Scanning Old Family Photos

One of my big projects for this year is to scan old family photos. In the last couple of months I only managed to scan about 450 photos. I have another 5,000 to 6,000 more to do. I have lots experience scanning pictures through the years but never have taken on this big of project.

I have read what other people suggest on scanning old photos. They usually say that 300dpi (dots per inch) is good enough for most purposes. I think that 300dpi might sound good now but in the years to come that won’t be good enough so I am scanning at 600dpi.

The popular picture format JPEG will compress the file and you will lose some of the fine detail. I am saving the photos as TIFF files. TIFF is one of those formats that is not compressed. That also means that the completed files end up large. A 9×7 inch photo ended up being about 35 mb (megabytes). That size might have seemed to be large even a few years ago but now you can get extra computer storage for pretty cheap. A 2tb (terabyte) internal hard drive costs about $75 and that will hold at least 60,000 9×7 photos. Average size photos are smaller, probably closer to the 5×3.5 inch size. Those scans come out to be about 7mb each.

Ruth (Wilklow) HalseyMy family’s old photos are not stored in optimum conditions. Some are in those old albums with black pages. The paper in those have a high acid content and should be moved to acid-free pages. Problem is that a good share are also glued unto the black pages. There is a nice small photo of my mother (right) that for some reason she or someone tried to remove. It ended up getting ripped. I decided to leave all those photos in the album and scan them in the album.

I have a few albums of photos that are described as “magnetic.” They really use plastic sheets over a paper backing with strips of glue. Everything about those albums are bad. The PVC plastic is not good for photos. The paper and the glue aren’t acid-free. Those photos I am moving to loose albums with photo pages made of polypropylene plastic. Those photo friendly pages are available everywhere on the internet and office supply stores in various sizes.

For some reason I found that some of the old photos have been cut. I can tell that they were cut by scissors because the sides don’t end up straight.

Then there are those few photos that have multiple problems. Some were glued in black pages, cut out and put in a “magnetic” album.

Arch Halsey at workAfter I scan a photo, I open it in PhotoShop Elements 11 but you can do most of the editing tasks in just about any photo editor including some available for free on the web. The first thing to do is straighten it. Then I crop the photo to get rid of the border. I probably should just save the photo after that but I don’t. Instead, I fix some minor problems. One small photo that was too dark I lighten up to find out it was a picture of my grandfather (right). He is at work and it is probably from the 1920s or 30s. I never would been able to figure out he was in the photo without lightening it. On other photos I fix minor scratches. If you haven’t had a lot of experience editing, save the photo before editing.

After saving the photo to a computer file, I right click on the file. That opens a box where I describe who is in the photo and sometimes an approximate date and/or location. I always put in both the maiden name and married name for women. That way I can search for either family and they show in the search results. There are those photos that have people that I can’t identify. I save those as “unknown.” Some of those unknowns already have become known as I scanned more photos. The hardest people to identify are babies.

I save the completed photos on my main hard drive and also a back-up drive. I also have “cloud back-up” that automatically uploads my new scans. I already have shared some of the photos by putting them on Google Drive and giving relatives the link to the photos. Google Drive lets you share with the world, a group or just a single person. Other web based hosting sites are Dropbox, iCloud, (Microsoft) OneDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive, etc. Visit this web page for a comparison of all cloud based sites. Eventually I will send a DVD with photos to relatives. That won’t be until 2015 the way I am going. I have a lot more of photos to scan.

One Comment

  1. Been doing the very same thing, slides, photos, documents, etc. Was just handed two very old photo albums that was rescued from one of my Aunt’s home in Fairport. Busily scanning the album pages and then cropping the individual pictures on each page to edit later. Best of luck to you.

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