Dec 212010

Question: I am quite excited about learning how to scan my parent’s very old photos and then organizing them with Picasa.

Any tips on how to get started?


Great question MaryAnn, and one I know that a lot of Picasa users have.  If your parents have as many pictures as mine – you’re undertaking a lengthy task.  But, one with great rewards.  When you’re done, you will be able to have shared family photo albums on the web for all the far-flung family members to enjoy.

Scanning Old Photos

What people first think of is to take the photograph and place it on a flatbed scanner.  This can certainly be done.  See my past article: Scanning Old Photos with Picasa’s Import Command.  This process works great if you have a flatbed scanner attached to your computer and properly configured.  However, it is a very time-consuming process.  First you need to take the picture out of its frame, or its album, then place it on the scanner and import, then put it back in the frame or album.

Taking Pictures of Pictures

I have found that simply taking my digital camera and snapping a picture of the old pictures produces results that are pretty good.  Sometimes the new picture is even better when snapped with a digital camera rather than scanned.  It probably depends on the quality of your scanner – this has just been my experience.

The best part about this method is that you can leave the pictures in their frames.  I even left them on the wall and just walked around with my digital camera and snapped photos of the pictures in their frames.  You can set your camera to the close-up setting – usually represented by a flower icon – then you can fill the frame with just the picture.  The new picture looks just like the original.

Pictures in old photo albums can be difficult to remove in one piece, and even harder to put back in the album.  It might take a little time to get the album in just the right light, with no glare, but once you’ve managed one good reproduction, then you can just turn the page and keep clicking away.  This is a MUCH faster method than scanning.

Organizing your Old Pictures

There are no set  rules for organizing your pictures because everyone has different ideas.  Some people are date-oriented and want all photos in folders by date.  Some people are event oriented and want folders for birthdays, holidays, and vacations.  And others can be geographical – organizing by location.  The beauty of Picasa is that you have the flexibility for all of these organizational styles with only one copy of your pictures on your computer.  The key is to use Albums, Keywords and Captions, rather than folders, for your subject matter groupings.

Every picture does need to be placed in a Folder when you first import it, but this is just the physical location of the file on your computer.  I recommend using folders that correspond to where the picture came from … frames on walls, Mom’s Red Photo Album, etc.  I only imported about 200 pictures so I just put them all in one folder called ‘Old Photos.’  You can start with that one ‘Old Photos’ folder, then if it gets too big, you can break it up later.

Don’t make too many folders!  Folders on your computer are like file drawers in a filing cabinet. You don’t want too many.  More doesn’t help you find things easier. The main purpose for folders, in my opinion, is for backup.  If I backup my folder of Old Photos to DVD, I am confident that I have a backup of *all* the old photos that I imported.  If I have dozens of different folders – I can’t be so confident.

Make sure to caption the photos.  If the original pictures have a caption written on the photo album, be sure to type that in to a caption in Picasa.  You will *love* yourself later when there is identifying information n each picture.  Even if nothing is written on the original – try to add a caption now about each picture.  Captions will display on any slide show you create with Picasa, you can even print them right on the picture if you like.

Keywords or Tags: Tags are a separate organizational device.  For example, if you have lots of old pictures of Birthday Parties, you might want to establish a tag for that.  Now, when you search for Birthday Parties, your results will include all photos with ‘Birthday Parties’ either in the caption OR tags.  Another example is Family names.  Let the face recognition take care of finding individuals, but tags would be a good place to create identifiers for different branches of your family, e.g. Harris family, and Tinker family could be tags.

Dates: These ‘old’ pictures will have today’s date on them.  If you know the real date of the picture and want to record that so they can be sorted by the date they were actually taken, Picasa allows you to do that with Tools, Adjust Date and Time.

People: Don’t worry about creating tags for people in a picture because that will be handled by Picasa’s face recognition feature.  If you take the time to identify the faces that Picasa recognizes, you will be able to create collages for each person with a single click.  It’s an awesome feature for large collections of family photos.

