Putting the past on disk

It was one of those nights, music blurring into noise and boredom kicks in. Random memories flood; in need of a distraction. One of the things I’ve regretted is throwing data away. Not any garbage files, but data with sentimental values.

Growing up with a computer from a young age, most of my fond memories are encoded in bits.

Being always on the lookout for a clean break. I often just deleted off my history, internet and physical. especially during school days.

Scanner Collage of random things

Back to that night, I wanted to find myself on the old-web. With careful google advance search queries with specific references, I managed to dig some of the old blogs. Lightheaded I scrolled through these blogs trying to save everything I can. Memories left recessed within, resurfaced with an old but familiar bad taste in my mouth.

Dusty photo albums

Another day. With the work from home grind during the COVID-19 pandemic, I step out of my room for a breather. I see outside, mum is rummaging through a box of old photo albums. I join her for a little roller-coster ride of the days past.

I haven’t seen most of these photos. Many of them are of me doing various things with some occasional nudes sprinkled in(why?). With my recent encounter with my teenage blogs and the strong feeling of “need-for-archiving”, I ask my mum to take the photos out of the albums to get scanned.

Physical hard-copies are the best form for these pictures to survive, but remember “Backups are important”!

The scanning project

I return to my room to pick work back up, But I was giddy to get this project started. During breaks between work calls, Googling was done; on to figure the best way to get these photos down to disk. I set a mental mission for this project,

Get all the photos backed up as easily as possible at the best quality. Make them easily accessible.

With that in mind, I first needed a Scanner. I don’t have a scanner myself but my uncle has many of them. He’s the sort of cool uncle who migrated to digital early on. He used to digitize a lot of images, but the backup mediums were poor, He tired.

The Scanner

I waited till my uncle gets home from work. Bit of small talk and I asked for a scanner. Target acquired! The Canon CanoScan LIDE 100 is mine now! It’s a portable flatbed scanner from 2004. Sleek and bus-powered through USB. My iMac picked it up with zero monkeying around. Moment of appreciation for plug-and-play.

The Canon CanoScan LIDE 100 with the rest of my setup

It’s has a TWAIN-compatible driver, so now I need SANE. If you’re scratching your head right about now and ready to “Search Google for” now please refrain.

  • TWAIN is an API for communication between software and digital imaging cameras or scanners.
  • SANE stands for “Scanner Access Now Easy” what a lovely acronym! It’s a standardised interface to access image scanners.

“Well Kaveen, why use SANE when you have TWAIN?” The SANE project home-page explains it best

“In summary, if TWAIN had been just a little better designed, there would have been no reason for SANE to exist, but things being the way they are, TWAIN simply isn’t SANE.”

Tech tangent aside, with SANE I can quickly get a TIFF out of the scanner without having to cry interacting with GUIs.

scanimage -p \\  
    --mode color \\  
    --format tiff \\  
    --resolution 600 > \`date +%s\`.tiff

Some might say that is INSANE. The above configuration is to scan at 600 DPI in colour.

Scanning The Photos

Moving along. Armed with SANE now, I must decide how I can get the most of my time. I have a couple of options regarding how to take on the scanning.

⚠️ Important note: I don’t want to do the manual labour of cropping pictures, I’ll waste my time automating it instead.

  1. Scan a single image at a time — Too slow but I can quickly crop using a set coordinates.
  2. Setup a scan layout with multiple images — Fast and I can establish multiple crop areas using coordinates, but can’t accommodate different photo sizes.
  3. auto-mask and identify multiple images — AUTO-MAGICK.

The Scanning Layout Selected, Photos are aligned with the edges of the scanner. but precision is not required as auto-masking will be used.

I went the auto-magick route, that’s no misspelling but let’s revisit that part later in this account.

I created myself a little bash script to keep continually scanning. It will simply let me scan images and save each of the TIFF files with the current timestamp as the name.

while true; do  
  scanimage -p \\  
    --mode color \\  
    --format tiff \\  
    --resolution 600 > \`date +%s\`.tiff

echo "Press Any Key but ESC to continue scanning"  
  read -r -n1 key  
  if \[\[ $key == $'\\e' \]\]; then  

Splitting The Scanned TIFF files

“Image Magick” that’s what saved this project. It’s mind-blowing to know that Image Magick project had its initial release almost 30 years ago!

During my initial research for this project, I came across this script called “multicrop” by Fred Weinhaus. He also has some amazing scripts utilising IM(Image Magick). With multicrop, it’s just,

./multicrop -f 20 \\  
    -u 1 \\  
    -d 300 \\  
    -p 10 \\  
    -b '#e9ecea' \\  
    in.tiff out.tiff

Just by running this bash script it automatically masks out the blank spaces and spits out multiple output tiff files! Multicrop was a godsend, but

☹️ It didn’t work out of the box under my circumstance. The results were all over the place.

Why wasn’t multicrop working for me?

After scratching my head for some time, It was the scans! My scanner doesn’t spit out a uniform background. The backing of the scanner has deformed in the corners which appear on the scans; to the script, these look like part of an image.

How did I catch this? The multicrop script has `-m` switch that allows you to save the mask for debugging purposes.

