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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.

JPEG

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.

TIFF

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.

PNG

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.

GIF

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.

38 Comments on “Tuesday Tip: How to digitize your old photos

  1. To save $$ on buying equipment, check with your public library to see if they have scanners and related systems available for use.

  2. Thank you. I am technically deficient and simple explanations for terms some folks use regularly, is like a foreign language to me. I think I understand this, however, and I plan to put it to use.

  3. This has been an interesting discovery. We keep learning everyday. However I must have kept hundreds of paper photos spanning over five decades which are becoming cumbersome to keep and track.

    Sometimes my children take out some and at times old acquittances come around and like the m when they see themselves or people they know .

    Over the years some of these photos have been lost. This is the reason I think this information is a very interesting discovery for me.

    I hope to create the time to rearrange and categories the photos and get them ready for digitalising.

    Than you.

  4. Thanks for the useful information. Would you be able to recommend some more-than-decent scanners for 35mm slides?

  5. Much trickier than digitizing old photos is digitizing old Kodachrome slides.

    Given the millions of folks who have thousands of color slides stored in their basements and attics, an article on best, most efficient, and least costly ways of digitizing color slides would be most appreciated!

  6. For those with slides, I came up with a different way that works quite well. I have a Sony NEX5 with a Zeiss Touitt macro lens, but any good digital camera with macro lens that focuses down to a few inches will work. I made a small stand for the slides, then back lit them with an LED flood light. I made a holder for the camera to keep it from moving, then focused on the backlit slide itself and took a photo. For the best results I used an HDR setting which brought out bright and dark areas better than the original slide with uniform lighting. It worked very well and was fast.

    • You can get a scanner that will scan slides alone or a scanner that can do both pictures and slides. On my Old Epson 4490 Photo scanner a part of the lid comes off and you place a special tray on the scanner. As I remember it could hold four slides at once and scan negatives. The results were excellent. This scanner filled the need to scan all types of media. The current version of this type of Epson scanner is Epson Perfection V600 Color Photo, Image, Film, Negative & Document Scanner.

  7. Thanks! I needed this info. Please provide updates on these methods when improvements take place.

  8. I’m not quite clear. If I use a scanner will it then store the images on my computer. Do I need to tell it where?
    I have some heavy photo albums of trips I’d like to get rid of and they are already sorted into the trips. I have apple devices.

    • Hi Sandra! Yes, if you use a scanner that’s hooked up to your computer, the scanned files will live wherever you’d like them stored on your computer. If you have iCloud set up, drag them into iCloud and all of the pictures will show up in your phone where you can enjoy them in the palm of your hand wherever you go!

    • On all scanners I have used (mostly Epson) will allow you to scan to your computer. Most allow you to choose the folder you want the photos sent to. The best way to do this is to set up a folder on the desktop or in your Photos Folder. When you first start scanning, the software will ask you where you want the image stored. Select the the folder you wish to use. When you are done with with one trip or photo album, create another folder and change the the storage location where the files will be saved when scanned in the software. The Epson software also allows you to set up the numbering of the photos and the name the software will save the image as. When you have different trips you can change the name to that trip and it will be used when you scan that trip. Since you can also change the location the image will be saved, you can set of folders for each topic or trip. Just remember to switch folders in the software. The nice thing about this method is when you import your photos into Photos or iPhoto depending on how old you Mac is they will be kept somewhat together because of the name being the same and the numbering system. Use Photos or iPhoto to enhance your photos, add names, and locations. I tend to use short names like OWT 2018 to stand for Out West Trip 2018. The will give me extra room to edit the name the file to the exact location such as OWT Yellowstone 2018 or OWT Mary at Yellowstone 2018. Good luck, hope this helped.

  9. Very good and easy to follow information. Now maybe I’ll tackle those 3 boxes of photos. Thank you!

  10. I use an Epson V300.It does a nice job on both prints (including very old (early 1900s) and slides some of which are over 50 years old and faded. It has color correction. Have not run out of capacity yet.

  11. Informative, wish there was some way to pay for the service at an affordable fee. Have hundreds of photos on paper.

  12. This was helpful because it was clear and easy to follow and understand. Rare to have that experience today especially regarding technology.

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