Sunday, January 18, 2009

Things You Don't Want to Do During Scanfest

The first Scanfest of 2009 will be held next Sunday, January 25th, from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, Pacific Standard Time. A lot of new genea-bloggers and new Scanfesters will be joining us, partly because many have added "scan my photos and documents" to their New Year's resolutions, and also because Family Tree Magazine kindly highlighted Scanfest in its e-newsletter and on one of its blogs (there's a possibility that we may have a special guest joining us!). Scanfest is a lot of fun and it's something many regular attendees look forward to, especially after our two months off due to the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year's holidays. However, here are some ways you do not want to spend Scanfest:

1. Learning how your scanner works.

2. Scanning your photos to .jpg files.

3. Scanning your photos at a resolution less than 300 dpi (dots per inch).

4. Making room on your hard drive to store your photos.

5. Naming and filing all your scanned images as you go.

6. Scanning one image at a time.

7. Figuring out how to download and use Windows Live Messenger.

Let's go through this list and determine how you can make Scanfest a fun and productive time, rather than a frustrating and inefficient experience. After all, I want you to get started on your large "To Scan" piles so that you can preserve your family's heritage, plus have a great time socializing and getting to know many genea-bloggers and other family historians and family archivists.

Learning how your scanner works
If you have not yet tried out your scanner or perhaps not used it very much, this week is the time to do so. Find your owner's manual, instructions on CD, or the manufacturer's website and spend some time doing some scanning, getting used to the way the scanner operates and the software saves files to your computer. I'm not a scanner expert--and there are so many makes and models available!--so if you have questions about how your scanner works, refer to the manufacturer.

Scanning your photos to .jpg files
This is a huge "no-no" in digital photo preservation. The .jpg or .jpeg (Joint Photographic Expert Group) file format compresses the image for easy transfer through e-mail. Think of your photo getting crumpled up into a tight ball to fit in a tiny box for easy shipping. Would you do that to your precious vintage photos? Absolutely not! Additionally, the digital image deteriorates every time you copy, e-mail, open, or save the file, and tiny bits of data from the image get lost. That is no way to preserve a treasured family photo! (Go to this page and scroll about 2/3 of the way down to see examples of how photos in this format deteriorate).

Instead, you need to save your files in the .tif or .tiff (Tagged Image File Format) file format. This format is lossless, which means data is not lost when it is transferred. Naturally, you're going to have to spend some time with your scanner software learning how to enable it to save the scans as .tif files. You don't have to scan documents as .tif files. You may chose to save them in a .pdf (Portable Document Format) file, if your scanner software has that capability.

From the original .tif file, you can make a copy of your photo and then save it as a .jpg if you wish to e-mail it or place it on your blog or website. Also, if you wish to enhance or repair the original digital scan, copy it as another .tif file and do your work on the copy in Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, or other photo enhancing software. Always keep the original scan in .tif format and make copies to do anything else with the image!

What if you've already scanned a bunch of photos as .jpg files and don't have the originals to rescan, such as when you've borrowed a relative's photo album? The second-best alternative to re-obtaining the originals to rescan them is to convert the .jpg files you have into .tif files. They probably will have some data loss, but by saving them in the .tif format, you can prevent further deterioration. Then proceed as mentioned in the paragraph above.

Scanning your photos at a resolution less than 300 dpi
DPI means dots per inch. We've all watched television on a screen with poor resolution and compared it with one with high resolution; the same idea is comparable to digital photos. Images scanned at less than 300 dpi have a poor resolution, and look blurry as you enlarge them or zoom in to view details. Most archivists recommend that you save images with a resolution of at least 300 dpi; Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective, suggests a resolution of 600 dpi.

Making room on your hard drive to store your photos
Naturally, the higher the resolution of your image, the larger the file and you may be pressed for hard drive space to store many photos. I once spent nearly an entire Scanfest (three hours) cleaning up my nearly-full hard drive so I could have room for items I needed to scan. It was no fun, believe me! I've since added another drive to my computer so that shouldn't be a problem again for a long time. To see how much room you've got on your hard drive, go to My Computer and right click on the icon for your C drive (or whichever drive is your main hard drive). Choose Properties, then make sure you are looking at the information under the General tab. You can use Disk Cleanup to help you free up space, but make sure you don't delete programs that you really need to use, even if you don't use them often. Also, don't delete unused Windows components unless you are positive you still have your original Windows Operating System disk (lesson learned the hard way!).

