New life for old photos
Step 3: Save your images
Once you’ve made your scan, the first thing you should do is save a full-quality version of the file. This is the version you’ll use as a backup (in case you ever lose or otherwise muck up your working copy). To ensure that you retain all of the data your scanner captured, I recommend saving your pictures in an uncompressed format, such as TIFF. Yes, the file size for each picture will be larger than if you used a compressed format such as JPEG, but you won’t be throwing away any data in the process. Remember, you don’t want to have to go back and rescan. Later, I’ll show you how to make working copies of your images for easier editing.
When saving your files, use a consistent naming convention. This will make it easier to track down your photos later. I prefer
scan_0001_ description.tiff. The first part lets me know that this is a digitized version of a print or negative. The number provides an easy way to link this scan with the original version of the image (I then label the print or negative with the same number). Lastly, the short description aids in searching. Save all of the images in a folder on your Mac.
Step 4: Back up master scans
Once you’ve completed a batch of scans, back up your uncompressed files to an external drive or to DVDs for safekeeping. For maximum security, you should always make two backup copies of your masters. They can be two external hard drives, two sets of DVDs, or any combination of media. Then save your masters in two different locations—for example, one at home and another at the office.
Step 5: Make working copies
Uncompressed files are important for backups, but the large files are cumbersome for everyday use—especially if you’ll be using them with iPhoto. The solution is to create JPEG versions that can serve as working copies of the originals. JPEGs take up much less disk space and require less power to process.
Now, you could open up each master file in Photoshop or Preview and use the Save As command to create a JPEG version. But if you have OS X 10.4 (Tiger), you can streamline this process with the help of Automator. Setting up this workflow takes a few minutes, but you’ll get the return on your investment the first time you use it.
To build your workflow, you’ll first need two folders: one with the master files you want to convert, and one for the finished JPEGs. Then go to the Applications folder, and open Automator. You’ll construct your workflow by dragging items from the Action list into the workspace on the right. Here’s the list of actions you’ll need for this project, in the order in which they should appear (see “Put Your Files on a Diet”):
Put Your Files on a Diet This Automator workflow lets you convert your space-hogging TIFF files into more-compact JPEGs. Save the workflow as a Finder plug-in, and you can access it by control-clicking on any selected files in the Finder.
Finder: Get Specified Finder Items This action tells Automator which files to convert. Leave the Name field and the Path field empty.
Preview: Open Images in Preview This action opens all the images in Preview.
Preview: Scale Images This step is optional. It lets you scale your scanned image to a more manageable size (in other words, it throws pixels away). For images that you plan to print, skip this step. But for images that you’ll mainly be viewing on screen— in slide shows or on the Web—scaling down will save you considerable time and disk space. Remember, you can always return to your archived master file if you decide later that you’d like to make a print.
When you drag the action into your workflow, Automator will ask you whether you’d like to add a Copy Finder Items action. Choose Don’t Add. You’ll specify a new location in a later step. Choose By Percentage from the pull-down menu, and use the arrows to select the percentage you’d like to scale to. (Due to a bug in the program, just typing in the percentage won’t do the trick. The field will revert to 480 percent the next time you open it.) I recommend scaling to 50 percent.
Preview: Change Type of Images This is where you’ll specify the new file type. Automator will give you the same warning as in the last step. Again, choose Don’t Add. Open the To Type pull-down menu, and choose JPEG.
Finder: Move Finder Items Open the To pull-down menu and choose Other. Navigate to the folder in which you’d like to store your compressed JPEGs, and then click on Open.
To get the most out of your new workflow, I recommend saving it as a Finder plug-in. This lets you access the workflow by simply control-clicking on selected files. In Automator, go to File: Save As Plug-in. Select Finder from the Plug-In For pop-up menu, and give your workflow a name. To run the workflow, select a batch of master files that you’d like to convert, and then control-click (or right-click if you have a multibutton mouse) and select your workflow from the Automator submenu in the resulting contextual menu.
Before you convert a whole batch of scans, test your workflow with one image to make sure everything operates correctly. If there’s a hitch, don’t panic. You probably just need to make a minor adjustment, such as pointing to the right folder or image. Once you’re satisfied with the results, try running the workflow on a batch of ten images and see how your Mac performs.