Photo Archiving Techniques

With reference to several comments about halfway through this thread about administering an estate, I’m looking for suggestions on archiving photos of people and places associated with my high school class.

For example, as @jeff1 noted:

One problem I’ve noted with digital photos in general is the lack of a simple and widely used standard for embedding identification information in the digital file so anyone opening it can easily find it. We need the equivalent of the information written or pasted on the back of a printed photo. This is not just for family photos; it’s for publication as well.

And @gastropod said:

Metadata is intrinsically fragile. Even filenames aren’t necessarily the same from one flavor of OS to another because the allowed character sets differ. Metadata stored inside the file (e.g. mp3 tags) are more robust than metadata stored outside (file dates, Mac file tags and comments), but it can still get mangled or lost if it passes through software that doesn’t know what to do with it, or if preferences are set to strip it.

EXIF (camera data) and IPTC (cataloguing data) are -the- standard image metadata sets and are platform agnostic. Even though IPTC lacks a few things, it’s complete enough and well enough supported that it isn’t going to be supplanted for a long time. Both are embedded inside the file. Vast amounts of photo/image software can deal with at least the major subsets, and there are lots of utilities to do the same (exiftool, GUIs built on exiftool, and some utilities doing their own algorithms).

Apple Photos attaches its metadata such as captions and keywords as IPTC on export. I don’t know off hand remember any good free image metadata utilities for mac other than exiftool (command line), but Graphic Converter and A Better File Attributes are both pretty good for adding/changing both EXIF and IPTC.

Photoshop Elements is a popular consumer photo app on both windows and mac, and it certainly does at least the basic EXIF and IPTC. I don’t know if Google Photos on android does any metadata, but I’d hope that they’d have at least the tiny subset that Apple supports.

I haven’t scanned any photos for several years, but I don’t remember scansnap or vuescan letting me enter metadata per photo, and if that hasn’t changed, it’s an unfortunate lack.

I think the bigger problem is a combination of lack of awareness that the metadata features exist, the common perception of “but I’d never forget that!”, and even realizing that memory is fragile, a lack of time or toit to add the data. (Me? Procrastinate? I’ll get back to you on that…)

We recently had our 50th reunion and hundreds of digital photos and scans.

Ideally, for each file, we need to document:

  1. Who is pictured, including both (maiden) names at the time of graduation as well as subsequent (married) names.
  2. Location where photo was taken (easily stored in the photo’s EXIF data as latitude and longitude but not the name of the location)
  3. Date of picture (stored in EXIF)
  4. Contributor
  5. Contribution date

Among the ways to capture this information, I’ve considered putting it in:

  1. File name (very visible but length is limited)

  2. EXIF and IPTC editors such as GraphicConverter or ExifTool (Very hard to see or edit)

  3. Application-specific photo management software, e.g., Apple Photos, Google Photos, etc. (platform-specific and not easily represented as a URL to display in web pages)

Can anyone recommend an approach?

Thank you.


Curious to see others’ ideas here.

I distrust Adobe Bridge for a few reasons, but primarily it was seeing 2 previous versions randomly replace the file Creation Date of a large volume of photos. Only the Modification date should have changed, but they were all set to the same creation date in Feb 2010 or 2011. We verified with Adobe Support that Bridge was set to NOT do this, but it did anyway, even with a fresh install on a new system.

Thankfully the EXIF creation dates were intact, but time consuming to repair. Searching for a way to fix this, I had luck with Brattoo Propaganda Software’s free tools. Namely “Photodate to Filedate”. I was able to process batches of photo files from folders with relative ease, once I figured out the workflow.


  1. Drop the downloads onto Virus Total before using, just in case.
  2. Only use this app on COPIES of your photos for safety and then check the results.
  3. The way the app works is a little odd, so run tests to practice its operation.

Once you get the hang of things they are very useful tools.


I’ve just remembered that once upon a time there was a pretty good solution that I loved–iView Media Pro. It was cross platform (mac/windows), it could create catalogues with rich metadata (EXIF, IPTC, and some extra) and it could also handle most kinds of files including pdf, text, audio, video etc so it was easy to put everything including explanatory notes into one package. Perhaps best of all for the purpose was that there was a matching free reader for easy distribution. Unfortunately it was degraded by MS then by PhaseOne and has been gone for years.

A quick search for “ivew media pro replacement” only turned up two things, Photo Supreme and NeoFinder. Neither has a free reader. Photo Supreme is mac/windows and $150, Neofinder in Mac only, but is maybe more affordable at $40 (though you need one license per computer, not per user).

I’ve never tried Photo Supreme at all; possibly the most similar one I’ve played with is Photo Mechanic which I’d like to have, but it’s quite expensive and probably not what you’d want.