Albums:  This is the flexible organization tool I referred to.  Let’s say you have one folder of ‘Old Photos’ with all the imported pictures.  Aunt Judy tells you that she would like to see all the photos of the birthday parties that were held at her house.  Your job then, is to find all the relevant pictures (if you’ve done your captioning and keyword tagging properly, this will be an easy search) and add them to an album called Birthday Parties at Aunt Judy’s.  Albums are simply lists of pointers to the actual photos.  You can create this album for Aunt Judy, burn a CD of all the pictures in the Album, give her the CD, then delete the album if you want.  All the pictures are still  in the ‘Old Photos’ folder – albums are just temporary devices for grouping different photos together.

Improving Old Photos

Using Picasa’s editing tools, you may be able to clean up some of the  problems on old photos.  Got a scratch on the photo right on someone’s cheek?  Use the Retouch tool to get rid of it.  Is that great picture of your prom date a little yellow?  Use the Neutral Color Picker to fix that up.  Just clicking on ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ in Picasa’s basic edits will often make a world of difference in the colors of an old photo.

Have Fun!  And, if you upload any albums to a public Web Album, leave a comment here where we can go look at them!

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Collage Tip – Framing a Picture

  26 Responses to “Scanning and Organizing Old Photos”

  1. Is it possible to save pix in picasa that I’ve edited/added captions to etc instead of printing at home or ordering on line, if so how?

    Would I need to save them to a CD/DVD?

  2. I am just beginning to scan pictures, but have not figured out how to set fines or whatever so I can find them. Am thinking of trying picasa. Or should I just send them to have a company scan?

  3. Because my birthday is coming up, I thought I would make a movie of me from birth to present (a Face Movie). So I scanned in the photos of me when I was young and combined them with the digital ones. Because I scanned all of them in on the 11th of July 2012, Picasa thinks that all the pictures were taking on the 11th. So after I had identified me in all of the photos, I tried to do a Face Movie. But the ones that I had supposedly taken on the 11th didn’t show up. Does anyone know why???

    I used Windows Scanner and Camera Wizard to scan my photos in (I don’t think you can do it in Picasa).

    • I doubt that the date has anything to do with the problem, my bet is the file type and/or location. They need to be .jpg and they should be in the My Pictures area.

  4. Its sound really good to do it that way. To be organized, But my problem is that I have so many of the same pictures in all kind of places. How do I get down to one copy of all of my pics and then start to make my videos.

  5. I’m really not sure what happened, hoping you can help. I scanned from my printer by going to file than ‘import from”
    and I used to get the options listed…now all I get is” none” or” folder”…how do I get picasa to import from my printer??
    Please help
    Aria Catterson

  6. Hi,
    Brilliant ideas:) Please could you give some tips of how to take pictures of pictures? (photos)

  7. I am just now getting into scanning my old photos and seems like some photos just are not going to work out because of poor quality
    from original photo. Wondering if Picasa can help me.

  8. Two subjects –
    1. Faces: Yes, Picasa does a great job of recognizing faces and the search function makes it possible to rapidly locate and organize shots of people. The disadvantage of Picasa for genealogy work is that there is no way to export the information. I have 4000 names in my genealogy and 1000s of photos. The names are identified in Picasa but I cannot send a photo to someone else, or save it on another system or CD etc. with the names attached. Picasa stores the names to files that only Picasa can read, using your Gmail contacts list. Nothing is stored in the picture file. So other tools are better suited for genealogy. Some say Windows Live (haven’t tried it) or The Adobe Photoshop Elements organizer also does face recognition but again it is a proprietary unexportable format.

    By the way, if you scan a large archival quality file, DO NOT fix it in Picasa. If you don’t save it and export it to get a usable file, you will have a low resolution jpg. If you save it, Picasa will replace you beautiful high resolution file with a low resolution jpg! The original is now in a hidden folder called Originals, not gone. This also applies to RAW images. You can edit them but you must export or save to use them, in which case you end up with a low resolution jpg. Conventional wisdom is that you should not edit a jpg as each edit or enhancement loses more quality. If you upload to PicasaWeb you again lose quality and have to deal with jpgs. For social networking this is not a problem but if you are trying to preserve pictures for posterity you need to keep the quality high enough to be usable.

