Archive for the ‘Photos’ Category

This is an article that I wrote for the February/March 2013 Warren County Genealogical Society newsletter. I am posting this here as background information for future posts.

I have spent most of the last three weeks rescanning the photos for my mother’s memoirs, and I’m still not done (see “You can Learn From My Mistake,” June-July2012, WCGS Newsletter at http://www.warrencountygenes.com/newsletters). This project has given me plenty of time to think. My sizzling HOT topic right now is photo resolution.

Digital pictures are made up of thousands of little dots or squares—these are called either dpi (dots per inch) or ppi (pixels per inch). Essentially, these mean the same thing. If a picture has 300 dpi, it will have more innate detail than a picture with 72 dpi. Similarly, a picture with 600 dpi will have more built-in detail than one with 300 dpi.

When does this become important? Well, 1) the bigger the picture, the longer it takes to send via the internet or to place on Facebook or other social media. 2) Bigger pictures require more computer storage space than smaller pictures. However, 3) smaller pictures do not print as well as bigger ones. If you want to print an enlargement to frame for your wall, fewer pixels will not produce a good quality picture. If you want to produce a photo book, such as a Shutterfly, Snapfish, Kodak book or one of many others, you need higher quality pictures. Furthermore, 4) understanding resolution is key when scanning old family pictures.

In general, web pictures are 72 dpi because they travel fast, require minimal cloud storage space, and display well on computer monitors. With today’s technology you can even take good quality photos with a high resolution phone camera, but the photos are automatically compressed when emailed or placed on social media.

File formats also play a role in photo resolution. There are several file formats, but I’ll only discuss the two I use. JPG (aka JPEG) format is very popular. However, every time you save a JPG picture, you lose pixels. You can quickly reduce a good quality picture to a poor quality image after saving it a few times. One way to resolve part of this problem is to save your original JPG picture only once. Then, if you edit the photo, use the “save as” function, and be sure to note that this is a different version of the picture; never saving over your original.

A file format that I frequently use when scanning pictures is TIFF. TIFF always retains all of the original pixels. However, TIFF pictures are larger, require more computer storage space, and are not as universally usable as JPGs and other popular formats. Therefore, when I edit my TIFF image in Photoshop Elements, I save it as a JPG. I will always have the TIFF image available for future editing, if I want to do something else with the picture.

As I mentioned in my article last June, I have learned the hard way about scanning pictures for the book I’ve assembled of my mother’s memoirs. I now always scan pictures at 600 dpi, using the color setting, even when scanning black-and-white pictures, and save them as TIFF. I don’t ever want to scan these pictures for a third time.

Pictures pulled from most internet sites, especially social media sites and probably many genealogy websites, such as Find-A-Grave, Ancestry and FamilySearch, are generally not usable for printing, creating photo books, or other long-term preservation. They are strictly for viewing or “for the moment.” What is the photographer doing with the original photo? If it is being deleted from the phone, camera, or other photo-taking device, if the image is only stored on the social media site, it will not be of useful value to anyone in the future.

Many people today are scanning their photos and/or slides to share with other family members and to simply digitize them. It is a great way to have multiple copies of family photos in case something happens to the originals, i.e. flood, tornado, hurricane, fire, etc. However, it is critical that they be scanned at a high resolution and saved in appropriate format for future use


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The following is an article I wrote for the June/July 2012 Warren County Genealogical Society newsletter. I want to post this information as background for some of my future posts.

Many of you may know that I’ve been working on my mother’s memoirs for nearly five years. I had the 250-page book with 873 photos, indexed and completely finished when I sent a test file to the publisher. Fortunately, I had decided on a reputable, traditional publisher (Anundsen Publishing in Decorah, Iowa), with print-on-demand, small-quantity options. After looking at the test file, Erik Anundsen called me and explained that the resolution on many of my photos is very low and they will not print well.

Oh, my! Now what? I had no idea that what I saw on my computer screen and what I printed on my home printer wouldn’t be similar to what I would get when my book published. I had no idea that scanning isn’t so simple, and that I shouldn’t just scan a picture using the preset settings on my scanner, touch it up with my basic knowledge of Photoshop Elements, and have a reasonably good product for Mom’s book.

So, now what? Fortunately, the Iowa Genealogical Society Spring Technology workshop was only a week away. And, fortunately, the speaker was going to be Eric Basir, a Photoshop expert from the Chicago area. I emailed him about my predicament and we discussed some options. We further discussed my situation during breaks at the conference. At one point he had me show him specific pages in the book, then wanted to see the picture in my scan file. I spent a long time trying to find the picture and never did find it. I thought my pictures were somewhat organized, but, obviously, not so. In the end, I purchased everything Eric had for sale and went home for an intense, crash course. From the workshop and his DVD classes/presentations, I gleaned information about scanning and enhanced my photo editing skills.

Here is the essence of some things I’ve learned.

Resolution, Image Size, and Color Mode: Even though you might not see the settings on your scanner at first glance, if you dig you should find settings for resolution and image size. You should always scan pictures at a minimum resolution of 300 ppi (pixels per inch). For Mom’s book I am now using 600 ppi. This will use hard-drive space, but when weighing the options, I consider it worth the price. In addition, you should scan with an image size similar to what will be used for your final product. If you need the picture twice the size of the original, you should scan it that way. If smaller than the original, then scanning at the size of the original image size works well. You may find yourself making adjustments with nearly every picture you scan. Another hint is that Eric says you should scan every photo in color mode, even if it is a black-and-white picture. This allows you more photo editing options.