Neofinder probably comes closest to iView. I use it for indexing off line archive hard drives and some disk images so I can find old stuff, but haven’t really used the photo specific features. It adds previews to the catalog (you can adjust the size), it can catalogue any metadata associated with the photo, and you can add some extra data such as labels and notes inside of the app. So you can put everything into one catalogue, or maybe the catalogue and the folder of full-sized photos (and video and audio) it’s cataloguing, but anyone who wants access would have to buy a copy of the app. There’s a server version, but I expect that it’s not practical in a family situation. The business license includes a ‘reader mode’ now (search but not edit) that could be useful, but it’s much more expensive ($150 up)


Photomechanic does what you’re looking for, a paid app, and very capable. Can automate a good deal, can preset different sets of metadata and apply to multiple images. Complex however, a non-trivial, if not overly difficult, learning curve. I wouldn’t hand the task over lightly. There’s a trial if you’re curious.

It’s designed to work on ingest and provides a workflow of selection, keywording and metadata, then outward path to catalogue software such as Lightroom or Capture One.


I’m curious about what you will use to distribute and share the photos, assuming that is something you want to do. There are a lot of options for annotating photos for personal use, but the free/low cost options for sharing, especially with people who aren’t technical or who aren’t all Apple users, isn’t what it used to be.

If you are, I’ll do a shout out for Flickr. I know, old school, but they do a good job of showing the work in various forms, galleries and slideshows. Which you can embed in various places. Not sure what the free account limit is but perhaps your final selection may fit.

Most families I know either use Photos shared folder option or Facebook (who do terrible things to photographs).


I’ll assume that privacy is a potential issue (so no online services), and collaboration isn’t needed. If one does need to collaborate, a shared Photos album or a site that lets you authorize specific other users to add comments and keywords would probably be better at least for metadata collection, though with less privacy/security. Because web services do tend to vanish or morph into something different with little notice it would be prudent to have a more stable form of archive after the collaboration phase, maybe doing something like one archive per year.

Possibly the easiest and most robust solution that would be software/platform agnostic for each originator and all of the recipients, and reasonably immune to software going out of existence over the years, would be to export the photos including all existing metadata in the files to a folder, then also export the metadata for those files to a text file to that folder. Zip it all into a password protected archive to send on it’s way. If the text file is tab or comma delimited, the recipient should be able to easily open it in their favorite database or spread sheet (on a mac, just drop it onto Numbers) as a reference if they don’t have DAM software to read the metadata from the photos. If everyone is a mac user, I’d possibly choose a read-only encrypted disk image instead of a zip.

For the originators, there are plenty of apps for adding the metadata, some easier and/or more complete than others, some more expensive than others. Different family members can use what they please on their platform of choice, as long as they can export it to standard files and to whatever chosen archival drop point is chosen, including flash drives in safe deposit boxes.

I’ve been playing with the Neofinder photo stuff today, and I like it on first impression. It’s not Photo Mechanic, but it’s simple to use with a decent metadata pane for exif and IPTC (not all, but an adequate subset). You can select multiple photos for adding metadata in bulk, copy & paste IPTC from one photo to another, geotag, set up multiple presets, controlled vocabulary, a list of people to help populate the Persons iptc field, and add your own data fields (annotations). It can edit some exif such as converting file created date to exif date. It also has auto tagging via three engines, apple and two others; click on the appropriate choices from the autotag window to insert into the keywords field. (Apple’s has the virtue of fewer wild guesses to look through to discover that they can’t tell a wasp from a hummingbird or a chair.) You can write the metadata back into the original files or into sidecar XMP files.

Neo will also do stuff including some metadata with video, audio and epub files but I haven’t tried those yet.

For distribution, it will export the metadata to tabbed text files, indented text, and with a business license, XML. The business license will also export stand alone html photo galleries using an IPTC preset to show some metadata which would be great except…It’s not bad, but it’s definitely underwhelming for that $150+ business license price if you don’t need the other business features. You have to fiddle with the html and css files to even change fonts. In the demo version, I can’t get it to show any exif values, or values in the annotation fields, only iptc. It’s not as if it’s all that hard to do a simple photo gallery so I don’t know why they make it a ‘business’ feature.

For windows users, there’s an app, abeMedia, that uses the same file format as neofinder and they can use each others catalogues. I have no way of testing to see how well it works, and no basis for knowing how well they do at coordinating any changes to the format over the years. They have the same prices, $40 for the one computer personal version.

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One other great tool that I use is FastRawViewer 2, which supports a variety of RAW, JPEG, TIFF, and PNG formats and runs with macOS and Windows. Sadly, no Photoshop (.psd) support.

