Photo Archiving

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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We tend to think of photo archiving in one of two ways, depending how old we are. In one camp are those who think of storing negative and positive transparencies in protective plastic envelopes, placing those in protective stiff manila envelopes, and those in a file drawer. In the other camp are those who think about scanning to digital format, indexing, and backing up on removable media, and re-filing the original.

Moving into the digital base camp, the two most important steps are quality control and metadata file indexing. Let's presume, for purposes of this discussion, that we're talking about scanning either printed photographs or transparencies (either negative or positive) to digital format. The goal is to make the photos available to a greater number of users as well as to digitally preserve them. In sum, the complete photo archiving process involves physically prepping the original, scanning it, manipulating the digital image (when necessary), identifying the file, and managing the file.

Quality control centers on the digital capture and subsequent manipulation. If you scan with generic settings without accounting for the quality of the original, subsequent manipulations with imaging software probably won't fix the problem. That's my experience. Once the scanner is calibrated appropriately, however, the scan itself takes only a minute. After the digital capture is complete further image manipulation is often called for, though usually on a duplicate file.

The Management Half of Photo Archiving

Electronic record keeping and file archiving hinges on a simple enough concept of file identification. Metadata indexing means attaching a digital ID to any file, image or text. The contents of the index usually include file type, name, author, creation date, key words, subject, and file date. Indexes, of course, are the basis on which searches are conducted. The metadata information is particularly critical to photo archiving, because without the index ID, all that can identify an image file is its name.


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