Photo Backups

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Photo Backups

Postposted on Tue Dec 13, 2011 11:11 am

My dad is going to digitize/scan our family photo albums. This is quite the project but he is retired and wants to preserve the images for the family. My questions are the following:

1) What is the best resolution to scan the images?
2) What is the preferred file type?
3) Best storage/backup strategy for the images?

Since this is a project someone would only want to do once, find a good backup strategy is necessary. One of the current ideas that we are playing around with is creating a direct backup to an external hard drive and storing this drive off site. The only issue that might be in transporting the drive to have a backup schedule.

Any thoughts?
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Re: Photo Backups

Postposted on Tue Dec 13, 2011 11:59 am

Backing up to an external drive and storing offsite certainly isn't a bad idea, but it is prone to human error and mechanical failure. The biggest drawback is that it requires someone to do something in order to make the backups, take them offsite, and do it regularly enough to catch any changes that are made/updated to make it effective.

Personally, I utilize a combination of strategies that may or may not work well for you. I use a Windows Home server box as my central storage repository. Within that I use folder duplication for my important data (like pictures, etc.) So that is two copies of the important stuff. I also utilize the built-in backup feature of WHS to make a copy of the important stuff to an external drive daily - 3rd Copy on another drive. I also have copy of all the pictures on the laptop that is actually used to view/download them from the camera, so that's a 4th copy. That's all Local, so it's only good if I'm fighting a drive failure, not some kind of natural disaster, theft, etc. For remote backup I use Crashplan. I used the free version for almost a year in my own little backup network between work/home/parent's house so it's very possible to set up something fairly robust for no cost, assuming you don't have to but more hard disks at todays inflated prices. You can designate a portion of your local storage as a backup location for your dad and vise versa if you want to take advantage of it too. You can even create an initial backup to an external drive and then bring it over to whereever the remote location is to speed up the initial backup process without taxing your internet connection. I used two remote locations in case one of them wasn't available for whatever reason I wasn't dead in the water. So that woudl be 6 locations total.

I could continue to wax philosophical about Crashplan as I really like it as a program/solution for backup - something that is essential but often a pain to do well (which typically means it doesn't get done). I mentioned I used the free version for a while but I also recently signed up for the 10 computer 4 year family package which gives you the lowest per month cost they offer for unlimited backup to their servers which would be a 7th copy. I believe they're also running a 10% off holiday sale right now as well.

I realize that is a little extreme and I would certainly think you could be reasonably assured your photos are safe with something like 3 copies, but I also know that i can't go back in time to take pictures of my kids growing up so the cost of storage is of little consequence when considering the alternative. Another thing to cosider is that you can store the actual albums offsite with a DVD and Hard drive copy which would almost certainly assure you that you could recover that data in a worst case scenario.

If WHS or Crashplan don't do it for you, I've also used Microsoft folder sync (now called something else) to good effect and there is certainly the syncback to external drive to be stored offsite option but again, that requires attention and effert on someones part to do well.
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Re: Photo Backups

Postposted on Tue Dec 13, 2011 12:02 pm

Not sure on the file type/resolution best for photo scans, but I can recommend using a service like Carbonite, in addition to a Google Picasa account. I would think between the two cloud storage locations, your photos would be safe (and easy to share).
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Re: Photo Backups

Postposted on Tue Dec 13, 2011 12:36 pm

If there is a Mac laptop involved here, all the iCloud silliness built into the Lion OS is pretty slick and seemless and just works, so that would solve the off-site backup issue.
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Re: Photo Backups

Postposted on Tue Dec 13, 2011 12:47 pm

I did a little bit of experimentation on some slides a while ago to see what the best resolution to scan was, but your mileage may vary depending on film type and manufacturer. There is a limit to resolution at least of slide film where you begin to resolve the grain (silver crystals, etc) of the media instead of the image itself.

This can be empirically found by progressively scanning at higher and higher resolutions, and then saving each result as a JPEG with the same compression settings. Plot the change in file size. When you see a hiccup in the line where plotted line goes to almost no slope, increased resolution results in small increases in file size, you know that you have surpassed the information in the image. Where it starts to top off is that media's resolution limit.

Some films are better than others in this, so there is no real "right" answer. But typically I found that searching for resolution in this manner revealed that film has a lot lower resolution than you may have guessed. A slide image of Kodak's highest-quality slide film has slightly less resolution than a 10Mp Bayer sensor.

