This is a guest post by Eric Niloff is the co-founder and CEO of EverPresent.
We scan our old family photos to digitally preserve the images of our family history. The photos inspire us to ask important questions of our elders and tell important stories to our children. That is, as long as we can find the photos after we scan them.
If you have ever taken a digital photo and looked at it on your computer, you’ve probably noticed that all sorts of interesting information pops up. You can see the exact date the photo was taken and the exact longitude and latitude where it was taken. That information is metadata. The camera attaches useful information to your photo, and it travels with the photo as it moves from camera to computer to cloud and wherever else. It’s like a permanent bar code hiding in every photo you take that tells you when and where it came from.
Metadata is a wonderful thing. If your photos were always digital. But when you scan an old photo, no geographical information is attached. And the photos “date taken” is set to the day you scanned it. So a photo taken in 1942 is set by your computers as being from November 2016 if you scan it this month. Not accurate. Not helpful.
In this five-part series, we will teach you the nuances of how to use metadata to organize your scanned collection. Our goal is simple: we want you to be able to Google your photos—to always be able to find the right photo quickly to design a photo book or slideshow for a family reunion. Our goal is that, 50 years from now, your grandchildren can scan through an archive of photos and experience enjoyment, not frustration. Anything you have made digital—whether a photo, album, scrapbook, slide or negative—can be appended with metadata. Today, we’ll provide an overview of what is possible. In subsequent articles, we’ll teach you how to get started on a digital photo organizing project.
There are two kinds of metadata tags:
- Standardized tags that photo software automatically recognizes and displays
- Flexible tags that allow your design your own library structure for custom searches
Standardized Tags—Chronological Organizing
Every photo has a slot for a “date taken” tag. As such, in photography software, you can sort photos by date at the click of a button. This is a wonderful feature, but it can be challenging when dealing with older photos where data is imprecise. We will cover how to deal with this in a future post.
Standardized Tags- Face Tagging
Photos also have a place for a face tag, where you can search photos based on who is in them. This is a wonderful feature that is critical for organizing older scanned photos. The flaw with face tags is that it can be difficult to search by person and another characteristic in many common software programs. We will also cover this in a future post.
Standardized Tags—Geographical Tagging
Each photo has room for a “place taken” tag. This is a wonderful field because it allows you to visualize photos on maps. However, it requires being able to enter GPS style data, which is rarely available. We will generally recommend NOT using this field with historical photos except in very specific circumstances.
Standardized Tags- Prioritizing
Within metadata there are fields for color coding and highlighting. This is very critical. No matter how well organized a collection might be, if there are 10,000 images, it’s always important to be able to find the very best images among them. There are nuances in that sometimes these tags are lost when changing photo software. We will recommend simple steps to avoid this issue.
As you have likely garnered by now, much of the “standardized” metadata is geared toward newer photos. The software companies were not really thinking about us family history enthusiasts! Thankfully, they left us one, huge win—flexible keywords. Dozens of keywords can be added to photos to reflect your family. While they do not automatically appear on things like maps, you can search by them and create folders with them. Common examples for flexible tags include:
- Branches of the family
Eric Niloff is the co-founder and CEO of EverPresent, a team of 40 scanning technicians, digital organizers, designers and editors based in Newton, Massachusetts. Eric and his team help thousands of families every year to digitize, organize and share their family photos and videos. Eric writes and advises on how to make family history preservation part of family events, estate plans, and other family moments.