How To Scan My Photos?

By | March 25, 2017

Your old family photographs are one of your most prized possessions. They form a huge part of your family history so you may want to know how to scan my photos. The trouble is that they maybe spread all over your home and maybe starting to fade. You therefore want to preserve these photographs before any damage is done so that they can be preserved for generations to come. Here, I will help you with that burning question of yours, “How to scan my photos?“.

Scan My Photos

My previous post, 6 Steps To Take Before You Scan Old Photos, showed what steps that you need to take before you actually open up your scanner and start scanning. So if you haven’t read that first post then I advise you to be prepared before you start the next part of preserving your family history.

Preparing yourself before you start scanning is very important as I will explain. You don’t want to be half way through, or even ‘completed’, your scanning only to find that you could have done a better job. You therefore decide that you will need to start over and scan all of our family photographs yet again.

What a waste of time and energy?!

So before you do start scanning I urge you to find all of your photos, clean and organize them accordingly. Then you can prepare your scanner so that it is ready to use and that you are familiar with how to use it.

After that decide on how you are going to name your scanned photos and how you will store them on your computer, i.e. appropriate naming of folders. Also, you will want to backup your collection on various other storage devices, such as flash drives or portable drives, or even use a cloud service. Trust me you will thank me later for this if your computer crashes.

All of this is explained in my 6 Steps To Take Before You Scan Old Photos post.


What Type of Photos Do You Have?

Your old family photographs could come in various forms. These could be the actual photographs themselves, slides or the original negatives. In this post I will concentrate solely on photographs. I will cover these other forms of photos and how you can scan them in a later post.

Types of Photographs

There are though portable machines that you can buy and plug into your computer into your computer that can scan negatives and slides. The Jumbl All-In-One scanner has had favorable reviews on Amazon from nearly 1,300 customers, while the Epson Perfection V600 has also scored highly from 1,900 customers on Amazon.

I will review these and other options that are available to you.

Using the original negatives is best!

Sorry but I have digressed from what I wanted to say. Each of these different types of family photograph will require different kinds of settings. So the original negatives will require a higher setting than a photograph.

The reason for this is that a negative will hold more information than a photograph. When photographs were developed from film some of the information is lost, and so a negative is better for you to use. So if you have the original negatives I urge you to work with these instead of the photos.

You may though have a poor copy of a photograph. With that said you may want to ask your relatives if they have a better quality picture that you can use. After all there is no harm in asking and if they see that you are trying to preserve your family history they may try to help even further.

For example, they could tell you who is in the photographs, tell you about the individual’s life and any stories that they remember about him or her. So it is a win-win situation to include your relatives in this process.


What File Format Should I Use?

Argh! You’re probably asking yourself what settings on your scanner that you should be using? I am sorry to leave this stage of the process until now. I did this because I wanted you to be prepared before you start scanning. If you’re doing this important job though you want to do it right, and do it right first time.

Your Photographs

The two types of file format!

If you’re familiar with computers and how pictures are stored on a computer then you will know that there are different types of file formats to choose from. These file formats though fall into two categories, lossy and lossless.

Lossless, such as TIFF, are as the name suggests pictures where no information is lost when they are scanned and saved. This is opposed to lossy, JPG, where there will be some loss in the amount of information.

There is an advantage to lossy pictures as these compressed files will be smaller in size. If you do have memory constraints then you may want to go with this type of picture.

However, consider that flash drives and portable drives are not as expensive as they were when they first came on the market many years ago. They are relatively affordable these days. So a small investment in storage will be a great save for you, especially if your computer unfortunately crashes.

My advice is therefore to go with the lossless option.


What Setting Should I Use?

Ok, ok, so I haven’t got to the setting stage until now and as I have said before I am sorry about this but I wanted you to be prepared. I have though mentioned what type of file format that you need to use for this important stage in preserving your family history. And that is the lossless type.

Scan Photograph Settings

When you scan photographs you are given the choice as to what DPI setting or resolution that you want for the photo. The higher the number then the more information will be captured when you scan the photo. However, with more information being stored then this will mean a higher file size. So this will need to be considered.

Incidentally DPI stands for Dots Per Inch. However, in actual fact it should stand for pixels per inch as this is the what the computer stores, i.e. the amount of picture elements per inch.