Naming and filing all your scanned images as you go
You will definitely want to spend some time renaming your files something other than the long multi-digit number your scanning software assigns each image, and you'll also want to file your images in the correct surname folder or wherever your digital filing system dictates. However, this does take time and it's easy to lose your place in this task if you're chatting with other Scanfesters. My solution is to create a Scanfest folder with that day's date ("Scanfest 2008 01 25") in the My Pictures folder of My Documents and save all the images I've scanned to it. Later after Scanfest, I go back through, rename, and file the images in their correct surname folders.

Scanning one image at a time
If you have a flatbed scanner, you should be able to get several photos on the bed at once, saving time. I always scan the reverse (backside) of my photos to capture any captions or dates. I do this even when there's nothing written on the back, just to show I've checked for captions.

Figuring out how to download and use Windows Live Messenger
If you don't have Windows Live Messenger downloaded onto your computer, or have not used it to the extent that you feel comfortable with it, I suggest you set aside sometime today or early this week to do so. Here's how to set up for Scanfest:

1. Windows users go here to download. Mac users go here.

2. You can use various e-mail programs or your Live account as a user name for this program. I suggest using a Hotmail or Gmail account, rather than Yahoo! email or your Live account. Hotmail and Gmail user names just work better, in my experience, especially with Scanfest. If you don't have a Hotmail or Gmail e-mail address, you can set one up for free by clicking on the links in this sentence. While I use a Hotmail address as my user name ( for Scanfest, if I were to do it all over again, I'd use my Gmail address.

3. After you're set up, open the Windows Live Messenger program. In the menu bar at the top of the window, go to Contacts and choose Add Contact. Enter into the Instant Messaging Address field and then put in a short message about wanting to join Scanfest in the Personal Invitation field. I'll be checking my account frequently this week and I'll add you to my Contacts and my Scanfest Group list. You can also send me an e-mail at to request that I add you.

4. Spend some time practicing chatting with others to get used to the program, especially if you've never chatted before. I will make a point to keep Windows Live Messenger on this week, so if you've added me as a contact, sign in frequently during the week to try to catch me, and we can spend a little time chatting so you can practice. You don't want to have to try to learn how to scan and how to chat all at the same time!

More quick tips
If you don't have cotton gloves to use while handling your photos during Scanfest, call your local art supply or professional photographer's supply store to see if you can purchase a couple of pair. My local supplier sells two pair for $8.95. You can also order them online at Archival Gloves. If you can't obtain them before this coming Scanfest, try using clean cotton gardening gloves or even those cheap knit ones you can get for two pairs for a dollar at Wal-mart; anything to keep the natural oils in your skin from touching your photographs' surfaces.

George Geder at Shades of the Departed: The Healing Brush says, "Clean the scanner plate with damp lint-free cloth. Avoid using chemical cleaning solvents (Windex, Pine sol, Mr. Clean) and let dry before placing your photograph." Make sure the scanning plate dries thoroughly before placing any photos or documents on it.

I temporarily tape a piece of black construction paper on the inside white lid of my flatbed scanner before each Scanfest. This allows me to easily see the white edges of my photographs in the scanned images.

Make sure you backup your scans on high quality CDs or DVDs and store them at a location away from your home. You may wish to consider an online backup service, such as Carbonite, which I highly recommend.

There's a lot of information here, but I believe that following these recommendations will improve your scanning skills and help you have an enjoyable time doing this necessary task, plus getting to know others with similar interests. See you Sunday!


Thomas MacEntee said...

Great post! I can't wait for Scanfest next Sunday!

Taneya said...

I'm going to participate this time! I will be done with my class on Friday, so this will be the perfect way to get back into my genealogy swing. Thank you for the tips.

Miriam Robbins said...

I'm looking forward to having both of you attend! I think Scanfest is always the highlight of my month!

Andrea Christman said...

I will be there! Thanks for all of your valuable tips! One question...After you save your photos properly (high resolution), do you go back later and make jpgs for uploading to the web? Do you keep the tiff (or other high resolution) and jpg images side by side in the same file structure or in a totally separtate location? Sorry to ask so many questions, but since I am just beginning, I might as well try to get my digital content in some sort of organization because it gets confusing to go back and redo later when it is overwhelming!

Miriam Robbins said...

Hi, Andrea,

Yes, first I go back and make several copies of the .tif file and crop it, because usually I have three or four photos in one scan. I file each photo separately and name them (still as .tif files) according to the plan that I use in this post. Then I make a .jpg copy of each .tif file with the same name. Windows Explorer does not have a problem with two files of the same name within the same folder, because they are two different file formats.

Anonymous said...

Greetings Miriam,
Your tips for Scanfest are great. I am looking forward to scanning and chatting with everyone again.

Miriam Robbins said...

I'm looking forward to "seeing" you at Scanfest, again, Kathryn!