Save Images as a TIF File: I know we’ve all probably heard this many times. Now I’m a believer. I am now saving the original scan as a TIF (TIFF). When I begin to work on the picture in Photoshop Elements, I save it as a PSD (Photoshop) file. When I’ve completed the editing, I save it again as a PSD file; no detail is lost with PSD, just as with TIF. However, the way I’m bringing the photo into Mom’s book won’t allow me to import a PSD file, so I save the file once more as a JPG (JPEG). However, notice I don’t do any more editing in the JPG (JPEG), where I would lose quality.

Organizing: Another lesson learned is that I really didn’t have a vey good way of organizing my photos. Now I am using the wonderful Organizer in Photoshop Elements to organize my photos. I should never have another lost photo.

Send Test File: The final word of wisdom is that I should have sent the test file before I completed the book.

Since I want Mom’s book to be really nice, I’m very appreciative of Erik Anundsen’s honesty. I’m also extremely glad I didn’t try to use an online service where the company would have printed what I sent them, no matter what the completed book would have looked like.

I do not consider myself an expert in scanning or using Photoshop. I am only relaying information I’ve learned at the college of hard knocks. Hopefully others can save themselves a lot of work. How long will it take me to find, rescan, organize, and edit the 873 pictures in Mom’s book? I’ve done eleven so far.

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Some projects just can’t be accomplished in one full swoop.

At one point my office and our basement family room were filled with boxes, as well as our spare bedroom and our store room… in other words, practically our entire basement was a massive storage unit. This was mostly the stuff I had received from my mother as she downsized a couple different times.

Not all of this stuff is paper, but a large percentage is paper. By paper, I mean undocumented research notes, photocopies of documents, notes with more than one surname on a sheet of paper, several different family groups sheets for the same individual—created at different times when my mother found something, loose photos, a few stories my mother has written, more photocopies of documents, and a few original documents. Then, also letters, diaries, calendars, lots of newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, and photo albums. Some of these things were my mother’s, but some belonged to her mother, other things belonged to her uncle and aunt.

Every time we have downsized my mother, for the most part, I have been more interested in the genealogy/family history side than in getting a lot of things: vases, dishes, baskets, silverware, glassware, needlework, etc. Please rest assured, however, I have gotten my share of those things, as well.

So, a few months ago, I purchased a bunch of cardboard file boxes. In fairly small letters I labeled the lids with family surnames. We set up a couple of 5-foot tables and placed the boxes side-by-side on the tables. One by one, I opened each of the many boxes of stuff and sorted as many paper and photographic items as possible into family groups placing the items in the appropriate surname box. I did not make any attempt to further divide the items within the surname or to label the items. I just sorted into the surname group. Otherwise, it would have been much too easy to get bogged down in the detail. These cardboard file boxes were then stacked in the spare bedroom. While sorted by family surname, they remained difficult to access, but certainly in better order than they were previously.

During the marathon sorting session last weekend, Dave and I emptied several file drawers. This past weekend I transferred items from the surname boxes into file drawers labeled with the respective surnames. I have hanging folders in the drawers, so I divided up the items and placed them into the hanging folders. Again, I did not make any other attempt to sort the items. That will come later. For now, I’m just happy to be making the treasures more accessible in the drawers.

I’m making progress—a baby step at a time.

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Siblings sorting

Yesterday, my husband and his sister started sorting boxes of stuff that we kept at our house after their mother (Willa Jean, or simply Willa) passed away five years ago. Dave had looked at some of these boxes last weekend during our marathon sorting session and decided that his sister should share the fun. They spent nearly 5 hours laughing and reminiscing, but hard at work.

When they found greeting cards, they kept the cards from family members that had notes or letters attached. As appropriate, these will be given to the descendants of the senders. Willa Jean had assembled a lot of pictures and letters into family groups and had already given some of the pictures to appropriate people. She had also assembled letters that she had received from her siblings, punched holes and placed them into 3-ring binders. We took a notebook that Willa had assembled containing letters from her sister last summer to the sister’s daughter. The daughter was thrilled! Her mother had not kept a diary, so this is as close to a diary as she will ever have for her mother—in her mother’s own words.

Throughout her life, Willa had kept many files of bridal and baby shower games and files of jokes. Also she was an avid collector of newspaper articles on well-known personalities, whether local or national, ranging from the Kennedy family to Shawn Johnson, from Gordon Gammack to Ding Darling. And she kept newspaper articles about the weather. Sorry, Mom, these went to the recycle bin as they can be found on the world wide web today.

Willa had written her life’s history and since no one can imagine that either Dave or his sister will ever do any additional writing on their parents’ lives, they elected to discard all of the old financial papers. But, keep in mind that their mother had saved everything—bills, cancelled checks, and tax papers. For Dave and his sister it was overwhelming.

In the end, they started with about 8 boxes and managed to whittle them down to one box, plus some miscellaneous things.

What lessons can we all learn? Limit what you keep to a few things that show significant purchases and cost-of-living, for example. It is easy for children to become overwhelmed and throw away everything.

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