Going Digital in an Analog World

going digital graphic

Every day you find information that is useful for you, but perhaps it’s difficult to store. Such things like interesting magazines or newspaper articles, community newsletters, or flyers you get in the mail and want to keep for later. For many people, myself included, this information is literally piling up at home.

When I read a travel brochure that has one or two interesting articles, I keep the whole brochure for later reference. If I find a good story in the newspaper I usually pull out the page and put it somewhere with my other, “good to have information.”

You get the picture. Not only do you clutter up your home, you eventually run out of space.

So I started looking for ways to turn this information from the “analog world” into digital information that I can keep and use later. That way I can store thousands of pages on a regular hard disk, taking no more space than one pocket book.

Where to Start?

Lately there’s been a lot of news about Google digitizing books, so I started my search looking for DIY solutions for digitizing books. It turned out that none of the solutions I found were possible to build within the time I have available. I needed something quick to set up.

Using some Python programming knowledge, I started looking at open source modules and code bits I could learn from. One of the more promising hints I found was gPhoto. That probably would have worked, but I didn’t have the time to write a program.

Then I came to think of the OS X application Automator that comes bundled with all Mac computers. If you have never used Automator, it might be worth trying out — it can save you a lot of time.

Automator allows you to create sequences of events (like starting applications, moving files, renaming files, rescaling images, etc.) that you can later repeat by running your sequence again.

Many of the applications on your Mac can already interface with Automator, and some of the functionality in your application may be available as flow actions (events) in Automator. With this in mind, I checked Automator, and sure enough I found an action for taking a picture. I decided to test it.

The Solution

The camera I used was not the latest, fancy model, au contraire — a Canon PowerShot G2 from 2001(yes, almost a decade old). Not only had I never connected it to my Mac, but I was not sure the battery was still working. I charged and tested it – it worked just fine even though it has been years since I used it. With a USB-cable, I connected the camera to the Mac.

start workflowI started Automator, typed ‘picture’ in the search box and the ‘Take Picture’ action was listed in the search results.

To create a workflow, the first action you add is run first, then the second action, and so on. I clicked the ‘Take Picture’ action and pulled it over to the right side of the application, where the workflow is built. The computer automatically detected that I had my Canon PowerShot G2 connected, and the name was listed in the action box.

To try it out, I created a test folder and selected it under ‘Download To:’. Then, I clicked the Run button. Amazing, it just worked! The old camera focused, took a picture with flash and sent it over to my test folder on the Mac. It couldn’t be easier.

Wrap Up

Now I had the foundation set up, the camera working, and the computer set to control the camera and pull out the images. However, the process needed polishing to get it all set for smooth image capture and archiving.

full workflowFirst of all, I wanted to check that each image was fine after it was taken. I searched for ‘open’ in the Automator search box and found an action called ‘Open Finder Items.’ I pulled this action over to the right side and placed it under the ‘Take Picture’ action.

There’s an arrow showing from the first action (‘Take Picture’) to the second action (‘Open Finder Items’). This arrow indicates that the output of the first action is used as input for the second action. In this case, the image taken in the first action is sent to the ‘Open Finder Items’ action, which then opens that image.

I did some more searches in Automator and found actions to pause, close the application showing the image, and loop the flow. My finished workflow can be seen in the screenshot to the right. It now loops through the flow with some pauses in between so I can view images and verify whether they turn out well before taking my next picture.


For my current purposes, I am pleased with this information storage solution, not to mention the possibility to remove and recycle piles of papers and magazines, and have more space at home.

The next step is to make the information searchable which requires some sort of tagging and/or OCR. To organize my data, I can also use a tool like Evernote, which can search text inside images.

If you have another camera model, this solution might just work with yours too. Because it relies on OS X native camera support, you will have support for a large range of cameras. If you have a high-end DSLR camera you might already have software for remote-controlled picture taking. Check the discs that you got with the camera.