Have you ever been faced with a very large collection of prints from up to 100 years ago and no way of identifying the faces and places in the frames?
Well, up until last month un-tagged and filed by date was the condition of my photos and now that has all begun to change. You see, in the last 6 months or so I have been helping my mother in law move out of her home of over 70 years. It was not a big mess to clean up or an emergency move it was simply time to move her to a home with assistance and additional care.
During the process of getting “stuff” out of the house my wife found boxes…Oh yeah…BOXES of old photographs that her mother, and before that her grandmother, and in some cases her great grandmother had saved. A few of the images have to be dated to close to the U.S. Civil war. They were all important to these women and were packed away in boxes. Not orderly, not protected, not organized, just boxes. Now I’m not being critical here I am just trying to give you some scope for the problem I find myself unable to walk away from. As a student of photography and a bit of a history nut I feel compelled to not let these images simply go into the waste bin.
After packing boxes and bags my wife and I hauled home all of the images we could find in the house and I began to try to make some sense of this. I needed in a word…tools. One of the first things I did was begin to look at what I had on hand. I have a flatbed scanner and Photoshop; I also have Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, Google drive, and my home hard drive to store these images. I was faced with the overwhelming prospect of scanning literally a thousand images on a flatbed scanner. Uggh!
My initial reaction after seeing the problem was to walk away for a while; for a long while. I did nothing for about 4 months except collect more and more images as we continued to find them. Thinking and researching, I was determined to not create the same problem once the images were scanned in for one of my children or descendants to have to solve. They needed names and dates. They needed help physically since they are artifacts and relics of a time when photography was not cheap and not instant and they were physical proof of an entire family’s existence and way of life.
Well, we returned to the house recently to clean out the attic and guess what…we found another big box of images. This was getting out of hand and I felt the need to start something, anything to get the process moving forward. I decided I needed to really think about the long term storage and use of the images. If I scanned them and stored them, then like the fine ladies that kept these images safe; I would become the defacto keeper of them. That was not a good plan at all, I felt I needed to share these images with the entire family. So I looked for a internet or software solution; I decided to use the current adage… “There’s an App for that right?” it is the chant we all seem to live by currently. Well there might be, but what I found was that all of the solutions I found and I admit my searching was short lived; really did not help me share the images without becoming the “keeper of the images” so to speak. It was about this time I remembered my son and his use of a Facebook feature called Groups.
Now I’m not a salesman for Facebook and I kind of think they are a bit too intrusive; on the other hand they offered me a solution that in the end was too hard to take a pass on; a free place to store the images, share them with family, and to allow family members to comment and name some of the faces in the photos. The added bonus was that a large number of the current younger generation use or have access to Facebook and my wife and I could look for and make connections with a wide ranging family tree. The added bonus was that if we could hook in some of the grand and great grand kids we would by default be passing the information down to another generation and they would at least know that these images existed. Lastly, guess who was going to be talking to the elder statesmen of the family those who possibly knew who the people in the images were and showing them the images on Facebook…you got it…the Great Grand kids. So this created a win, win, win situation.
Once the storage and access problems were resolved I began the process of actually scanning the images. Initially I saw it as a challenge that needed to be completed. I was not going to let the volume stop me from at least getting the ball rolling. I started by arranging the images on a flat scanner and using Photoshop Elements to divide the scanned images using their “canned process”. The trouble was that the images were very small in some cases the originals were only 2×2 inches. When you scan them at 150 or 200 DPI you only get a 4 or 500K image at the maximum and if you crop or adjust well let’s just say the originals were not good enough quality to stand up to that much data loss. I had to find another way.
It was about that time that I had a friend over for a few adult beverages and a discussion about our current life events. I began describing my technical issue and complaining that I had bit off much more than I could chew on this one when he asked me a very interesting question. “Have you considered paying someone for scanning these?” I had actually and I told him that the condition of the originals and the volume made a fee for service process a poor choice. I felt I needed more control. My friend then asked me if I had ever seen a sheet feed scanner in action. I had but I thought they were document oriented and low resolution, I was wrong…my friend then told me about a scanner that I had “access to” that could scan at 600DPI and would sheet feed the images that I felt could hold up to a roller fed process. I made an appointment to see this in action.
I started by scanning some of my own color prints from a few years back that I had the negatives for and was willing to try the process out on. I stacked 20 images into the feeder of the Fuji 6130 scanner, set the resolution on 600 DPI and the page size to 5X7 since the scanner software did not have a 4X6 default, and clicked the scan button on the screen of the PC attached. Three minutes and 20 images later I had twenty 3MB JPG files that I then copied to a jump drive and took home for analysis and consideration.
Overall the image scan quality was very good. The color fidelity was a bit off but I was able to recover the images in Photoshop and Curvemeister. I printed a few on my home inkjet printer and compared them. While there was a bit more contrast overall the image quality was very good in comparison to the original. Since my process was going to be mostly in Black and White I was satisfied that this might just be my solution. I chose 20 images from the box of things like scenery and machines and returned to my friend’s office. After repeating the scanning process and carefully watching how the scanner handled the images I knew I had my solution. The scanner sheet fed those old photos with a grace I was surprised by. If it could not grab the image it stopped and asked for a reset, it did not force anything into the feeder and it so far has not jammed or wrinkled any image no matter how delicate.
Every couple of days I scanned a new small pile of images. I copied them to a new folder and bagged them so that I could use any information that was written on the backs of some of the frames to help me identify the subjects. Suddenly, I was 500 plus images deep into this process and felt the need to begin making some progress on cleaning up and posting the images to Facebook.