    2. Shooting a picture in the frame or off of a screen is really a last ditch resort if nothing else will do. If you look at the result close up you will see that a good scanner beats a camera hands down for clarity, tonal range and accuracy. I have a lot of old negatives up to 5×6, small and large slides, all kinds of prints etc. and my Epson V750 takes them all in stride with no Newton rings. For very odd sizes I use tape to hold the transparency in a 4×5 or 120 film holder. As long as it is flat and does not touch the glass I get a great result. For slides, you can do 12 at one shot. It takes a while but you can be getting the next 12 cleaned and ready meanwhile. The exceptions are family bibles (I refuse to cut out pages) and visits to relatives who won’t let you remove prints from frames. If the V750 seems expensive, try the V500. It will only take four slides at a time and up to 120 size negs, but is under $200. For big prints you can do several scans in pieces and stitch them together using Adobe Photoshop Elements panorama function.

  9. I like the idea. In my case thaphotos are mine (I am 85)of the pre-digital era and I am glad I found this new way of doing this. I was set to scan and am glad I read this article. Thanks for the tip.

  10. I also use my projector for 35mm slides. However, I found that a projection screen creates tiny ‘scintillations’ that I prefer to do without. A ‘silvered’ screen was not as good. I have found that very smooth white paper, not shiny and not super bright, works quite well. I mount the camera directly over the projector and click away with the timer set to remove shaking at high resolution. Works better than any other thing I’ve tried so far, but I like to hear of other methods to compare. Thanks for that! It may be the quality of my projector/lense, but I sometimes get a slight light fall-off to the edges in all the methods. Ideas?

  11. About digitizing those old slides – I wish I could recall where I saw the “slide studio” set up advertised on the internet. I made my own and was pleased with the outcome. Here is what I did. Since I had the slide projector, screen and slide trays I photographed the projected images. I even had a small room (really a large closet) in which to set everyting up. It took quite a bit of trial and error work to get it adjusted and working but when I was done the results may not have been perfect but certainly useable and a whole lot faster than scanning the slides. The slides themselves had suffered color loss and were not in the best condition. I used canned air and a soft brush to clean each slide before I inserted it into the tray. I sure hope this helps. You are on a worthy mission and your family will all appreciate your efforts. – Priscilla

  12. I have a collection of about 4000 35mm and 6x6cm slides, mainly family shots from several pre-digital decades that we would now dearly like to view on the digital TV screen. I know that I could probably scan the 35mm slides using my Canon Pixma MP810, which has an inside-lid attachment for 35mm. However, none is available for 6x6cm format. My question: How can I digitalise the 6x6cm slides (of which no prints are available to photograph!) at an affordable cost and within a reasonable timespan? Someone has told me that another problem could be that through the glass mounting of a great number of these slides there is the danger of ‘Newton Rings’ being formed by scanning light refracting through the glass on to the digital scan image, but I do not know how to avoid them. Can anyone please advise me?

    • I have not had good results scanning slides on a flatbed scanner with the slide adapter. There are slide specific scanners ranging from $50 to 1,000! Google for Slide Scanners. They are better, but still not perfect. I have heard of people dusting off their old slide projector, preparing a slide show, and then using their digital camera to take pictures of the pictures. It takes some trial and error to get your exposures correct, but it can be done. Also there are services that will convert slides to digital, just google for slide scanning services. When I googled, I also ran across this interesting comparison of different slide scanning methods.

  13. what about the old 35 mm slides what is best way to handle them??

    • I would also be interested in any method to salvage 35 mm slides. I have a ton of those.

      • I use Canon Canoscan 9000F. It can scan photos, negatives, positives and slides. It produces very good quality images.

    • I would still try the ‘take a picture of the picture’ technique. If you still have a projector and a screen to project onto – then snap a picture of the projection. See the other comments here for more.

    • I have a negative and slide scanner that does a fantastic job of converting slides and negatives to digital photos. The one I have is made by QPix and cost about $100AUD. Highly recommend this method.

  14. What a great tip. Using a camera. I would have never thought of that and Santa is bringing me a new Canon ESO Ti2. Can wait to try this. I have a ton of pics to scan and have been using the scanning method.

  15. Chris, you probably just saved my sanity! My mom passed away at the age of 95 recently, and I’ve come to realize I’m the only one left in the family that knows who the people in a lot of her pictures are. I was wrestling with how to get all those pictures digitized and documented, and your photograph the photos idea is a winner!! Thanks, and Merry Christmas.

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