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Digitizing a Large Amount of Photos? 112

Posted by Cliff
from the albums-per-second dept.
mcj0422 asks: "With what seems like the many increasing disasters, and also the freak accidents that can happen, there are certain non valuables that people end up losing, the main one being pictures that are printed on film. I know my mom has several thousand photos in our basement, which could be wiped out by water damage in one heavy rain season. Are there any scanners designed to take loads of pictures and turn them into digital files? Is there a service that does this, if so which ones would you recommend?"
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Digitizing a Large Amount of Photos?

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  • by lynx_user_abroad (323975) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @02:25PM (#15107469) Homepage Journal
    Floods are not the only disaster which can affect valuables such as photos. And there are actually very few such disasters which would completely destroy a photo while leaving a digitized version of that photo intact. Make sure you have a safe location to store the copies. While you're at it (perhaps even before) you might want to make sure you've got a safe location for the originals.

    By far the hardest, costliest, riskyest, and most time consuming part of this process will be arranging a several-thousand photo collection to be scanned. If you are going to take that step, I'd recommend you arrange to wind-up with both a digitized copy and an old-fashioned one.

    We have a good understanding of what it takes to preserve photos, with almost 200 years to learn from our screw-ups. We don't have the same experience with digital artifacts, and the experiences we do have says we're abysmal at it. Physical objects can survive thousands (millions?) of years by accident while we've all experienced the loss of digital ones which were important just seconds ago.

    If these photos are important,

    1. Move the originals to a safe location, today.
    2. Arrange to have physical copies made. (Go ahead and have digital ones made, too, if that makes you happy.)
    3. Store the copies in a safe location, too, but define 'safe' differently. (Safe from what? Fire? Flood? Theft? Copyright infringement? Rivaluos siblings? CDROT? Sunlight fading? Obscurity? Prying eyes? Obsolescence?
    4. Also be aware that making a digital copy of some things (like a photo) can introduce threats which were not there before. A machine jam while scanning or improper handling of unstable photos can cause irreparable loss. I'd hate to see your precious photo collection lost completely to a freak minor auto accident or random theft. Also beware that digitizing a photo is a lossy process: no matter how high a resolution you have a photo scanned at, there will always be some information which cannot be recovered from the digitized version, should the original be lost.

      And finally, understand that the simple act of making a digital backup of something like a photo makes the original a tempting target for disposal in the name of 'efficiency'. If everyone in the family has a digital copy of every photo in the box, it might be a lot easier to justify leaving the box in the basement for the termites. And once the box is gone, will you really care about your copy on your crashed hard disk, when you're sure you can get another copy from anyone else at the next reunion. Until you find-out everyone else was counting on getting a new copy from you...

  • by fean (212516) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @04:32PM (#15108543) Homepage
    You missed the whole "which ones would you recommend" part..

    Fine.. there are some out there, good job, way to work google, but the asker seems to want someone that has an opinion about these services, not a google answer.
  • by lynx_user_abroad (323975) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @04:59PM (#15108816) Homepage Journal
    While true, I can burn a dozen copies of my photo collection to DVD and mail them to relatives and friends in various parts of the planet. It any disaster(s) manage to wipe out all of New England, California, Florida, and Australia, I don't think I'll really care much about the survival of my pictures.

    You are only considering disasters which share location as a common mode. Think outside the box. I could imagine many disaster scanarios which would wipe-out all of your photos on multiple continents.

    How about a manufacturer recall due to a defect which causes premature bit-rot. One you don't hear about until it's too late. It wouldn't really matter if the disks were stored together or apart.

    Or how about a mis-aligned read/write head on your burner. Sure, you verified each disk (on your own writer) after you burnt them, but now your drive is dead, and you discover no one else can read the disks you wrote.

    Or, how about a lawsuit? The software you use to view the disks gets injunctioned off the market by a patent infringement lawsuit. (That almost happened with GIF, remember.) You did remember to back-up the viewer along with the photos, right? And an operating system to run it...

    Or what if you can't find a DVD player? (What if the MPAA tells DVDCCA to stop licensing the manufacture of DVD players in a few years so that Disney can sell all those cartoons all over again to a new generation of toddlers without worrying about the turn-of-the-century-disks cannibalizing their new sales.)