./multicrop -f 20 \\  
    -u 1 \\  
    -d 300 \\  
    -p 10 \\  
    -b '#e9ecea' \\  
    -m save \\  
    in.tiff out.tiff

The left image shows the raw mask of the scanner and the right is after being trimmed via IM.

This should be a fairly trivial fix as I can lose some of the pixels on the edges and get rid of the problem. IM back to the rescue!

magick convert in.tiff \\  
    -shave 15x45 \\  

As you can see the result is apparent, The script is now able to separate scans with a negligible amount of failures. Now we’re full steam ahead on getting all these scanned images processed!

End of the line, writing a bash-script to bulk process the scans

Crisis averted, To wrap up, a folder structure was established to keep images in albums for easy organisation. This will help in the last part which is syncing the images on the cloud provider.

⚠️ Warning: Please excuse the crudeness of these bash scripts


processIt () {  
    echo "Shaving edges of $1"  
    tmpFile="/tmp/sane\_scan\_$(date +%s).tiff"  
    magick convert "$1" -shave 15x45 $tmpFile  
    ./multicrop -f 20 \\  
        -u 1 \\  
        -d 300 \\  
        -p 10 \\  
        -b '#e9ecea' \\  
        $tmpFile "./$2/$3"  
    rm $tmpFile  
    echo "Processed Under $outPath/$fileName"  

find $imagePath -name "\*.tiff" | while read line; do  
    fileName=$(basename "$line")  
    fileName=${fileName// /\_}  
    fileDir=$(dirname "$line")  
    outPath=${outPath// /\_}  
    mkdir -p "$outPath"  
    # Check Path  
    echo "checking path $checkPath"  
    if ls $checkPath 1> /dev/null 2>&1; then  
        echo "files do exist for '$line'"  
        processIt "$line" "$outPath" "$fileName"  

This first script will take the scanned images; do the aforementioned trimming and run it through multicrop.


🥳 Profit! Now you have an output folder with albums and splitter tiff files.

The easily accessible part of the mission

Hold on, the mission of this project had “Make the albums easily accessible.”. At this point, I’ve already synced these photos to a cloud drive and another local-offline backup.

As for the ease of access, I decided to add the images to my cloud photos manager Google Photos. Scripting time!


ls $imagePath | while read album; do  
    albumTitle=${album//\_/ }  
    albumTitle="${albumTitle%% }"

echo "Syncing $albumTitle"  
    rclone sync $imagePath/$album \\  
        Photos:album/"$albumTitle" -P  

Apart from some album renaming the heavy lifting is done by Rclone and it’s Google Photos backend.

The End. Memories On Google Photos

🎉 Done! Now I’m able to browse photos easily on Google Photos and share it with my parents!


It feels great to write something again. Apart from feelings and sorts. In short, the following points summarize this project in total.

Happiness, Me feeding “Rollo” the cat cake on my 7th birthday (2004)

  • Back your shiz up — For images as said before physical is the way to go, but always have a secondary soft-copy.
  • Think twice before you delete anything, you might regret later.
  • Image Magick is amazing. I’ve been converted. I actually manipulated all of the images for this post using IM.

Personally, this was my first entry into bash-scripting as I often use Python for most automation tasks. And with tools like IM, it’s unbelievably easy to write image related scripts in bash. Next is ffmpeg….


Heh, I have more if you’re interested. Some stuff that is too boring to cram into the main section

Multicrop parameter Notes

Configuration Notes:-b ‘#e9ecea’ — Background Color to be masked out
-f 20 — fuzzy match background threshold (for non-uniform backgrounds)
-d 300 — discard identified regions if they are smaller than 300 pixels

Adding EXIF Data & Compressing to HEIC

I created an EXIF data script that will extract the date or year from the folder and embed it into the image. I decided to compress the images to HEIC which is much better than JPEG compression.


ls $imagePath | while read album; do  
    albumTitle=${album//\_/ }  
    if \[\[ "$albumTitle" =~ $yearRegex \]\]; then  
        echo "Found Year in title $guessYear, Setting EXIF Data"  
        exiftool -overwrite\_original \\  
            -xmp:dateTimeOriginal="$guessYear:1:1" \\  
            -r $imagePath/$album/  
    if \[\[ "$albumTitle" =~ $dateRegex \]\]; then  
        echo "Found Date in title $guessYear/$guessMonth/$guessDay, Setting EXIF Data"  
        exiftool -overwrite\_original \\  
            -xmp:dateTimeOriginal="$guessYear:$guessMonth:$guessDay" \\  
            -r $imagePath/$album/  
    if ls $imagePath/$album/compressed 1> /dev/null 2>&1; then  
        echo "Album $albumTitle already compressed"  
        echo "Compressing $albumTitle to $targetFormat"  
        (cd $imagePath/$album ; magick mogrify -quality 100% -format $targetFormat \*.tiff)  
        (cd $imagePath/$album ; mkdir -p compressed; mv \*.$targetFormat compressed)  

Note: Ultimately these tags were not picked up by Google Photos for some reason I suspect it’s the HEIC format.

Q: How many photos did I back up?

Not that much, 371

➜  find ./out -name "\*.tiff" | wc -l