A stone floor, wall, and stairwell. The wall has three square or rectangular areas cut into it, as it serves as a summer kitchen. Flower pots are all around.

Photo Detective Work in the Digital Age

A bit of detective work is always involved in photo organizing, and not just for old photos. Even with digital devices, timestamps aren’t always correct; you may need to determine photo order and rename files accordingly. A detailed travel itinerary won’t necessarily help you identify key sites such as the Gloriette, Neptune Fountain or Roman Ruin (all at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria). Photos taken on the same day may be from entirely different countries or cities; pay close attention to the timestamps to recreate a day’s journey.

A previous post addressed allocating space in a photo book. This post builds on the earlier one and includes scanning trip memorabilia to personalize a book, an explanation of the detective work mentioned above, and a few frustrations encountered along the way.

Organizing photos from three devices

The photos to be used in an Eastern Europe photo book for my sister’s 2018 trip came from three different devices: a digital camera and two iPhones. I could tell that the camera photos had incorrect timestamps (some showed times of 4:00 a.m.), and I was not sure by how many hours I should adjust them. I elected to compare photos of the exact same location (e.g., a waterfall at Krka National Park) across devices. I was able to determine that the timestamp for each camera file was off by about six hours.

A screen shot of a waterfall on the left and Exif data for the photo on the ri8.ght; the Exif data shows the photo was taken at 4:18 AM on 9/12/201
Waterfall at Krka National Park with 4:18 a.m. timestamp (digital camera).
A picture of a waterfall on the left and Exif data for the photo on the right. The Exif data shows the photo was taken at 10:27 AM.
Krka National Park photo with 10:27 a.m. timestamp, iPhone 7 Plus.

In addition to the time adjustment necessary for camera images, I noticed that the first few camera photos actually had timestamps for the year 2017 (the wrong year often indicates there was a battery issue with the camera). With the exception of the 2017 timestamps, the dates for the camera photos were reliable, but the time-of-day portion of the timestamp always had to be adjusted as I worked to integrate the camera photos with the iPhone photos.

To locate the timestamp for each image on an iMac, I viewed each photo in Preview. Under Tools, I selected Show Inspector and the Exif tab to view the Date Time Digitized and Date Time Original. A previous post discusses Photo date fields (origination, creation, modification) and why the dates that appear in Finder are not the ones you want to rely on for photo organizing.

Converting HEIC to JPG

Some of the images were in HEIC format, others were JPG. My sister and I had agreed the photo book would be designed using Shutterfly, so all of the images had to be converted to JPG (Shutterfly does not accept other file formats). Fortunately, I had done batch conversions for a family wedding in late 2019, so I applied my saved Quick Action to convert all of the HEIC images.

Scanning memorabilia

My sister had wisely saved a small number of memorabilia items to be scanned and included in the photo book as appropriate. Readers familiar with Shutterfly will know about Stickers and Backgrounds, which are particular to each photo book Style. Scanning memorabilia is a way to personalize photo book pages with unique backgrounds and stickers; some examples follow.

  • Scanned memorabilia becomes a “personalized sticker”

This page includes Shutterfly Stickers and a “personalized sticker.” See below for information on the street map as a background.

A screenshot of a Shutterfly photo book page. It has four photographs and a Hotel label. The background is a street map of Vienna, Austria.
The coffee pot and thumb tacks are Shutterfly Stickers; the hotel logo in the lower right was scanned and uploaded to Shutterfly (what I consider a “personalized sticker”).
  • Scanned maps as page backgrounds and images

The scanned street map of Vienna, Austria (above) served as a page background, as did a map that includes the Island of Šolta (below).

A screenshot of a photo book page. The background is a green map of the Adriatic Sea. The page also includes 5 photographs in frames.
The background for this page is a scanned map of the Adriatic Sea; the map was on a brochure for an olive oil factory that my sister toured.
A screenshot of part of a photo book page. It features two photos taken after dark and a map that shows a restaurant location in Split, Croatia.
The middle image is a map showing the location of a restaurant that my sister dined at in Split, Croatia.
  • Incorporating hotel key cards

The key card image of this hotel turned out to be the only picture the group had of it (no one had remembered to take a photo).

A screenshot of a photo book page with a light green background. Split appears in the middle, with two images above and four images below.
The front and back of the Hotel Marul key card (top two images), incorporated here as photos.
  • Postcards: “Personalized sticker” and Shutterfly Sticker

Fortunately, the design of the scanned postcard was a good match for the Shutterfly book style that my sister selected.

