Scanning those old photos in family albums

Okay… we’ve convinced you that you should take your old photos out of those shoeboxes and photo albums and digitize them so that future generations can enjoy them. Not only will this help preserve them, it also presents a great opportunity to spend time with an older family member and document the life stories behind the photos.

There are multiple ways to capture these old photos. Here are a few:

1. Scan the photos using a desktop scanner. Most home printers now come with multiple modes to scan, copy and print. These devices are relatively inexpensive to buy if you don’t already have one. A feature that we would recommend looking for in a scanner is one whose software automatically splits multiple photos when placed on the scanning surface. It is a great time saver, though the downside is that you have to take the photos out of albums – sometimes easier said than done with older photo albums with sticky surfaces.

2. Use a hand scanner that is waved over the photo, the LG Mouse Scanner, for example. These usually offer scanning software similar to the desktop scanners that allow you to adjust some basic photo settings and crop images. The good thing is that you don’t have to take the photos out of the album to scan them. The downside is that the edges of the photos and album pages can catch the mouse scanner and it takes some skill and practice to consistently capture a good quality scan. If your requirements include capturing text in old documents, some reviews of the LG Scanner state that this is the best use of the device since it includes excellent OCR (optical character recognition) software for translating the scanned image to text.

Dedicated photo scanning devices such as the Kodak P811R offer a better way to capture photos if you are scanning a lot of them. Even so, it still requires that the photos be removed from albums. And if you have a lot of tape residue on the photos that can make feeding these machines difficult.

3. If you have a current Android or iPhone with a 5 megapixel or better camera, there is no need to purchase a scanner because you already have an excellent image capture device within your mobile phone! Believe it or not, there are some great apps for taking pictures of your old photos. These apps allow you to perform the basic editing tasks before saving or emailing the photos. A couple of examples of free apps available for both Apple and Android smartphones are Snapseed and Aviary. These also have the benefit of not requiring the source photos to be removed from the album. In testing these apps, we have found the results to be very impressive.

As you begin this process of preserving photos for future generations, it helps if you are ruthless when determining which photos “make the cut”. In general, images with people in your family or close friends are going to be the keepers. Here are some examples of photos that do NOT need to be digitized:

1. If the photo is in rough shape with little hope of capturing a half-decent scan, don’t bother. The only exception is if this is the only photo you can find of a relative or friend and you really want to keep that memory alive. There are also third-party services who can do a pretty good job of cleaning them up and making them look respectable. It may cost five to ten dollars per photo but if the memory is important then it will be worth the expense.

2. The photo is out of focus, is showing the back of heads only, nobody is smiling, or it is the twentieth shot of the mountains, etc. Just don’t waste the digital space and your time. Think about future generations and whether they would enjoy the photo.

Another consideration when scanning photos is date capture. Depending on the source of the old photos, you may or may not have dates available. The date may be printed on the back by the printer or lab that created the print, around the edge of the frame, or in handwritten notes below the photo in the album or on the back of the photo. If there is no date associated with a photo, one tip is to figure out the age of the person/people in the photo and work out the date by adding that to their known birth date(s).

Ok, with scanning completed it’s now time to tag those photos and group them into albums. That will be the topic for the next article.

Posted in Family, History, Photos

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