Wednesday, July 4, 2018

What to Do with Old Family Snapshots

Also in this issue:

  • Tools for digitizing photos without a copy stand
  • Tools for documenting your family tree for future generations
  • Video on A7 III and A7R III
  • ... and more!

What to do with Old Family Snapshots

Some genealogist friends tell me that interest in one’s ancestors comes about every three generations or so. Which means those old B&W snapshots piling up in your parents’ attic might be valuable if not to you, but most likely to your descendants one day.

I’m very lucky that my parents, aged 86 and 90, are still alive. And I’ve been utilizing a good chunk of my visit time pouring through boxes of old photos and asking “Who’s this?” And then I’d write down pertinent information on the back. Then I’d take my highest-resolution camera (probably overkill) and take pictures of the front and back, thinking maybe one day I’ll hand translate the back into the file names so the images could be searchable.

An ideal copy stand setup.  Lights on either side are placed so the reflections off the shiny print don't reflect back into the camera.  Sometimes a piece of glass (borrowed from a picture frame) is required to keep the print flat.  Your best bet is a macro lens shot at around f/5.6, and use the self-timer to keep things perfectly still.
But then what? What good are all of these images if they’re sitting on my local hard drive? Is there some kind of an online repository of old family images that can combine genealogy (who’s related to whom, and how) with image / videos / stories, so that future generations can find them?

It turns out there are, but the ones I’ve found so far have been either lacking or require far too much time to enter everything properly. (That last part I think is inevitable if you’re going to end up being the family archivist.)  It's a pretty crowded field of about 33 competitors (probably more), all but one of which are cloud-based, which means your valuable information can be held hostage by bankruptcies or data breaches (don't laugh; it's already happened).

Let me start with a program which actually resides on your hard drive, which means you can make backups and keep them off-site for disaster-proof-ness (as you should be doing with all of your other data anyway:) - This is the equivalent of Photoshop for the serious genealogists.  They make several products, all of which are either free or cost a maximum of $30.  This is the package that my genealogy friends use.  You can export the information in a format called GeDCom (Genealogy Data Communication) file, and then transfer it to any other genealogy software (Legacy, Reunions, FamilyTree Maker, etc.).   GeDCom files are like .csv files; a lowest-common-denominator format that strips off proprietary features in the name of being interoperable with other sites.

And here are some popular cloud-based websites, which can be a useful place to upload the RootsMagic data to so future generations will be able to locate the data you've amassed:

1) – This is more of a “Build a graphical family tree and share it with other family members". Carol spent an inordinate amount of time a few years ago filling out the tree, building relationships and uploading a photo of each family member. You can also upload additional photos and videos and tag each member in each photo individually. The system can send you periodic reminders of relative’s birthdays, which can get bothersome if you have a very large family and don’t even recognize most of the names it mentions.

"Geni" is short for "Genealogy".  Get it?  All sites like this let you build your family tree and share it with other relatives.
2), which bought Geni.  I haven't used it, but it appears to be a very popular site and therefore worth mentioning.

3) - Very similar to most of the competing services out there, but Legacy Stories gives more privacy controls and lets folks share with the level of privacy they decide.  More important, it doesn't use the "we'll keep your photos as long as you continue to pay us monthly" business model, which would be a disaster once you die and the payments stop.  Legacy Stories allows you to purchase your website outright and will it to an heir - no further payments required.  They have created a network of people who you can hire to scan, tag, document stories, and "properly" give a video interview to your loved one if they're still alive.  Finally, this site lets you create "picorals", where you can record a story or identification with the photos.

Audio tapes can be digitized and shared online as well... but just try finding a cassette player that still works!
Keep in mind that documenting your family legacies can occupy quite a bit of time.  So be prepared for that.  But future generations will bow to you for taking the time to do it now.

How Google Can Help This Task

I'll tell you now that having to tag every single person in every single upload is a pain. And not everyone has a copy stand with the lighting arrangement pictured above.  Worry not; Google provides two free tools that apply to this work:
  • There's a brilliant smartphone app called "PhotoScan" which runs on both iOS and Android. Instead of requiring a copystand with lights on either side (to prevent reflections from glossy photos), this app has you hover the smartphone over the photo while it takes 5 images from different positions. The images are then merged, reflections eliminated, and then it detects the edge of the photo, corrects for trapezoids (in case you weren't holding the phone parallel to the image), and finally crops out the background.  This saves a great deal of time! With my Samsung S8 and its 12 MP camera I get a 7" x 10" x 300 dpi image output - not bad for a mere 10 seconds of effort per picture! 
Normal image capture with smartphone

Same image using Google PhotoScan
  • The Google Photos service (Facebook, too) has an amazingly creepy ability to recognize faces in images and group them all together for you. It can recognize the same person at different stages of their life. It can recognize partially obscured faces. It can recognize small, partially obscured faces in videos. It's amazing, I tell you!
It recognized my mom when she was young (left)

Google Photos even recognized my Mom when she was out of focus and partially obscured.
It even recognized her from the side in this video taken with a smartphone.
I'm telling you, I'm impressed!

Yeah, But Which Images are Important?

Let's say my wish comes true - that somehow I could just upload all of my digitized images to the genealogy websites, and people would be automatically tagged and associated with the position on the family tree. What would happen then? The answer: Too Many Pictures. Any descendant of mine would have to plow through hundreds of pictures to get to the 5 or 6 that really interest them.

If this is true, then is it safe to toss all the images that did not end up in picture frames, destroying artifacts that might potentially be important to future generations in deference to my limited time and storage space?

