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Scanning Old Photos - How To Identify Who Is In The Photograph

How To Identify And Label Family Photos

Among the most popular questions we receive at Digitized Media when we are asked about scanning old photos is how to label the photos?

Just to be clear, there are two types of labeling:

  • Labeling of the physical negatives, prints and slides
  • Labeling of the digitized photos

This article covers both scenarios.

Tips to identify people in photos

There are so many unidentified people in your old photographs. They look familiar but who are they?

If you are looking at physical photos, the simplest way is to check if there are there any notes on the back of the photos.

If scanning old photos, then you can use Google Photos which automatically recognize faces and sorts them for you, which makes managing your library far easier than having to tag people manually.

Google Image Recognition is an ideal tool for searching people in digitized photographs. The program searches the Internet for images that appear similar to the one you have uploaded.

You can use Google Photos on your iPhone or iPad with these instructions:

  • Tap Menu Settings Group similar faces.
  • Turn on Face grouping.
  • Under “No face labeled as Me,” tap Choose.
  • Select your face. Tap OK. This will automatically turn on “Allow contacts to recognize your face.”

Adding information to your family photos

When you have discovered a name, date, or location for the photo, you must record the information about photo in a way that it does not damage the photo and has enough information to help future generations enjoys the images.

It’s always a good idea to add metadata to the digital image of scanned photos, but start with the solution of adding a label to your physical photos.

How to Label Physical Photos

Before working with photographs its a good idea to thoroughly wash and dry your hands to remove any body oils that might transfer to the prints.

Consider wearing white cotton gloves when handling photos as they provide good protection against fingerprints, but they can be clumsy and awkward.

Cover a table with a large sheet of clean white paper. Old photos and storage materials can be dirty and crumbling.

What Information Should You Record?

Try to label your photos with all of the vital information:

  • Write the person’s complete name, as writing only the first name will be no use in years to come now if there will be multiple people who share that name, or the inheritor of your photographs isn’t sure if that person is a family member or a friend. Use nicknames, as additional information. Don’t use family relationship names like “grandma” or “mother” since the reader of your caption, in the future, has no idea who wrote the caption and whose mother that was.
  • Note the exact location where the photograph was taken, whether it was taken at home, work or on holiday. Remember that in the future that place may not exist so be exact.
  • Be as precise as you can with the date even, even if only a year or decade is known. Dates on photographs are important in establishing context for that person and better understanding their lives. If possible, date old photos using clothing clues.
  • Identify all other interesting characteristics such as the type and year of the car in the background, or the dog’s name, the photographer, or the event the photo commemorates. All these things can help provide the viewer with much-needed context.

The Best Way to Label Family Photos

How, where, and what you write depends on the image itself. Sometimes you will not have a writing surface and you will have to add your notation on a paper enclosure or sleeve. For most photographs, a short note on the reverse side of the photos is preferred using the least permanent writing material. When labeling photos, you must not use anything that will “indent” the photo as you are writing. Some examples are:

  • #2 Pencil on reverse
  • Archival pen on reverse or in margin
  • Archival pen on plastic sleeve

If you store prints in archival polyester or polypropylene sleeves, label the photo by writing on the plastic sleeve instead of the print. Remove the print from the sleeve before writing on the plastic to avoid leaving impressions on the print. Another option is to hand write or print information on an acid-free label attached to the sleeve.

Make give the ink plenty of time to dry. Do not stack the photos on top of each other until the ink is dry or you run the risk of the wet ink transferring to the other photo/s in your stack.

Some tips when identifying photos

  1. Take time when labeling your photos, as over time we will forget dates, names of relatives we met once, and other details.
  2. If you have a doubt about older photos, enlist other family members that can help. This is much easier if the photos have been digitized as you can set up group email or post the photos on Facebook and tagging family members that might be able to provide the missing information. The bonus to uploading mystery photos to Facebook is that those family members can now have access to photographs they don’t already have in their collection.
  3. With group photos, make a “working” copy on a copy machine. You can write on the face of this copy identifying the subjects you know, and sharing it with others to help identify the ones you don’t know. Once the people are identified with confidence, then write the names on the back of the original photo, noting rows and position for each name.
  4. Do not use tape on your photos, but also keep Scotch tape (cellophane, clear, etc.) away from your photos because static electricity can sometimes attract them to the photo face – and ruin the photo.

Scanning Old Photos

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