The fact that you’re reading an article about digitizing photos probably means you have more than one photo album sitting at home just waiting to be preserved.
Of course, with hundreds of print photos needing to be digitized, the task can easily seem overwhelming.
Not to worry! Photo digitizing may be simpler than you think. Here is a simple but comprehensive guide to getting you through the process of digitizing photos so you can preserve them for a lifetime and beyond!
Step 1: Get Organized
No matter the size of your project or the number of photos you want to digitize, having a plan before you start will make everything go smoother.
To begin, take an inventory of what you have. Some helpful questions to ask yourself may be:
- About how many photos do I have?
- About how many years/decades do the photos span?
- Is there a certain way I want to divide/group the photos when scanning?
- Do I want to divide them by event, individual, year, etc.?
- What equipment do I already have to work with? I.E. scanner, smartphone, etc.
- What format do I eventually want to have the photos exist in, I.E. thumb drive, hard drive, disc, etc.?
Once you have an idea of what you’re starting with and hoping to end with, you will be able to tackle the project with more clarity and confidence. From here, divide your photos into groups as you prefer.
One good rule of thumb (though just a suggestion), is to group them in order of which you want to have scanned first. If you’re grouping them by year and then by order you wish them preserved, you could go back to the earliest dated photos and go from there.
Depending on how many photos you have, you will probably need to break your scanning up into mini “sessions.” A good way to start is with 15 photos at a time/per group.
This will make your project feel less overwhelming and more manageable. It will also help you better gauge how much you have left to do at any given point.
Plus, learning how to break up major tasks into smaller manageable ones is a great life skill.
2. Decide on Your Method
Just because you know how to digitize photos doesn’t always mean you should…by that we mean that while some methods (like using your smartphone to take pictures of your photos), may work, they may not offer the highest quality end result.
Still, there are multiple ways you can go about it. A few include:
- Smartphone photographing
- Using an at-home scanner
- Using a digitizing service
Plenty of factors will play into this decision including your budget, access to equipment, and the desired end result. Here’s the gist of what each method entails.
It’s fast and easy and can be done with minimal equipment. All you really need is your phone and a computer to upload your photos to transfer onto the storage device of your choosing.
The one major hangup with using a Smartphone to digitize your photos is quality. Even in the best of conditions, lighting, and surroundings can cause annoying glares or shadows on the images.
This method of photographing photographs unfortunately often leads to dark or grainy images.
Additionally, you also end up preserving any scratches, dust, or other imperfections present on the physical photo when you take a picture of it with your phone.
There are some Apps available on the App Store that offer photo-to-digital assistance. Multiple apps enable you to make small edits to imperfections or lighting, but the quality is still on the lowest end of the spectrum when it comes to digitizing images.
Scanners or Photo-Scanners
Most printers today have a built-in scanner option. If you own one already, it can be a great way to scan photos at home.
This method usually produces slightly better-quality images than Smartphone photography. However, if you want the best images from scanner photo digitizing, you may opt for a specialty photo scanner.
They are great at reducing graininess and getting clearer images. The downside is, these specialty scanners are often quite pricey.
Some other helpful materials you may consider buying for home scanning are compressed air (to clean off the dust to debris stuck to photos), photo-editing software, and a microfiber cloth for cleaning photos.
All these additional products may seem like overkill, but attempting media reservations at home can be challenging, and unlike a professional service, you may need to compensate for less-than-ideal tools.
If you’re looking for the highest quality images for the least expense, there are wiser options…
Professional Photo Digitizing Service
This option has multiple benefits, the least of which is relieving you of the burden of scanning all those photos yourself! Hand over the prints, tell them what you’re looking for, and let a professional with all the right equipment take it from there.
A reliable photo digitizing service will have state-of-the-art photo scanning equipment designed specifically to capture your photos at peak quality. Experienced professionals have been trained to carefully handle and preserve each of your precious memories.
Some services even offer step-by-step updates on the project and they take care of everything for you. Just sit back and enjoy the short wait before your digital memories are handed back to you, ready for use!
3. Dust Your Photos
Regardless of the method you opt for, dusting the photos properly is a step you should NOT skip. If you choose the scanner method at home, make sure to dust off the scanner as well.
The last thing you want is dust on the scanner itself ruining all of your hard work.
