Scanning Photos and Documents

This section will give you recommendations for scanning photos and documents for your ShtetLinks pages \ ShtetLinks Photograph Gallery. It is not intended to be a primer on scanning or instructions for your particular scanner or software. Whether you own a scanner, have enlisted a friend's scanner to help, or are using a service bureau such as Kinko's, the basic principles are the same.

If you do not have access to a scanner, but would like to include photos on your site, JewishGen will provide scanning services for you. Read the guidelines for more information.


All sites must have an executed ShtetLinks Material Donor Agreement, on file before they can be uploaded to the JewishGen server. JewishGen cannot post any copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder. Since we have no blanket permissions from any source, you are responsible for getting that permission. The rule of thumb, for the time being, is that on pictures taken before 1925, all persons who appear to be adults can be considered to be no longer alive. Of course, if you have knowledge that people in a picture are still alive, you must get their permission. If you know they are all deceased, there should be no problem. Our attorneys are still reviewing some of the copyright laws as they apply to the internet, and it may be necessary to change this rule in the future.

A Delicate Balance

When you are scanning photos or documents for the web, you are balancing two opposites: file size and resolution. Ideally, every photo would be as big as your screen and as sharp as possible, however, setting your scanning software to accomplish that end will cause the resulting files to be huge and unweildy for web purposes. Remember that web users do not like to spend time waiting for graphics to download (do you?). Even though your cemetery picture is really amazing, you might not keep your audience's attention long enough to download that 200K file.

The two variables you can play with in your scanning software in order to manage the file size are the resolution ("dots per inch" or "dpi") and the amount of screen the photograph takes up when it's displayed (either in inches or in pixels of width and height). Below are some recommended settings.

If your photo or document is in black and white

Have it scanned in black and white. That may sound like a no-brainer, but if your scanner is set for color and you put that black and white photo on it, you will be creating a much larger file than necessary.

If you want multiple photos on one page

Each photo or graphic you put on the page adds to the downloading time because each graphic is loaded individually. If you really need to have multiple photos on a page, the best approach is to use "thumbnails", or smaller versions of the pictures, and then link them to a larger version of the same photo. This way you give the user a choice of seeing the larger photo (and waiting for it to download!) or not. It's a good idea to add a legend to the photo showing the size of the file to help the user make a decision (e.g. "Click here for a larger view of this photo (100K)").

Recommended Settings for Scanning

Ideally, the size of your graphics files should be no larger than 60K. In order to achieve that, here are some rules of thumb:

  1. Scan at 72 dpi resolution. Most monitors cannot display higher resolution than that anyway.
  2. Set the maximum width (or height, if it's a vertically oriented picture) to around 400-500 pixels across. That's a little less than the width of your html page display. If the photo is not as large as an 8 X 10, you can go considerably smaller.
  3. If you are using a thumbnail, make the width of the graphic from 75 to 100 pixels, depending upon the orientation of the graphic.
  4. If the photo is black and white, select "Gray" rather than color.
  5. If you have an 8 X 10 and you are worried about losing detail, you can scan the photo at the 50% setting. This will cause less loss of information if you have to shrink it to get it to 400 pixels wide.
  6. Use the Trim tools in your software to get rid of any excess space around the edges. Sometimes photos are padded with areas that hold no information. Don't be afraid to chop off those areas if they are not needed.
  7. Save (or export) the file in the format called JPEG. Most scanning software can create files of several different formats, however, the most universally recognizable on the web are JPEG and GIF. If you can, use JPEG. Otherwise, GIF.

Scanning Documents for Legibility

The rules of thumb above apply to documents as well as to photographs, with the exception that a third element has to enter the equation: legibility. Depending upon the purpose of the document in your website (e.g. just to serve as a visual example of something vs. providing detailed information) you might need to allow a bigger file size in order to preserve enough detail for the document to be legible. If the printing on the document is small, you can scan it at more than 100%, depending upon your software settings. After you have scanned the document, check to see how many pixels wide it is. If it's more than 400-500, the user will have to scroll sideways to see the right side. Reducing the size after scanning sometimes causes a loss of resolution, so it's better to scan at the correct percentage than to scan it larger and then reduce it. You might have to try a lot of different settings in order to get a final product that you are happy with.

In nearly every case, a scanned document will take much longer to load and be more difficult to read than a text file of the same information. Scanning documents is recommended only in cases where the format or appearance of the document has some historical or aesthetic significance above and beyond the information contained on it (see an example here). If the information is the key part, then an image of the actual document might not be necessary. Consider keying the information into a text file rather than scanning the document. It might seem easier to scan pages from a Yizkor book or city directory, but your up-front investment of time will save others the time of waiting for downloads, disk space on your server, and provide better legibility for users over the long run.

Submitting Images for the Shtetlinks Photo Gallery

Please remember when submitting an image for inclusion within the Gallery that you need a relevant name for the image. Many images will require a caption. When submitting an image, please clearly identify which caption is for which image if you are submitting many of them. Please note you only have to provide one image, we will create a thumbnail of the main image. Finally please send the image(s) to ShtetLinks Coordinators. and clearly mark that it is for inclusion within the Shtetlinks Photograph Gallery

Links to other sites for more technical scanning tips:

  • Scanning Tips Links from the Mining Company Site
  • A few scanning tips - by Wayne Fulton
  • Know of any other sites with good scanning tips that should be added to this list? Drop me a note: John Berman


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