WRITTEN BY: LEON H

It’s not unusual to find handwriting on photos when looking through your family memories at home. Notes describing people in the photo and when it was taken are commonly found on the back side of photographs or the edge of slide frames. Depending on the record keeping practices of your family you may find this is commonplace as you sort through your media. Once you’ve decided to digitize your images the questions of if and how to capture this information must then be answered. 

Is it worth recording this information?

Vintage Christmas Card with handwriting on the back

In most cases it probably is. People and events in recent photos might seem obvious now, but will future generations feel the same? Consider the difference in examining a photo of someone you are distantly related to versus examining the same photo and knowing exactly who, when, and even why the photo was taken. Just a small bit of information can go a long way towards keeping us connected to our past. 

What are my options for handwriting on photos?

Information that appears outside of the photo’s image can either be transcribed or scanned. This information often appears on the reverse side of the photo but can also be found behind the image, written next to it, or similarly close by. Both of these capture methods have unique advantages so it’s important to understand the differences before settling on an option.

Caption Transcription

Image Slides with Captions

With caption transcription, all captions and written notes are manually transcribed and included in either the filename or metadata of the scanned image. Transcriptions in either location will provide the ability to search your digitized photos based on the information provided in the caption. This is a good option if you are looking to add a layer of organization to your project.

TIP:
To search a metadata field in most image programs, type “title: Aruba” and it will search the title field for the word Aruba, rather than searching for tags, visuals of turtles or anything else.
Photo captions in metadata

The recorded information can be viewed in multiple ways depending on your operating system and preference. In Windows, captions can be viewed from the details tab of the file properties, in the ‘Title’ field by setting the ‘View’ options to ‘Details’, or with the search bar by typing “title: [subject]”.

In Mac OS image metadata can easily be viewed, filtered, sorted, and searched with the Photos program.
viewing captions in windows

Keep in mind that due to character count limits transcription length is capped at a certain point. If there is an extensive amount of text to transcribe (more than a few sentences) capturing an image of the text may be a better approach.

Reverse Side Image Scans

Vintage Military ID Card with Notes

The second option for capturing information located outside the image of the photo itself (typically on the reverse side) is to scan the information as a separate image. These reverse side image scans will be presented alongside the corresponding photo as a diptych, a single image of two photos, in the final archive. Individual images files for all front side scans will also be provided in the returned project.

diptychs of scan backs in final archive to preserve the handwriting on photos
Diptychs of scan backs in final archive

For many the nostalgia inherent in the handwriting of a loved one or family member makes reverse side image scanning a profound addition to their family archive. This is also a great option for preserving information that would otherwise be lost to transcription, for example, drawings and diagrams, or if your photos include extensive text or writing in another language. Keep in mind that scans alone do not provide a way to search a collection of image files in the same way caption transcription does.

Handwritten Vintage Postcard

If you determine the benefits of each option are particularly important to your project, the services can always be combined. This would provide you with original image scans and a transcription of all written information as a way of identifying and searching through your digitized files.

It’s also worth noting that photos within albums, particularly sticky page and scrapbook formats albums, frequently include handwriting on photos not visible until the photos are lifted. If your project includes albums or scrapbooks pages it’s worth taking a quick look to locate any hidden handwriting so that you can consider the best means of capture in advance. When we encounter captions in albums, we have the ability to crop the caption into your final photo. For more details on this, you can visit one of our original posts on the importance of photo captions.

Vintage Photo Album with handwriting on photos

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