As we hunker down or shelter in place it is easy to start to look through boxes which we may have hidden away in our houses. For most people these boxes will include stacks of photographs from over the years. In my newsletter earlier this month, I mentioned I had done this already with images I took from some of my first photography classes and had those negatives scanned. This isn’t the first time I have transferred to digital, I have done this before with photos, negatives, and slides.
When determining the images or negatives which you would like to scan the first thing you should do is look at the types of images where you feel it would be beneficial to digitize them and go through the scanning process. If you scan everything in the boxes it will start to get costly or timely, if you do it yourself. A scenic photo from a trip in the 1980’s to Yellowstone may not warrant the effort, however a photo of your family in front of Old Faithful on that same trip could definitely be worthwhile to scan and have the memory in a digital manner.
The easiest way to digitize or scan photos is to take a picture of the photo with your mobile device or camera. I have received many reminders of images from friends which was done exactly in this manner. The main benefit to this approach is the instant result of being able to send it to others, however this approach does not provide the highest and best quality. With this method the end result won’t be an image you will be able to print with good results, however if the goal is to store the photo digitally and have the reminder or to embarrass friends from college it could work quite well. While this method works well with prints, it doesn’t work as well if you only have the negative available.
If you have gone through the photos and you found a large quantity to scan I would look at a “bundle” which is available from many camera stores. One example of this is The Gather Box offered by Mike’s Camera here in Colorado. The box holds around 1000 prints in which you put your photos in the box and bring to them. The end result are the scanned photos in a high resolution which will allow you to have the digital memory. Mike’s Camera and other camera stores also offer a la carte services if you have less images, or more complex scan which need to be done.
Another option which is available for scanning your photos is to do it on your own. This approach works best if you have plenty of time, and mainly one type of format which you wanting to scan. The reason why I mention the format which you want to scan is depending on the source there are many different devices which work best. Scanning prints works best with a flatbed scanner, however negatives or slides work better with a film scanner. In the past I have looked into this approach but felt it would not be the best use of my time and money. Keep in mind the time spent on scanning is not only how long it will take to do the scans but also the amount of time in which you need to become proficient in the process as well.
The approach I have used in the past is to outsource the process which I do for two reasons. The first is if I am paying money to get this done it ensures the edits of the work which I am paying to have scanned will be the top images and not just everything. Secondly is the time it would take for me to become an expert. When I am selecting materials to get scanned I want to make sure it is done at the top level and that doesn’t happen overnight. The time which I would be using to learn how to scan images I can use on other tasks which need to be done in the business. With that said, the only time it may make sense to do it yourself is if you are thinking of using your scanning as a learning opportunity so you can make this a service which you offer through your business. In selecting to outsource you can work locally with a photographer who specializes in scanning, or even a local camera store.
The company which I have selected and worked with over the years for my scanning is ScanCafe. ScanCafe can handle many different types of media to scan and offers an option to do it at their location in Indianapolis. When having your worked scanned with ScanCafe you will have a few options to consider once you have selected your media type. The first of these is the resolution of the scan. The resolution which they provide is quite high and will be good for the majority of people. I do select to pay a little extra per scan in order to get the high resolution which does differ depending on media type. The second choice is the format in which the file is saved. Their standard format is in a jpg format, however once again for a little more you can opt for the images to be delivered in a tiff format. When the file is saved as a tiff keep in mind it will be a large file and most people will not need a file in this format. The main reason why there is an extra charge is due to the size of the file which is generated, as this takes up storage space and also slows down the process a little
Once the scans are complete they will let you review the scanned images where you review the images and then may select up to 20% of the images to “reject” from your final delivery. Once this is completed you will then receive download links in the next couple of days, and about a week later receive your media via UPS.
While there are many options you can select when you want to scan old photos, when you are going through the effort and either time or cost to do the work keep in mind a few items once you have the scanned images.
- Make a copy of the digital work you receive. Whether this is to Dropbox, an external drive, USB drive or anything else which makes sense. When making backups the ideal situation is to have it elsewhere just in case something happens at your house. This is why offsite storage like Dropbox or iCloud make sense. A service like Backblaze also works well to help have that ultimate offsite backup as a safety measure.
- If you decide to get rid of the photographs or negatives just scanned be smart about how they are discarded. Depending on the content you may want to shred or rip up the photos into smaller pieces especially if you have a communal dumpster or similar waste receptacle. The work I have had scanned I do keep the originals to have available for reference if needed, but also remember this is a much smaller batch then what I started with prior to the scanning process.
- Be cautious of the photos which you send out. A 100 year old photo of great-grandparents or even great-great-grandparents is a priceless memory. Prior to sending the work off to a distant photo lab make sure you are comfortable with the transit taking place. There are many photo labs and photographers in cities which specialize is this type of restoration, and while it may cost more it is something to consider for these priceless items.
I hope this helps understand the many options which you have when scanning your old photographs and negatives. In the end the main things to think about are the quality, cost and time which you would like to invest for your images.