    And those are common-mode disasters. It wouldn't be too hard to come up with a dozen unique, plausible, reasons why 12 DVD's mailed to 12 different locations would be unrecoverable upon return 5, 10, or 50 years later. Let's see:

    1. Never made it to destination
    2. damaged in-transit:sending
    3. damaged in-tranisit:returning
    4. misplaced upon arrival
    5. misfiled and lost
    6. damaged through neglect
    7. damaged through intent
    8. stolen
    9. guardian moved and left no forwarding address
    10. guardian in jail
    11. guardian deceased
    12. discarded as unimportant ("Honey, you don't need to hang onto that old thing. You haven't even seen a birthday card in 30 years. And besides, he sent 11 other copies to other people, surely they couldn't have all gotten discarded. If he ever does ask for it back, just say you never got it, or it was damaged in transit...")

  • Simple advice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mgblst (80109) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:32AM (#15112196) Homepage
    OK, this may not be popular, but realistically don't even bother. Nobody really wants to see all those photos. Maybe you do, and your brother and sisters - but I can guarantee none of your kids will. Not 1000s. Maybe keep a couple of good ones around, give one each to the kids - that is all you need. You think these things will be cherished for generations to come - that is just kidding yourself.

    Don't mean to be cruel, but this is realistic. Before you take on such a task, ask yourself is it really worth it. The most cherished these photos will ever be is by your mum, and then less so for each generation after that.
  • by TheRealFoxFire (523782) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @08:37AM (#15112730)

    Whatever you do, you're probably not thinking enough. Archival is hard.

    Here is what I'm doing, and the rationale for why

    First, I bought an Epson Perfection 4990. It does 48-bit negative scans with Digital ICE for dust removal. The scans of a 24 exposure roll take 180 minutes, but trust me, its worth the time to not have to spend the time in Photoshop removing the dust by hand.

    You are scanning negatives right? Photos are great, but they are a small dynamic range snapshot of what the camera actually recorded. Scan negatives, and scan them in high bit depth, otherwise you're not really archiving digitally, you're making a lossy copy. You want to be able to make large prints, not just 4x6's forever.

    I use the bundled scanning software, but other packages are probably as good or better. Each picture is numbered sequentially, and the negatives are moved after scanning into an archival binder with non-PVC negative protector sheets, and each sheet is labeled with the range of image numbers. This is important, as you *will* need to go back and rescan a few images for some reason at some time, and the negatives themselves will last longer than the digital media if neglected.

    Now, as for the format, I'm encoding to JPEG 2000, which preserves the lossless, 48-bit image, at 1/3 the size of a tiff. However, no software really uses it, so each DVD includes a Windows and Linux statically linked build of the converter.

    Each image group is burnt onto two DVDs, one DVD-R, and one DVD+R, from two different reputable manufacturers. DVD reliability is all over the map, and you don't want bitrot taking out one brand. Burning in different formats mitigates the risk that one format stops being as readable in the future. Each DVD also includes parity (PAR2) files, about 5-10% of the disk depending on how full they get. This allows you to verify the disk is intact, a step you should do to all the DVDs once every couple of years. If the disk is starting to fail, you can copy both DVDs to harddrive, recover from parity, and burn anew.

    Each DVD set is a mix of half DVD-R, half DVD+R (eg Disk 1=-R, Disk 2=+R, etc), and a set is sent to my parents for safe keeping, and one set stays here. I've sent the negatives home too, since they live in a safer climate.

    Finally, the useless master DVDs with JPEG2000's are nice, but people really want to *see* these images. Here, metadata is key. Make sure each image is at least tagged with basic metadata in the Dublin Core set, like date, subject, location. I'm doing that as a baseline, and adding Flikr style tags to all the images, and Getty TGF tags for locations. The images are then converted to JPG at HDTV resolution for viewing, and I'm writing a viewer application for searching, and all of this will go online.

    Its not an easy project, but its really rewarding to come across old photos and know that they won't sit in a photo album or shoebox unseen, and future generations will have something to look back at. Have fun!

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