Tuesday Tip: How to digitize your old photos

Tuesday Tip: How to digitize your old photos

Photographs. On paper. Remember them? If you’re of a certain age, you probably have a bunch of them in a box somewhere. Probably some really cool ones that’d look great on your social media pages (#fbf anyone?), not to mention those old family pictures that you’d like to preserve and share.

In order to make this happen, what you need to do is digitize those photos. Here’s how.

Get sorted

Before you dive in, take some time to arrange your photos into categories. This may sound obvious—and perhaps unnecessary—but keep in mind that you’ll be storing your newly digitized photos on your computer, external drive or in the cloud with a service like iCloud, Dropbox or Google Photos and it will be a lot easier to store your pictures and find them again if you’re well organized from the start.

Now, once you’ve got your photos sorted into categories, it’s time to scan them. You have several options to do this.

Use your phone or tablet

If you have just a few photos to scan and you want to expend minimum effort (which, after all, is pretty much what today’s on-demand society is about) you can simply put a photo down flat and take a picture of it with the camera on your phone or tablet. This is easy—but it won’t deliver the best result.

A better (less easy) method is to download a scanning app and use that. There are some good ones out there now, although not as many as you might guess. Here are two photo-scanning apps available in both Android and iOS versions.

  • Google PhotoScan: If you’re looking for quick-and-easy quality, this is it. The app is simple to use (it’s designed specifically to scan photos) and it virtually eliminates glare, which is the bane of many other photo-scanning apps. It takes around 25 seconds to scan one photograph.
  • Photomyne: The advantage of Photomyne is its time-saving ability to scan more than one photo at once. It also gives you the option to tag photos with names, dates, locations, and descriptions. Color rendering is good, though other apps do a slightly better job. If you want to save a lot of albums with Photomyne, you’ll have to pay a subscription fee.

Get a good scanner

If you have a lot of photos to scan and you want high quality, this is the way to go. Yes, it’s an investment. But you can use your new scanner for much more than photos: documents, receipts for expenses, your passport when you travel—a lot of stuff.

There are several different types of scanners on the market. What you want is a flatbed scanner, which looks a bit like the top half of a copying machine: a glass bed where you lay your photo, a lid you close, a button you push to scan. Flatbed scanners, because they’re larger, produce the best image quality.

You can get a decent flatbed scanner from a recognizable brand for around $100. And nowadays even the lower-end scanners have handy features like photo editing and direct uploading to the cloud, which lets you send images straight to your cloud-storage account.

Choose your file format

Once you’ve scanned a photo, you have to save it—and when you do, you’ll have to choose a file format, most likely JPEG, PNG, TIFF or GIF. Which is the best? Depends on what you plan to do with your newly digitized photos.


The most popular format for photos that are uploaded and emailed, and probably the one you should choose. JPEG supports a full spectrum of colors and it’s practically universal—just about all devices and programs can open and save JPEGs. JPEG files are smaller than other formats, which means they’re compressed. This is good if you’re storing a lot of photos. But it’s not so good if you plan to edit your photos extensively. Each time you open, edit and save a JPEG, you lose quality.


A format designed to preserve quality. The upside is you can edit TIFF photos often with no loss of resolution. The downside is TIFF files, because they’re not compressed, use a lot of storage space. Almost any editing app will work with TIFF files.


A small file size that also maintains original quality, because PNG uses “lossless” compression. Unlike JPEG, the PNG format keeps text and logos crisp when posting online, so PNG is good for social media images with text and PowerPoints, etc.


Best for simple web graphics, not so good for scanned photos because the GIF format does not support a full spectrum of colors.

You’ll also have a choice of DPI (dots per inch) settings when you scan.
  • Print – 300 DPI: for printing photos, 300 DPI is fine, because that’s the most your average printer is made to handle.
  • Screen – 72 DPI: If your photos will be seen only on screen, choose 72 DPI, which is standard for most social media platforms and will produce smaller files that don’t take up too much storage space.
  • Fine Art – 600 DPI: Scan at 600 DPI to ensure you capture maximum color and detail. Scanning above 600 DPI will make your files larger but won’t give you more image detail.

Scanning your old photos takes a fair number of hours, true, but the satisfaction of having your pictures digitized, stored, and easy to share is worth the time. Enjoy.