Of course I have no proper answers. All I know is there is no business case for archives. And if there were a fire, it is the photo albums and Snapfish photo books that I would grab, because these represent the best, hand-curated images of our loved ones.  (Hmmm... looks like I answered my own question!)

Out of the Pipeline

Tony Phillips' rolling release of the Fujifilm X-H1 is now completed!

Next ebook will be for the RX-100 VI.  Also a Spanish-language version of the A7 III ebook is in the works.  Never a dull moment.  Email me if you'd like to be on the notification list.

The A7 III ebook has finally been translated into Kindle and other e-Reader formats!  To celebrate, I've made two videos covering the most asked about aspects of the A7 III and A7R III (and probably the A7S III once it gets announced):

Portrait Lighting Workshop

Hurry!  The Southern California Portrait Lighting Workshop, co-conducted by me and Master Portrait Photographer Brian Ramage, will be happening in just a few weeks!  (July 28th, to be exact!)  Get hands-on experience using light to add "Wow!" to your images, using natural light, wireless flash, and big studio flashes (and discover which is right for you!)  There are just two slots left, so sign up now!

There's also time to sign up for your friendly neighborhood Friedman Archives High-Impact Photography seminars, designed to help you unlearn all of the bad advice dispensed by online discussion forums, and teach you how to get "Wow!" images with any camera.  I know my teaching method is effective, for we're now in our 11th year.  The current schedule is below:

Atlanta, Georgia - August 18-19th, 2018
Boulder, Colorado - October 20-21st, 2018
Scottsdale, Arizona - Sometime in November 2018
Englewood, Florida - February 2019
Denmark - Spring, 2019

Email me at Gary at Friedman Archives dot com if you'd like to be added to the notification list for the last three.

Fundraiser status

This past month I've been learning more about the NGO I'll be working with as part of my project with Photographers Without Borders: The Hearts for Hue foundation, aimed at assisting the resettled population who once lived in Hue city.

Water project smile .jpg
In the past, many residents in and around Hue City were fishing families and lived either on boats or on public land near the river. A number of years ago the government asked these people to move, so that new development could happen in Hue. The government provided the people with housing, however it is very basic. This, accompanied by the fact that the displaced people did not have many skills to enable them to earn a living in a new industry, means that many resettled families are living in poverty.

You can help me help them by contributing to this project.  Many thanks for any support you can provide.

A special shout-out to Kathryn Martin, James Modrall, and Jim Ekstrom, all of whom have donated $100 or more to the project!!

Next Time in Cameracraft

The latest issue is going to press as I write this.  We've got a travel and landscape theme with a superb monochrome portfolio of British Isles landscape, seascape and skyscape from Colin Westgate; Hamish Scott-Brown on his success with travel and food photography in the Pink Lady Food Photography awards; Faye and Trevor Yerbury on their final workshop visit to Venice, and why the city works so well for them; Glyn Davies on discovering South Africa and Namibia; José Ramos (cover photographer) on four years of returning to Iceland; Gary Friedman on the hunt for icebergs off the islands of Newfoundland.

Then we've got reviews of the Canon EOS M50 mirrorless, Sigma's 85mm f/1.4 ART FE, the tiny Samyang 24mm f/2.8 FE, a budget Chinese 100mm f/2 Canon clone from Yongnuo, twinning Godox AD200s in a double Bowens mount, using a pet tracker to embed GPS, a fresh look at the popular Elinchrom D-Lite One RX, and the latest news of Fujifilm's X-T100 plus new Canon, Samyang, Tamron, Voigtlander and Nikon lenses.

It's inspiration to get outdoors in the great summer we have been promised.  Subscribe to the last of the best magazines for photographers now!

Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman


  1. Thank you very much for this post. I have boatloads of photographs from past generations.

  2. Gary thank you. Very timely, since this is a up coming project. - Buck

  3. Awesome info. Thanks

  4. You didn't mention using a scanner. Is that not as good quality? - Dean Leoni

    1. Scanners used to be great; now we have 42 MP cameras that can out-resolve most consumer-level scanners like my Nikon Coolscan LS-2000. See my blog post at

  5. I did try Geni about 10 years back. Now I think it's too much personal data and an easy tool for impostors n hackers!

  6. "What to do with Old Family Snapshots" thank you, thank you, thank you! I was just at a family gathering in honor of my nephew who lives in Arizona, (he came home to Indianapolis, IN to see his mom and dad and my baby sis and husband had all the uncle's, aunts, and same age cousins (40 somethings) over for an open house). My mom who is 87 came with at least a 100 old photos. Needless to say they were the hit of the gathering, along with my nephew, and she (my mom) said she has at least as many more she didn't bring. Anyway where I'm going is that your blog couldn't be more timely because as the family photographer I was asked to archive them all to make available to all family members. The info you've provided will I'm sure prove to be invaluable as I take on this daunting but very special assignment. Luckily, I'm retired now so I have the time (or no excuse) to get it done.

    Thank you and best regards,
    P. S. I'm working on making it to Atlanta in August. As much if not more to meet you than get educated.

  7. One of these days Gary you might do a seminar in Canada!!

    1. I've done several already. Do you know of some local photo clubs in the area? Tell them I'll speak for them for free if they help me populate a seminar.

  8. There is a very good app for the Mac platforms called MacFamilyTree. A little pricey at $69 but the service is great.

  9. Re Scanners: Epson V550 at $169 does a fantastic job at 4800 X 9600 dpi. Includes ICE for transparencies and color fade correction for prints


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