An important tip for cleaning and dusting your photos is to avoid any moisture. Never use cleaning fluids or chemicals on your photos.
Also avoid abrasive materials for dusting like paper towels, tissues, or rough cloths. The best method is with compressed air and a microfiber cloth. For those unfamiliar with micro-fiber cloths, they are often included when you purchase sunglasses or spectacles and used for cleaning the lenses.
4. Avoid Smoothing Creases
It’s very tempting when you’re scanning or photographing your own images to smooth out the creases. You may think you’re improving things, but the crease will become more severe and the damage worse if you give in to the temptation.
When photographing from home or scanning, lay the image flat and don’t smooth the crease.
Creases can easily be removed from the image with a little bit of editing software. Even better, a professional digitization service can scan and edit the image with the perfect equipment to preserve the original and offer you a digital version free from wrinkles or creases.
5. Scan in Color…Most of the Time
Again, things can get hairy when attempting to do this without the help of a professional, but if you’re set on trying, make sure to scan the images with the full-color setting in place.
If you have images that are sepia-tone, they will need the full-color spectrum enabled to capture the right tones of the original.
The only exception may be if you have a black-and-white original that has been damaged by tape or ink. In this rare case, the greyscale, when scanning.
This will make it easier to edit out these blemishes later on.
6. Name Scanned Images Well
Digitizing photos is a major endeavor as it is. Don’t make the task more challenging by neglecting to name all those scanned images in an intelligent way.
Decide on a method before you start.
Some smart details to include when naming may be date, event, or year (you know, many of those details you decided upon when first separating them into groups for scanning).
You may want to create a system for files on your computer to save them under. You can create larger folders within the year and then do more sub-folders with more specifics within them.
When it comes to digitizing photos, err on the side of super-organized. This way, when you’re sorting through them or wanting prints down the line, you’ll have a much quicker and simpler way to find exactly the photo you’re looking for.
File Format and Resolution
If you have a plan for your digital images, like printing them for home display, you may want to save them at optimal resolution. Often, needs will change for images, so when uncertain, go for a bigger resolution.
This covers all your bases, so whether you view them on digital devices only or you blow them up into posters, you will always be sure to have the highest quality image.
You can always edit images for different purposes later on, but you can’t go larger once you’ve saved them.
Unfortunately, the higher resolution you save them in, the more storage space they take up. If you have hundreds of photos needing to be stored, you may need to opt for an external hard drive over something smaller like a thumb drive.
Again, the pre-planning process will save you trouble and money as you get into the details.
The most important question when deciding on image size is in pixels per inch or ppi. If you’re viewing images on a device like your laptop, the best quality comes with a 1:1 ratio between pixels in the display and pixels in the image.
Image sharing is a common reason for photo digitizing, especially among family members. If you’re planning to share your scanned photos via email or shared portfolio, save them as you would any other.
You may regret not having an archived original image saved in the highest resolution.
Once you’re ready to share them, you can export them in JPGs that are more easily transferred online. This is also a great format for posting to social media. Still, we don’t recommend saving the original, archived versions as JPGs.
Blowing Up Images
It may be painful to learn, but there is some math involved when figuring out what size to save images that you plan to blow up. This is another bonus when using a professional digitizing service.
They have the experience to understand what size you should save images to make them most versatile for use in the future.
Blowing images up can be done, even for scanned 4x6s, but it may be worth talking to a professional about how to save them.
7. Keep a Record of Best Practices
Sometimes when individuals opt to take on a project like this, instead of hiring a professional, it can take a while to get the hang of how scanners, settings, and files work best.
Once you have your method nailed down, write it down!
Projects like these can take weeks or months on your own. If you step away for a time, you may forget how best to set up the scanner or save the files. Having notes of what you did that worked and what your system, it will save you the frustration of re-learning.
Digitizing Photos: Start Today!
Digitizing photos and media preservation is a great way to preserve your most precious memories. It can also make for a great gift idea for loved ones who treasure their photos.
While you can certainly attempt to digitize photos at home, there are some risks and room for error. If you’d rather not risk your memories, consider a professional digitizing service.
Our team of experts is highly experienced in taking your cherished images and preserving them exactly how you need them. Video, slides, film, audio, you name it, we can help!
Order online today or contact our team to learn more about how we can help you digitize and preserve your media today.