Digitizing Your Photo Archives and Scanning Old Photos

Old photosHow do you get your photo archives into digital (CD or hard drive) format? If you’re like me, you have boxes, organizers, and albums of photos, not to mention slides and negatives. How to you get the best of the best into digital format?

Of course, scanning is the easy answer, but there are numerous ways to go about it. Then there’s the unavoidable truth that it’s going to take some effort, however you do it.  Back in the days of film, we saved every photo. Chances are you’re not going to want to scan each and every one.

The good news:  It can fun to go back through your old photos. Keep a notepad handy and jot down ideas for things you want to write about later.

Using Scanning Services to Digitize Archives

Such services range from economic to premium, depending on the quality output you want. You can find Internet based businesses by doing a Google search under “scanning services” or inquire at your local printer. If you want to compare apples to apples, be sure to look at what types of scanners are used and where the work is done. Hand-fed scanners yield higher quality.

If you have a smaller quality of items to scan (or is money really isn’t a restraint), this might be the way to go. This also a good option if the items you plan to scan are larger than your typical home or small business scanners, i.e., 12” x 12” scrapbook pages. They can often yield better quality than home scanners when it comes to originals that are very small, including old slides and negatives.

See Macworld’s Derrick Story’s Outsource your photo scanning projects for a detailed review of three top Internet vendors.  (If you’ve used a service you’d recommend, feel free to comment below.)

Epson Flatbed scanner

Epson Flatbed scanner

 Buying Your Own Scanner

If you have decades of 4”x6” to 8”x10” photos and portraits that you want to scan, consider buying your own scanner. If you do your homework, checking reviews of scanners from rating services like cNet or PCMagazine, you can find the best quality scanner you can afford and avoid paying for quality that you don’t actually need. You can also work on your project a little at a time.  Better still, you can take your scanner with you to relatives’ houses and scan their old family photos.

In my opinion, though they’re more effort, flatbed scanners provide better quality. Remember, you won’t be limited to scanning one snapshot at a time; most photo-editing software programs will have a “divide scanned photos” utility. If you have a friend that is also looking to scan their photos, you can share ownership of the scanner and split the cost.

(If you’re doing it yourself, I recommend My Lineage’s Tips on Scanning and Editing Photos)

 Consider taking a Course in Photoshop:

I learned this trick from a nature photography instructor. Students learning to use Photoshop need access to high volume, high quality photo- and negative scanners. Continuing education courses in Photoshop often include access to these scanners (as well as Adobe Photoshop) as part of the course fee. Learning Photoshop is an extra benefit. In my area, a $70 course fee yields about eight weeks’ access to the scanners. (Even better, some college photography courses include access to professional cameras, but that’s another post!) Try contacting the instructors at your community college to see what equipment and courses they offer.

(c) Laura Hedgecock 2013

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