Don’t let the RAW emphasis dissuade you. While it has some editing tools, including EXIF, it is also handy for sorting/culling large sets of images with extensive keyboard shortcuts that let you move files to different pre-set folders. It replaced my beloved 32-bit Xee 2.2. (Sadly, Xee 3 never lived up to the previous version.)

Additionally, FastRawViewer 1.7.8 “Legacy” runs on 32-bit systems: OSX 10.6 - 10.11 and Windows XP - Vista.


You should consider Adobe Lightroom for this task. On the downside it is a paid application which requires a subscription, on the other hand it is not that expensive and Photoshop is included in the package.

A very thorough guide for the task of archiving analog photographs has been written by Peter Krogh, " Digitizing Your Photos with your Camera and Lightroom". This guide can be purchased from his website for $34.95.

Peter Krogh is the author of “The DAM Book” and a highly regarded expert in the field of digital asset management (DAM).


I’ve been using NeoFinder since it was CDfinder, running in OS 8.6. I was using it 20 years ago to catalog work projects at my old job that had been backed up on CDs and DVDs. These days I mainly use it to catalog my images, although I have fallen behind a bit on that, and on using it to generate PDF contact sheets.

Ah, well, this stuff is fun . . . but . . .

Before getting getting lost down rabbit holes hidden in the weeds you really need to ask yourself, “What is the final product?” What are you going to do with this information? Are you going to produce a printed reunion album? Are you going to respond to requests for prints of this image or that? Are you going to be the class archivist who can provide the backstory behind images for the next 20 years? Do you want to put up a private website with the images and just relevant names? (“Gosh! That’s Marcy!?”)

As you can see from the previous replies there are a large number of software packages out there from rudimentary to wildly complex that edit and organize images.

It may be you’ll find that going to Walgreen’s to print them all out and then writing names and dates on the back will be far faster than ingesting several hundred images into cataloging software and then spending weeks “organizing” them for unknown purposes.

Gasp! Really!? Yes. :slight_smile:

For example, you may find that the vast majority of your classmates could care less about the pictures except the one where George and Marcy were drunk. Do you spend hours and hours and (fun) hours cataloging everything or do you find that one image, find the print with the stuff on the back and send it to them with a joke or two?

So, look for the package that makes it simple to produce your final result and ignore everything else.

That said, I rue the day that iView Media Pro (as mentioned above) decided to sell themselves. It was a great image manager. Want to make a website with the images just so and with captions that included anything from any of the metadata? There you go. Sigh.

You should look at Mylio. Recently, there’s been an explosion of development there with family history fields, public & private grouping, and endless ways to slice and dice most any data you like. They fully support XMP so your added data can be read by most any of the big image catalogers. The one problem for you is that Mylio is intended to gather all your images in one catalog. They don’t support multiple catalogs. I don’t suppose you want to see the reunion every time you scroll through things? :slight_smile:

Best of luck!



You got the gist of it Dave… a few years ago in our local Mac User Group Meeting we were discussing this issue and I asked my teenage daughter what she would do if handed a storage device with some 35 thousand family images and she said, “Give it back!”.

“pick out the best and delete the rest” is what makes the most sense to me. But i’m not the only one invested in the images, so I can’t really get away with that!



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Herein lies the issue - and it’s gotten worse with digital.

An award winning underwater photographer friend died a number of years ago and left thousands of extremely good transparencies behind. His son kept them in cardboard boxes on his back porch - I was horrified his entire life’s work was rotting away in the weather. Had this been digital era I suspect there would have been millions.

I think the same thing for my photos and my kids. I don’t expect them to have the same reverence I do for them so I turn them into books. I’ve done books from when they were born, through toddler and teenage years and any major trips we’ve done. It’s much easier to give them a handful of books they can stick on a shelf and flick through when the feel like it.

Archiving personal digital will always be far more important for the author as they value what went in to getting the images. However, if you want your descendants to enjoy them, I’m banking on books being more valuable.

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A teenager would not have the life experience to know the value of their family’s history. As they age and the people they knew and loved pass away, they will be so grateful to have the preserved memories. Put the drive in your Safe Deposit Box (or equivalent) and rest assured they will be emotionally overwhelmed when they are found.


A drive in a safe deposit box is great, but drives can go bad if they are not used. This is particularly true of SSDs. Consider keeping a second copy somewhere in the cloud.

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For family, I’m archiving old prints quickly using the Epson FastFoto scanner which permits titling as it goes and is good enough quality wise for prints from Eighties and Nineties pharmacies… highlights are going up on the Shared Library of Photos for my wife and kids. It’s slow going despite the nippy Epson, me being the issue. I’ve about eight archive boxes of these, it’s going to take forever or perhaps retirement… My daughter surprised us for our 25th anniversary with two photo albums of the highlights of these boxes. Blew us away, as has been her tendency in general.