  • Memorabilia I was unable to use

Not every memorabilia item scanned well. One hotel had a maroon business card with gold lettering. I previewed the scanned image, realized it wasn’t appealing, and didn’t even bother to scan it.

I wish it was possible to upload PNG files to Shutterfly – a way to truly create our own stickers. I was happy with the scanned version of this round paper coaster from a hotel, which Preview allowed me to crop as a circle and save as a PNG file. But, I could not upload it to Shutterfly (remember, only JPG files can be uploaded). A picture of the same item with 90-degree corners was not useful. I ended up not including the coaster in the book.

Itinerary provides guidance

A group of five individuals traveled to Eastern Europe; the trip was coordinated for them by an Ohio-based travel company. A seven-page itinerary (not pictured) was provided for my reference; it was invaluable in determining what section of the trip the various memorabilia items aligned with. The abbreviated version of the itinerary that appears in the photo book (below) shows that for multiple locations, there were day trips to nearby sites.

A portion of a photo book page. The countries visited (4) appear at the top, and the dates in various cities appear below.
Zagreb, Split, and Dubrovnik served as bases – with day trips to the other sites.

By comparing photo timestamps to the itinerary, I was able to determine that photos taken on the same date were actually from three different locations (the GPS tab can also assist, if populated with data):

A photo of a church appears on the left; Exif data about the photo, including the date and time it was taken, appear on the right.
Since this was a morning photo, the itinerary confirmed it was taken in Medjugorje.
An image of a man and woman seated at the side of water, with small boats in front of them, their backs to the camera. Green hills appear on the other side of the water.
Notes from my sister indicated this was a lunch spot between Medjugorje and Dubrovnik; the timestamp confirms this.
An image of a sunset over water appears on the left; on the right, the date and time of the photo appear as Exif data.
The travel group arrived in Dubrovnik for dinner at their hotel (evening timestamp).

There were only a few photos from Medjugorje, so instead of devoting an entire photo book page to this location, I used Ribbon Embellishments in Shutterfly to create a different background within a page for two pictures. The Medjugorje photos were taken on the same day as other images on this photo book page, but at a different time.

A screenshot of a photo book page with two photos from a church in the upper right and six photos of a lunch spot on the water in the lower left.
The purple ribbons in the upper right provide a background that separates the Medjugorje photos from the lunch spot photos.

Allocation of pages in the book

To allocate pages within the photo book, I used the same method described in an previous post. One difference this time around was that I did not select the front and back cover photos in advance. I was not on the trip, so I decided the best approach was to “live” it and create the entire book first; I expected this would enable me to identify which photos best captured the trip as experienced by the travelers. For this particular book, that approach worked well (the feature photo for this post was the book’s front cover photo).

This Excel spreadsheet captures my approach to determining how many pages to devote to each segment of the trip.

A screen shot of an Excel spreadsheet with 7 columns. The far right column explains the reasoning for how many pages are allocated to each part of the trip.
I calculate the number of pages for each event based on how many photos were taken at various locations, then I adjust for special circumstances as noted in red font.

Foreign characters

Shutterfly does offer foreign characters (e.g., umlaut) in some instances. I followed these instructions on how to insert them. Inserting an umlaut on the Schönbrunn Palace page was not a problem, but I was unable to insert a caron for either Šolta or Šibenik (I received the error, “Invalid characters removed”). I tried changing the font within the photo book style, but that did not prevent the error. I got a bit creative on one page and placed the olive from an olive branch Shutterfly Sticker above the S to mimic the caron.

Viennese coffee

I had an unexpected benefit from working on this photo book: an introduction to Viennese coffee. It was referenced on the trip itinerary, and I wanted to give it a try. I made ours with Nespresso Lungo pods (no particular flavor), fresh whipped cream (whipped it myself), and Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate syrup. It has become our standard late-morning treat while staying at home for COVID-19 social distancing.

A screenshot of a travel itinerary fro 9/5/2018 in Vienna. A sentence about Viennese coffee is highlighted in yellow.
Espresso infused with whipped cream? Count me in!
A lime green Nespresso machine holds a small white espresso cup. To the right of the machine are Hershey's Special Dark Syrup, heavy whipping cream, and three Nespesso pods.
Ready to make more Viennese coffee.

Shutterfly photo book style: Vintage Travel. Size: 12 x 12.

Photo credits: Susan D. DiGiacomo and Eugene F. Pushic

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