How To Preserve & Digitize Old Family Photos
Options to digitize you old family photos and preserve them for future generations. Should you DIY or use a scanning service?
You know you should digitize old family photos.
After all, that shoe box in your closet is stuffed full of family photos. Finding a favorite photograph to share is next to impossible. Plus, you are worried about how those photographs will hold up over the years. Will they fade? Could they be lost in a fire or flood? Will they be tossed?!
One of the best ways to preserve your old family photographs is to digitize them.
When it comes to digitizing your photographs, you have the option to do it yourself or to use a scanning company. Which should you choose?
Digitize Old Family Photos the DIY (Do It Yourself) Way:
Before I begin digitizing family photos, I like to group my scanning piles by event or by people/family groups. It works for me, but you may find a different scanning order works better for you.
How you scan your photos is an important consideration. Consider these three options
- A Flatbed scanner – A flatbed scanner is the preferred method, and a variety are on the market. Whichever you choose, take time to learn how to use it well. This will save you time and frustration in the process.
- Portable scanner – I have not found a good portable scanner option for on-the-go research now that Flip-Pal is no longer available. However, smart phones are a nice alternative. A photo scanner app such as Photomyne works well and will even scan multiple photographs at the same time. In a pinch, you can take a digital photo of a family photo.
- A Film and Negative Scanner – If you have negatives and/or slides to scan you will need a scanner that will handle those formats. The KODAK Mini Digital Film & Slide Scanner is a great example of one. Bonus: It’s small and portable!
For my personal photo digitizing projects, I typically use a flatbed or a portable scanner.
Tip: It is so easy to get behind or put off scanning your photos. Set a time on your calendar each week for a photo scanning session. You will make steady progress toward your scanning goal!
Digitize Old Family Photos Through A Photo Digitization Service:
When digitizing a large number of photographs using a company such as Legacy Box to digitize your photos is a good option.
When searching for a photo digitization service, keep in mind a few things:
- Most importantly, does the company use professional quality scanners?
- One of the main concerns customers have is letting their family photos/slides/films out of their hands. What is the company’s shipping policies? What is the cost of shipping? Does the company provide the shipping materials? Do you need to purchase additional insurance?
- Research the company. Look at reviews. Check the Better Business Bureau for past problems. Be knowledgeable and comfortable with the company that will be handling your family photos.
- Lastly, can you get a sample of the company’s work? A picture really is worth a 1000 words!
- Check for professional photo scanners in your area. If you are local, some offer in-home scanning services which is convenient and also alleviates the need to send your family’s photos out. Of course, you can always check out my friends Dorothy and Michele over at Preserving Your Heritage!
Backing Up Your Digitized Photos
Once you have digitized your photos, you want to back them up and store safely. I like to back up my photos in two places – an external hard drive and Google Drive – for extra safe keeping. Additionally I share copies of the photographs with multiple family members.
Options for backing up your digitized photos include:
- An external hard drive – I use one similar to this one by Seagate.
- A thumb drive – A thumb drive works better for smaller numbers of photos. However, I do like PictureKeeper which comes in varying sizes of storage space and is designed specifically for backing up photos.
- Cloud storage – Options for cloud storage include Google Drive, OneNote, Dropbox, or services such as MemoryWeb. FlickR is another great option. [ See how I use Flickr to share photos and get more eyes on my unknown photographs.]
One of the keys to keeping your family photos safe is to store a copy off-site. In other words, give a copy of your digitized photos to another family member(s) and/or keep a copy in a safe deposit box. In the event of a fire or other potential disaster, you will not lose precious family photos.
Need More Resources?
Want to learn more about digitizing and preserving your precious family photographs? I recommend these resources:
- How to Preserve Family Papers and Photographs by NARA
- Digitization Options for Family Photos: Including Slides, Film Negatives, and Home Movies by Thomas MacEntee
- Organizing Photos by The Swedish Organizer (Caroline Guntur) – She’s a genealogist, too!
- Good Life Photo Solutions by Andi Willis
Start scanning and preserving your heirloom photographs today!
More Posts of Interests
- Photo Organization for Genealogy Researchers – Resources for Getting Started
- From Chaos to Order: Where To Begin Organizing Old Photos
- How To Store Old Family Photographs
I had heard that photographing old pictures with your smart phone is good, as the quality of the cameras is better than a typical flat bad scanner, even at it highest resolution. It’s also much quicker if you can mount your camera on a tripod or similar
I had hoped for more information on the DIY digitization. Not all old photos are black and white, some are sepia or have darkened over the years. Do I digitize them as though they were color? What else should we know about this?
Sure, Sally, you can digitize your color and sepia toned photographs. Make sure you settings on your scanner are for color. I actually scan all of my photographs in color including the black and white ones. Doing this with black and white photos helps preserve some of the more subtle grays. If the colors are faded in the original photograph or darkened, I them use Vivid-Pix Restore to fix them.