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

Jan 062009

Do you have a scanner and some old photos you want to scan? Have you started to read the manual and given up on figuring it out? I have good news for you! You don’t have to figure out the software that came with the scanner, because Picasa can handle it all for you, it’s just like importing from your camera but, instead of camera, you import from the scanner.

Using Picasa’s Import Command with Your Scanner

I was visiting my Mom’s and we started looking at old pictures. Between the two of us we could identify most of them and I wanted to preserve them. She has one of those all-in-one printer-copier-scanners. So, here’s what I did:

  1. Make sure everything is connected and turned on!
  2. Put the photo on the glass of the scanner – face down
  3. In Picasa, click ‘Import’
  4. Click the arrow for the drop down list of devices. You should see your scanner listed … select it
  5. Now you will see a screen that depends on your scanner. There should be an option to ‘Preview’. Click that.
  6. You should now see your picture, there may be some settings you want to change here, but if it looks OK then
  7. Click the button to Scan
  8. When it’s done scanning, you’re back at the standard Picasa Import screen. Click Import all.
  9. Select a folder to put it in. I made a folder called ‘Old Photos’ for the first one, then, for each subsequent scanned photo, I selected that existing folder from the drop-down list.

I scanned 53 old photos in this manner. It took me somewhat over an hour. Then I just took another few seconds to use Batch Edit and do an ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ and ‘Sharpen’ to all 53 at once. I think the results are great. What do you think?

This is a photo from circa 1962 – me at 10 years old in Alaska. It looks better than the original!

GOT Class Members can also view related videos:

Importing from Camera
Sharpen and Batch Edit
Basic Editing Features