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Re: Photo Backups

Postposted on Tue Dec 13, 2011 12:48 pm

i personally like epson scanners. they are reasonable in price and resolution.

If you are scanning photos and not negatives then i will experiment with between 300 and 450 dpi. the paper wont have more detail than that. the best test is to scan a picture with good detail at both resolutions and then print it out at an enlarged size. for example, scan a 4x6 print at 300 and then 450 dpi. print the result at 6x9 and see if you can tell the difference. you may end up at 366 dpi or some other compromise.

if you are scanning negatives you are better off finding a service to scan them. i would use the maximum bit depth on the color (i.e. 48 bit). If the pictures are in good shape and the color hasn't faded then i would scan the images as jpegs. Don't compress the jpegs, just store them at max. if there are problems with the images and you will need to work on them then tif will give you more to work with. the size penalty on tif's can be as high as ten fold. after you scan ten or more you will quickly see how much space they are going to take.

i use carbonite for backup though i hear that crash plan doesn't throttle like carbonite. i keep my pics on a mirrored data drive and assume i am too smart for human error to be an issue.
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Re: Photo Backups

Postposted on Tue Dec 13, 2011 2:14 pm

You might want to look into embedding comments in the scanned files, relying on file and directory names to describe what's in an image is messy at best. A photo isn't much good to future generations if they have no idea what it's of. IIRC this is done with exif data which some scanning programs might let you edit directly otherwise you'll need a separate bit of software.

I'll be interested to see what you come up with as I've got something like 150 years (I come from a family of pack rats) worth of family photos to do and I've avoided starting because it's quite a daunting prospect :oops:
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Re: Photo Backups

Postposted on Tue Dec 13, 2011 4:03 pm

and if you have the choice, scan the negatives. you will get better quality output than with the pictures.

i would ask the question again in the forums. someone over there will have scanning old pics down to a science
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Re: Photo Backups

Postposted on Tue Dec 13, 2011 5:06 pm

Another issue to consider is whether the archive is mainly for reference purposes ("let's go back and slideshow Grandma's wedding again, those were the funniest looking shoes...") or whether you might want to print some of these later for framing or self-publishing. For high-quality printing, somewhere around 300dpi is the minimum preferred, and around 200dpi is the minimum to still get usable results. Of course, depending on the physical size and quality of the source image, you may not have 300dpi of information to work with. Liquidsquid's suggestion can help you figure that out. But too low of resolution can make for issues later.

Example: suppose you have a high-quality 5x7 and scan it at 300dpi because that feels "good enough", and someone else comes along later and wants to make a framed 8x10 out of it. Your scanned image is (5*300=1500) pixels by (7*300=2100) pixels. At 8x10, after minimal cropping, the print will have a maximum possible pixel depth that is the lesser of either (1500/8=187.5) dpi or (2100/10=210) dpi. So, around 188dpi, which may look noticeably grainy. If your source photo actually had about 350dpi of usable resolution, and was scanned at 350dpi or higher, the cropped 8x10 print would have closer to 220dpi of maximum resolution. Not ideal, but noticeably better.
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Re: Photo Backups

Postposted on Wed Dec 14, 2011 10:07 am

I believe the purpose will be to have a comprehensive reference of family photos. I am not sure how many of them will be printed. My Dad is going to try to organize them in a folder structure by year and maybe month/event. I will look into tagging/comments in the exif to see if that will provide a better system for organization.

My Dad's current plan is to scan in the photos and not the negatives. I would prefer scanning the negatives, but I have no clue about them or their prices.

I will do some testing on the resolution for the scans and see where I get the most bang for the space.

Has anyone used BackBlaze? I am curious if anyone has experience with them.

I will also take a look at

Thank you for all of the advice.
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Re: Photo Backups

Postposted on Wed Dec 14, 2011 10:54 am

Interesting project! I'm interested what you discover as you work your way through it, so please keep us gerbils updated.

I have used BackBlaze for about 6 months now. I'm happy with them. I've experienced no throttling, but my upload speed is only 1 Mbps. I've had that tiny pipe maxed out for over two weeks straight performing the first backup. If you have any specific questions about them, I'd be happy to answer them. They used to have a 30 day free trial so you can try it out for yourself. Once hard drive prices drop back down to normal levels, I'm planning on buying another 2-4 TB drive and then use crashplan to backup my parent's and siblings' PCs to this drive. The contents of this drive will then be sent off to BackBlaze for safe keeping as well.
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