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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Copies, Scans and Files: What You Need To Know

Making copies, scans and files has got to make sense!
Photo: Eric Basir
No matter how far you advance in the realm of digital photography, there are always other people who might need to review some of the fundamentals. Sometimes I forget that truth. So it was when speaking with a genealogist at the 2013 PGSA conference.

Like this particular genealogist, many folks do not understand the difference between, making a copy of a photo, scanning a photo and saving a photo within the context of their family history archives. Not only are there differences between them, but there are quite a few details of which you should be aware when choosing one. Neither is necessarily better than the other. It all depends on your objectives.

Copy: This is simply replicating a photographic print onto another piece of paper. This is a useful form of archiving only in that you are doing all of the following:
  1. You will give copies to other people in other locations other than your home. If your home is destroyed, the other people have the copies and the photo is preserved. You will also have images to display in place of valuable originals.
  2. You make a high-quality color laser or inkjet copy, even if it is a black and white (B&W) image. A simple B&W photocopy will flatten out the gray tones and detail of the subject in the image.
Scan: When you put a photographic print or transparency (color, B&W negative/positive/slide) on the glass of a scanner, you do not end up with a copy or print-out. The scanner merely saves it to a computer hard drive as a file. From a scan, you end up with a digital version of your original (the file). When scanning, follow this criteria:
  1. Use a high-quality scanner such as those by Epson. These are available in various sizes and give you the best quality and control over what you are scanning. Only use Flip-Pal or VuPoint scanners when you absolutely cannot use an Epson. Read my review of Flip-Pal scanner for the reasons.
  2. Scan in RGB color mode, even if the original is B&W. You will get more detail. This is especially evident in old faded photos and documents.
  3. Scan with a resolution no lower than 300 ppi/dpi at 100% size or greater. When scanning 35mm negatives and slides, you must max out the resolution to the highest setting possible.
  4. When saving the scans, always save in the TIF format. By default, many scanners are set to JPG. Also, as beginners, we rarely think about these kinds of setting. However, they are the most important. JPG is only good for sharing files or posting them online. TIF is superior because it doesn't compromise image clarity. Beware: HP scanners seem to always save as JPG, regardless of settings. Of course when you set it to save as TIF, it will give you a TIF—after it saves it as a JPG. 
File: When someone sends you a picture via email, you receive a file. When you scan a picture—as explained above—you also end up with a file. Be it on a website, your camera phone or your computer, a file is a digital-only representation of an image.
From the file you can make prints, save them to other hard drives, flash drives, upload to websites or send as attachments to email messages. Files are the ultimate destination for images. However, like copies and scans, there are some important points you must consider:
  1. A daily backup of your computer hard-drive. Many modern operating systems—and countless programs on the market—will back up your hard drive to an external drive in the background without your supervision. It's easier and easier to cover this important point. From a dedicated external drive such as those by Lacie or a flash drive, a daily back-up of files is as essential to your family archives as brushing and flossing your teeth is to good health.
  2. Archiving digital files is different from a daily back-up. I explain this in-depth in my digital photo restoration books. Your digital archive should be on optical media (permanent) disk such as CD-ROM or DVD-R. Every few months—or once a year—you should copy all of the family archive files from your hard-drive to optical media. Just store them out of sunlight in 50% humidity and you'll be safe for a few decades. Make copies and send them to relatives as well.
  3. I personally have a third-level of file management: A portable 2 terabyte hard drive on which I back-up everything annually and place it in a fireproof safe. 
As demonstrated, copies, scans and files are unique. They share many commonalities. All are important. However, you should have a clear understanding of their purpose.

I have worked 10 years to provide basic, but essential, information such as this for everyday folks. I would like to read from you and answer your questions. Don't be afraid to ask questions. All I ask is that you share the information with others and put what you know into action.

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