What’s the magic number?

Earlier I mentioned that negatives will demand a higher setting than a photograph. This is because a negative will hold more information than a photograph. Typically you will want to use a 600DPI setting for your photographs. This can be set for photos that are at least 4 inches to larger pictures that are 10 inches wide.

You want to have a setting that will capture as most of the picture as possible and that is why I suggest going for at least 600DPI. Smaller photographs though will either need to be set at 900 or 1000DPI.

This is only my advice given my experience in scanning my old family photos. So you can use whatever settings that work best for you. But I would suggest that you do not go lower than 600DPI. If you do decide to enlarge photographs then there will be some blurring in the photograph. This will not be the case if you scan at a higher resolution.

A higher setting though in DPI will mean that scanning will take longer. So bare this in mind when scanning all of your photos as this will take time to do.


Final Thoughts

I have gone over many aspects for you to consider when scanning your old family photos. This has included a brief mention as to how to prepare for this task.

When scanning your photographs there are a number of choices for you to make. These include whether to scan a site a JPG or TIFF, I suggest TIFF), and at what resolution.

I hope that you gain some insight into my guidance. But please do what works best for you. I have stated before that you want to do this right first time. So to a few test scans to see what works for you.


Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post helping you answer your question, “How to scan my photos?“. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

10 thoughts on “How To Scan My Photos?

  1. Ally

    What a great post!

    I never even thought about all of the details that need to be considered before scanning old photos. Since they are very precious, it makes sense that you would want to take the time out and do your research before going wild with a scanner.

    In my experience, it is also important to get all of your pieces of history to your source as soon as possible so I’d dare to say, more work on the front end will lead to less work on the back end!

    Thanks for the post!

    ~Ally

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      You have a very logical mind Ally. If you want to do anything right then you have to prepare for it properly, and this is just another part of family history that needs to be laid out before hand.

      Scanning old family photos takes enough time as it is. You don’t want to be redoing all that scanning if you have realised you should have been scanning as TIFF files instead of JPG.

      Reply
  2. Brittany

    Owain, you clearly show how knowledgeable you are about preservation and how to properly handle, scan and organize old photos. These details are easy to set aside, but when working with sensitive materials like this, it’s important to do this type of research and I think your post covers all of the steps noobie preservationists need to take. Thank you for this informative post!

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you Brittany. I feel it is important to preserve any connection that we have to our past. Family photographs are so important as we see just what our ancestors were like. We feel connected to the ancestor that we have researched when we see what they look like. At least that’s what I think anyway.

      Reply
  3. Greg

    Cool, I didn’t know you can scan negatives, The The Jumbl All-In-One scanner looks like a cool choice for this since I already have a printer/scanner. Thanks for all your tips.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      You can use your everyday scanner for your photographs. But for negatives and slides then there are custom machines that will do the job nicely for you. These two choices that I have given will help you to transfer either your negatives or slides to a digital file.

      Reply
  4. Kevin Bulmer

    You’ve got some great stuff in here that I admit I would not have thought of, Owain. For example: employing a TIFF format or a setting for 600 DPI. That’s great advice that would save some regret for later on, after so much work has been done.
    I love this suggestion of scanning and archiving photos. It makes me wonder what the next big thing will be, after we’ve (as a society) assembled a “proper” digital archive, what will be the next format? There’s always another one …
    Best wishes!
    Kevin

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      I have the train of thought that if you are going to do something then do it right. And do it right first time. Genealogy is a hobby where we are learning new things all the time. Whenever I start a project I always make sure that I research what I need to do before I begin the job. It does save you in the long run.

      As for the next format, who knows? We’ve seen video tape trasnsfered to DVD. Everything these days is getting digitised, (even family history records that are being put online by the genealogy search websites).

      Reply
  5. Furkan

    I have never known that a negative will be better at storing information. It will be definitely useful for scanning.
    I was also wondering which format is the best. Thanks for clearing that up and I will definitely choose lossless.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      When you get your photographs developed, (or rather back in the day when they were developed like that), there would be some loss when the picture is printed onto a paper photograph. The original would obviously contain all the ‘information’ when the picture was taken.

      You could scan the printed photograph but a negative would be best. So, if possible, try to use negatives when preserving this piece of your family history.

      Reply

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