EXIF editing: the high overhead to image scanning

The image scanning market died several years ago. Giants like Canon and Nikon with high-end systems for specialist scanning modes, such as slides (transparencies and negatives), pulled out, leaving a small market for flatbed scanners, and a free-for-all among OEM products from the Far East.

But there are still plenty of users who are trying to add many old photos to their shiny new photo libraries, shot on digital cameras and smartphones. As a result, I still get a steady stream of questions about various problems which arise when doing this.

The one problem which no one considers when embarking on a project to ‘digitise’ their family photos is that of entering all the EXIF data for every single scanned image, without which the photo library will be almost impossible to use.

When you shoot images on modern cameras and smartphones, they automatically write the time, date, camera settings such as aperture and exposure, often the latitude and longitude of the point from which the image was taken. All you have to do is provide a title, and your library software may even try to recognise people in the photo.

When you scan an old photo, all you get is the time and date of the scan, and technical information such as the model of scanner. There is, of course, no way of knowing when or where the original photo was taken – for the photo to be useful to you, you will have to enter those manually. Assuming that you already have that information to hand, it is likely to take longer, and require more effort on your part, to enter that information into the EXIF data which is attached to each image, than performing the scan itself.


Some photo libraries do provide some assistance. Photos, for all its rough edges, allows you to select images and time-shift them in a whole batch: that is helpful when you need to change a load of photos from a family holiday in June 2000, for example. But you are still going to want to tweak the dates individually, and to add information about location, as well as the title.

So when you think it is a good idea to scan in a couple of thousand old photos, don’t forget to allow for the many days which you will need to spend editing their EXIF data individually, so that it makes sense.