Organizing Digital Archives

A few months back I wrote a post call Data Archiving Method where I talked about which media I chose to backup my scanned photo and negative archives. I also mentioned the labeling method I chose to keep track of each photo. I haven’t wrote much about archive since then so I decided to provide more information for those that are archiving.

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In this post I will elaborate on the organizing and photo properties that I have chosen for the archives.

Archive File Properties

There is always talk on forums and Web sites on what resolution to scan originals (both photos and negatives) in order to archive them in a digital format. There really doesn’t seem to be one preferred method to choose, so I came up with my own that I will use. It may not be the best method, or the one you prefer, but it works for me.

Photographs (Colour/Black and White)

  • Scanning Resolution: 600 dpi
  • Colour: 48 bit
  • File format: TIFF
  • File name:
    • pcnnnnnn.tif (colour)
    • pbnnnnnn.tif (black and white)

A few notes about the above specifications. The first is the 600 dpi. For the most part 300 dpi is all that is needed to get a good photograph, but I decided to double that value in case I would like to enlarge the photograph in the future. Disk space is not a concern for my so I don’t mind the large image. You will also notice that I scan the photograph in at 48 bits. I do all my scanning at that bit depth because I like the extra overhead for editing.

Film and Slides

  • Scanning Resolution: 3600 dpi
  • Colour: 48 bit
  • File format: TIFF
  • File name:
    • fcnnnnnn.tif (film – colour)
    • fbnnnnnn.tif (film – black & white)
    • scnnnnnn.tif (slide – colour)
    • sbnnnnnn.tif (slide – black & white)

My concern when scanning negatives and slides is the size of the image. At such a high resolution and bit depth the image file was over 100 MB. I chose 3600 dpi since it was a nice compromise between size and quality. This produces a very large image anyway so I’m not really sacrificing anything.

Digital Photos

For photos taken with a digital camera I leave everything as is, even the file name.

File Naming Conventions

As you can see the file name is representative of the type of scan. I came up with a simple, and yet effective method of naming each image file. Each file is exactly 8 characters long with the first two characters providing a description of the original image source. The “nnnnnn” in each file represents a number that I increment by one each time: 000001 to 999999. I can have several images with the same number, just as long as they are stored on different media and categories.

The two letters are defined below.

First Character

  • D – Digital source
  • P – Photo
  • F – Film
  • S – Slide
  • V – Video

Second Character

  • C – Colour
  • B – Black and White
  • I – CD/DVD Image (ISO file)
  • M – Raw movie file (avi)

As you can see from the above naming conventions I also have some specified for videos. I am also archiving family videos, so I created naming conventions for those as well.


To make my task of creating and organizing my archives, I have created both scanning standards and naming conventions for my digital archives. These are by no means standards by which to use when creating your digital archives, but they may help to create your own. If you have created your own standards, I would be interested to hear what they are.

8 Responses to “Organizing Digital Archives”

  1. Tasha Kovalaske says:

    We involving online, take pleasure in your creating regarding, the idea had been exactly what I looking!

  2. Justin (Pusha) says:

    I used to be a digital archivist for a big studio in NYC. You should look into a program call Portfolio Extensis. If you shoot a lot it is really helpful because it utilizes hot-folders, backup, custom field searching, and key wording.

  3. Darlene says:

    I recenlt got the dymo printer and it was exactly what i needed…i mean it was sooo easy to use….its small and doesn’t take up that much space…its compatible with both my mac and pc…yea i know im a bit crazy to have both comps….the software makes it a breeze to use

  4. martini says:

    JPEGs are only lossy, however, when you resave them. If you are simply storing them in a folder to look at, or transfering them between folders, there is no loss of info. It’s only when a JPEG is resaved that is loses some info.

    JPEGs, I find, are more widely accepted – TIFFs are actually not not acceptable formats for certain websites, like Photobucket, where I upload all my Blog photos to.

  5. Paul says:

    TIFF is the most recommended because it has broad support over many operating systems. It is also non-lossy (no loss of data), and can support 48 bit colour. The downside is that the file sizes are much larger than that of JPEG.

    Most photos are in JPEG, especially those from digital cameras. I usually leave them as JPEG. I use TIFFs when I scan negatives, slides or photographs.

  6. Ederic Eder says:

    Thanks for this post. I will bookmark it for future reference. Is TIFF really the appropriate format for archival purposes?

    Most of my photos are in JPEG, which is primarily used, I think, for Web display.

  7. Paul says:

    I sometimes use the meta data to find specific information about the shot. Windows Vista displays that data in Explorer when select a photo.

    I use ACDSee to organize my pictures so I can organize them by person, place or thing. The only problem is that the information is stored in a database and not the file.

    I have yet to try printing labels for my discs as I label them by hand, but store them in jewel cases with a printed label.

  8. Ron M says:

    Great post. I would like to add a couple of points. Any digital photo contains non visible “Meta Data” encoded in it. This is info on when the photo was taken, what type of camera, resolution, etc. Most photo cataloging software allows expanding the types of meta data included in a photo. This allows one to add key words or whatever descriptions they choose for their photos. All beach shots can have the word “beach” added to them. Night or day shots can be added to their descriptions so one can easily search for all beach shots or just nighttime beach shots etc. This allows very specific searches.
    Another cataloging tip if one likes to burn their photos on discs. Use of a quality disc labeler makes life so much easier and makes one’s work look more professional. I use the Dymo DiscPainter to label my photo discs. It easily and quickly puts full color labels and text descriptions directly on the disc. The DiscPainter prints labels at either 600 dpi or 1200 dpi. A very neat little printer.
    Anyway, hope this was helpful to the discussion.

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