and who the major characters are. Great article indeed.

Lynda
Guest
Lynda

Curtis – This 3 part series was awesome!!! (as is some of the additional info from the comment section). It's an overwhelming process to be sure, and I have thousands of my own family photos and have agreed/offered (am I crazy?!) to scan all of my parents' photos as well…your article gives me inspiration and hope that I will actually get it done!