12 August 2015

Digitizing Old Photos and Movies

For the past few months I have been deeply involved with my family's old photographs and movies. After my mom died, I sent her cache of albums, loose photos, slides, VCR tapes, and Super8 home movies to ScanCafe. This service turned all the photos into JPGs, the home movies into MP4s, and the VCR tapes into DVD movies (I then converted them to MP4s myself).  Then we had our own old photos and slides digitized.

If you find yourself the recipient of many gigabytes of scanned images and converted video--perhaps multiple terabytes--you may need to address storage issues. Even though we hadn't looked at these images and movies in decades--having forgotten about them as they languished in closets and basements--now we wanted backups, and backups of the backups.

One part of the solution is cloud storage. As Amazon Prime members, we're lucky that unlimited photo storage on Amazon Cloud Drive is among the services included. We're also lucky that the total size of our video files is just under the 5G limit that's included with Prime.

Another part of the solution is local storage, so we've added a 4T NAS drive to our home network. And we added an iMac with a gorgeous display, so we can edit and see the pretty pictures and also store them, for more redundancy.

When you have so many images, though, another issue is organization. How are you going to find the pictures you want to look at?  This means, at a minimum, making electronic albums and/or folders using some rubric that makes sense (by year, by trip, by family member).  Photo apps provide additional options that offer a lot of usefulness, with the potential to recognize and group faces in your photos, the ability to edit dates (our scanned photos' dates were the dates they were scanned until we changed them) so that they sort in a way that makes sense, and add metadata (titles, keywords, and locations) to make particular photos easier to find.

Which means it can take an awful lot of hours to process your scanned photos on whatever electronic platform you're using, but we hope that once this work is done we'll have made the thousands of photos much easier to find and display.

Once you have converted thousands of photos and hours of movies into an easily accessible format, and you can do anything with them, the question becomes: what do you do with them?

  • Inevitably, the first thing you do is fall into a nostalgia hole as you flip through pictures and relive experiences you probably haven't considered in a very long time.
  • You share them with family and friends. On Facebook I have become a regular participant in TBT (Throwback Thursday), which means posting an old photo or group of photos, or a short video once a week. It's a nice discipline that keeps me from overwhelming folks with too much volume.
  • We're in the process of making slideshows that play in the background while we eat dinner (our iMac is in the dining room).
  • We're thinking of making some photo books, but that project won't start till after the images are much more organized.

All of which seems perhaps a bit small after all that cost and work, but having access to the images is like having access to a past that was previously lost.  Maybe years ago, before the advent of so much distracting electronic media, before TV got so good, when we all had more time, families and friends would regularly get together and flip through photo albums or sit and watch slideshows and home movies.  I have some vague memories of that happening when I was a kid. But not in decades.

Typically we're so trapped in the present and always thinking about the future. This stuff makes the past present.