Photo Digitization: Top Six Mistakes to Avoid

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Photo Digitization: Top Six Mistakes to Avoid

For centuries, pictures have been documenting history. Long before cameras came into existence, humans used to paint on the walls of the caves to depict scenes from their daily lives, communicate with each other, and pass on their culture to the future generations. Important events like meetings between dignitaries, personal dairies of national heroes, achievements, and happenings of national importance speak a lot about the culture, traditions and history, aiding academic research, development and promotion of heritage.

The form of capturing memories have changed over the years. Physical photos, slides and negatives are susceptible to degradation, wear and tear and natural calamities. With the world going digital, national archives, museums, cultural institutions, and government agencies are all taking initiatives to digitize, preserve, and archive photos for long-term access.

Modern document digitization and image processing technology has made it possible to preserve these memories with ease. However, archivists commit some common mistakes while digitizing and archiving these valuable images. We list below six such errors that can be avoided if we’re a little more cautious.

Not Having a Proper Storage

While archivists’ scan thousands of photos at one go, finding a centralized, safe and rightly sized storage for the images is something many people overlook. Often photos are scattered across devices in different file formats and sizes that make it difficult to find and use them when needed.

Having a storage of adequate size and provision for scaling up ensures all the images are backed up and organized for easy access years after years.

Not Having a Clear Backup Strategy

Not many people have a clear backup strategy for their photo collection, which is essential to minimize loss of legacy pictures due to tech crashes, natural disasters and degradation.

Archivists need to have a clear backup strategy. The 3-2-1 strategy is recommended by most institutions and backup services, which is as follows:

3: Keep three copies of any important file: 1 primary and two backups.

2: Keep the files on two different media types to protect against different types of hazards.

1: Store 1 copy offsite (e.g., outside your home or business facility).

Once the strategy is in place, archivists need to schedule maintenance time for back up at regular intervals.

Scanning the Photos in Wrong Format or Quality

While scanning the prints to preserve it for future, many archivists ignore the file format and resolution standards, which are the two most important aspects to ensure quality and usability.

Format: TIFF file is the best format for the archive. However, JPEGs work too.

Resolution: To ensure that the photos do not look pixelated, it should be scanned at a minimum of 300 dpi resolution or more as the business demands.

Not Renaming Files

Does DSC_15067.jpg give any details? No?

One common mistake photographers and archivists make is not renaming the files to something understandable. In the heap of photos, even before adding metadata and preserving the story, file names give away the story.

While organizing photos, there need to be a consistent naming pattern of all the files, which will give away the details at a quick glance.

Not Handling Metadata Correctly

Many archivists automate the task of organizing photos, not realizing that some automation tools do not store the information (metadata) and the photos together. Therefore, when the program version becomes obsolete, or the photos are moved, the metadata is lost.

While digitizing photos/negatives, archivists should keep the following things in mind:

  1. Choose a program capable of handling metadata correctly
  2. Work on an independent folder structure

Not Preserving the Story Behind the Picture

Imagine looking at a picture 30 year from now, and not knowing the story behind it or not being able to identify the people in the photos. Will it be of any interest? No. Pictures are all about memories. Therefore, it is essential to record the stories behind a photo while archiving it for long-term access.

One of the top mistakes that photo archivists make is not documenting the stories behind the photos. A photo without details such as name, dates, or other relevant information is of no worth. Add stories to the descriptions. While it does take time, it is worth to record the details to ensure ease of use in the future.

Photo/ Image archivists should avoid these mistakes to establish control over valuable photos, images, slides, negatives and to document the context so that the photos are easily accessible in time of need.