I’m also a photographer and have over 200k digital images at last count…which was a while ago… I’m debating, beyond project outcomes which are their own deal, doing a box of prints per year. Take my favourite 100 and print off a standard print size, A3 or so. Something the family can use or distribute as they wish. But not a drive with hundreds and thousands of all the photographs you have to take to get to that 100.


Agreed. My recommendations are:

  • A DVD-R or BD-R disc based on M-DISC tech. These are designed for longevity and archiving. You need an M-DISC drive in order to burn them, but the results can be read in any DVD-ROM or BD-ROM drive.

    Of course, future people will need a drive. So maybe archive a new USB drive with the media.

  • A high quality HDD. Use one with a USB interface, including both a type-A and a type-C cable to maximize the chances of it being compatible with future computers. My experience is that good HDDs can last a very long time in storage. Just try not to subject it to impacts (don’t drop it).

    You can get anti-shock enclosures or travel cases for HDDs, but keep in mind that everything has its limits. But with a bit of care, this shouldn’t be an issue.

I don’t like normal optical media, because the media can go bad over time. I’ve had some CD-R/DVD-R media last for a long time, and I’ve had others fail within months. Some brands of media are better than others, but I don’t think any are suitable for a long-term archive.

I think SSDs are too new to be able to judge how well they will hold up after years of being unpowered. Other kinds of flash storage (SD cards, Compact Flash, thumb drives) are, IMO, either known to be unreliable or are too unpredictable to depend on.

In the past, I would have recommended magnetic tape, and I still think it’s great for archiving, but high capacity tape drives are very expensive and you can’t expect people in the future to have a compatible drive. And even if you store a drive with the media, it may be hard for future people to make it work with their computers.

Ultimately, I think the best longevity is going to be paper prints, as long as archival quality inks and papers are used. But that will take up quite a lot of space, compared to digital media.


I inherited my brother’s slides last year, mostly Kodachrome from his trips to the western US in the 1980s. He had selected some of them for showing with a projector, a Bell & Howell, so they were in those Bell & Howell cubes and the cubes were identified at least in terms of year and general geographic area. I ended up scanning hundreds off them myself, but it really makes much more sense for most people to use a service like Digifi (located in Greenpoint, NYC).


I have film scanners, and I needed a project to work on during a 2-month pet-sitting gig. So I took the more compact scanner (Plustek 8200ai) and an MBP to the pet-sitting location and made scanning my day job, with occasional help from the cat. The scanning ate up anywhere from 5 to 8 hours a day. This does not include the incredibly tedious process of cleaning up dust, etc.

I have no idea who will/would want any of these images, aside from the few that I prepared for the celebration of life event. It’s a shame, because he was a pretty good photographer. However, I feel that there is more chance of people seeing the digital images than there would be of anyone futzing with the slides.


Once, while scouting locations for a film, we came across a remote mansion, filled with what would have been high end design equipment, Bang and Olafson, all that, but dated from the Seventies and Eighties. A man lived there on his own, an ex-Merchant Navy officer, German. He had a room with a number of PCs all scanning negatives and slides. He had taken photographs throughout WWII and the years beyond, travelling the world. This was around the millennium, when scanning was really tedious, he had several scanning on the go to get any pace up. An interesting guy. I went back several years later and he was gone. Such an interesting archive, often wondered what happened to it.


I concur with everything else David said in his post but this is the point you should take away. Good old silver halide prints (or modern archival inkjet prints) are the way to go if you really want to preserve images for the ages. For example, a few years ago we discovered some old family lantern slides (glass positives) from the 1890s. Damaged, yes, a few irreparably, but still 130 year old images that you could pick up and look at with the naked eye. Care to try that with a USB drive in 2150? :slight_smile:

The Smithsonian and other libraries are confronting a hideous problem with digital obsolescence. They haven’t really figured out a workable solution that doesn’t cost their total annual budget year to year.

You can preserve your images over the course of decades by moving the library from one disk to another disk (or holographic cube, cough) every 6–10 years. It’s not all that expensive and not all that tedious provided you’ve collected everything neatly. But true longevity? Make prints of your most cherished images, note the particulars on the back (in pencil, please!) and keep them in a box in a dry, cool place.

The hardest thing is editing your collection down to the vital things. That’s true for pros as well as amateurs. Modern software can really help you out with this. Swoop through a hundred images, click, click. Done. Print those. I suspect, though, that some people will have near insurmountable problems. (Like the Mylio user I noticed who has 1,000,000+ images—must be a wedding photography business. :rofl:)

For fun, here is the Library of Congress exhibition on Prokudin-Gorskii, a Russian photographer, who took color pictures in 1907. Yes, you read that right.