Dating scanned photos

A few years ago I scanned nearly 8000 photos. I have since placed these into multiple Albums in Apple Photos. Now I want to go back and add dates. I need help to develop a strategy for adding dates. Almost all of these will be guesstimates.

For example, If I have a photo that I believe to be from the 1940s , should I just add a date of Jan 1st 1940? And maybe add a keyword “circa” for every picture without the exact date?. If it looks like to was a Christmas picture should I date it Dec 1 or 25, 1940? If it’s summer should I date it June 1, 1940?

Should I add a caption “Uncle Festus - circa 1940s”? The reason I would use captions is because if these were exported to Google Photos (which some family members use) Apple captions will appear as Google descriptions. Google does not use titles nor keywords.

I am interested in hearing how others approach this.

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In the end you’ve got to do what’s right for you. I have an album for each year which is called “Random 1999” which includes photos with no date which I know to be from that year, or which isn’t a major event (where I took lots of photos).

Sometimes a good guesstimate is the best your can do. Learn what you can from what is displayed in the photo. A photo of my mother as an tiny infant, being held by my grandmother, outside of their home, in good weather, had to be taken May - August 1923. You can occasionally narrow your guess by the location where the photo was taken, signs or cars in the background, etc.

I also scanned the backs of the photos that contained handwritten notes or the date the photo was processed. In my case I have log books that I can refer to if I can identify the location, people, aircraft, boats, or cars. And in some cases even the equipment we were wearing.

If you plan to identify 8000 photos I would suggest you start with the easy ones, and the most important ones. In my book a grandmother scores higher than a second cousin. And, IMO, the older the photo the less important the date. Christmas 1940 is great. Just 1940 is good enough.

Finally I suggest you pace yourself. I got burned out and it took months before I returned to the project. Good luck.

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Agreed, little and often.

Good thoughts @geoffaire @WayneG. I definitely will pace through this.

I would recommend using plain text in the caption. It’s more portable, and also more flexible:


Using this approach, if you ever decide to use a tool like Hazel or AppleScript (or anything else) to extract the dates and make a catalog, or change file names, it’s all sortable by date.

“Summer” might not show up before “fall”, but they’ll show up together. You could instead use 1943-iii-Summer or 1943-06-summer, arbitrarily assigning a month to keep the order roughly right, but using the season to group those of uncertain date…

If you include a consistent prefix like date: 1943-06-03 it might be easier to extract the date info when you need it (since it’s a simpler pattern to match).

I never thought of using the caption field with tools like Hazel, AppleScript, etc. This may be beneficial to me or family members in the future. I think I still need to change the dates in the date field.

For dates/times, I don’t rely on captions, but on metadata.

  • ideally, I know time/date and set them in the metadata (EXIF)
  • second best: a good approximation. It really doesn’t matter for most photos if the day/hour is perfect, I am aware of the lack of precision, but still able to find the photos I am looking for
  • captions can be automated from EXIF. If you stick to “Jan 1, 00.00” for unknown dates, it’s easy to generate a “circa”. But I’d just leave it blank.

Good to know that captions can be automated. Thanks.