Scanning Your Photographs

The English scientist William Henry Fox Talbot invented the first method to make paper photographs in the 1840s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the digital camera began to revolutionize photography. Most of us still have photo albums and boxes full of photographs printed on paper. In 2002, Apple came out with iPhoto, allowing us Mac users to view and organize our digital photo collections.

A photo album owned by Indian travel writer Saktipada Bhattacharyya.  2017 CREATIVE COMMONS PUBLIC DOMAIN.

A photo album owned by Indian travel writer Saktipada Bhattacharyya.


Since we started using digital cameras, we have had two kinds of photos: paper and digital. We organized our paper photographs into physical albums, or just threw them into shoeboxes to organize later. We used iPhoto (and later Photos) to organize our images on the computer, or left them on the desktop or in our documents folders.

Most of us now dread the process of scanning all those paper photographs and merging them with their digital sisters. As usual, there are two approaches to this quagmire, er... issue.

bin of photos.JPG

You may have a multipurpose printer with a scanning function. The quality won’t be as good as a dedicated scanner, but you can scan each of those hundreds (probably thousands) of photos and then import them into PHOTOS. (I’m going to capitalize PHOTOS from now on when I mean the program.) You will need to learn a bit about resolution for the results to be any good. If you go this route, I suggest getting an Epson scanner for about $200. Getting a $600 scanner will produce slightly better results. Make sure you can scan negatives and slides. I train lots of my clients to do casual scanning. For a giant scanning project that will go on for months, I can create a step-by-step instruction document customized to your particular equipment. You may even know a teenager that would take on such a job for you. Just give them my instructions.

It is hard to send off your shoe boxes of old photographs to a company that will scan them for you. (Hint: It is easier after you send out the first box and get it returned with all the scans.) I have decided it is even harder to risk those treasured memories to fire (or other natural disaster). There are several advantages to sending your photos to a dedicated scanning service:

1) They have better equipment, and they are better trained, so you will end up with better quality images.

2) They take the time to remove staples, paper clips, sticky notes, and clean each photograph before scanning.

3) They align the photograph so it is not crooked.

4) They have quality control steps to ensure the best results, and label each image correctly.

5) They take days or weeks instead of months (or years), so the project is not hanging over your head.

Either way, when the scanning is done, with proper backups, your photos are safe* when you are away from home. Also, you can now share them with loved ones.

*They are in the cloud. See my blog post on why you need a cloud backup.

I use two companies for such purposes: Memories Renewed, and DigMyPics. Sorting through albums and loose photographs, and organizing them for scanning, can be a slow process. I can help with that process as well. It is important to note that these services can scan odd-sized mementos like newspapers, certificates, and diplomas as well. They can also restore damaged photos.

After your photographs are scanned, I can help you organize them in PHOTOS.