6 Steps To Take Before You Scan Old Photos

By | March 24, 2017

Have you got old family photos that need to be preserved? Now is the time to preserve and scan old photos for future generations. In this post I will discuss 6 steps that you will need to take before you scan your old photos. If you are passionate about your family history then you will want to be prepared before you begin of scanning your old family photograph collection. So please read on.

Scan Photographs

We all have them. Photographs spread all over our homes, in cupboards and drawers, in shoeboxes and probably up in the attic or down in the basement too. They maybe sealed away in either envelopes or boxes, or maybe not even stored but are loose and gathering dust.

If you are passionate about your family history and preserving your ancestors memories and stories then you will need to act now. Take the time to do this now before your old photographs completely fade or disintegrate. You will be heartbroken if this does happen to you.

1. Find all your photographs

The first step in this process is to find all of your old family photos that you have around your home. These places as I have explained could be anywhere in your house. They could be in any room and they could either be carefully stored away or not.

Sources of Information

So have a thorough search around your home. You maybe surprised as to where these photos are kept. It is surprising what we find around our homes when we decide to have a clean up. You may also be amazed at the level that the photographs have degraded to.

Don’t be disheartened this though as I will cover what resources are available to restore photos in a later post.

It is important for you to take the time now to preserve these photographs before it is too late. You want to do this so that your ancestors are remembered and their stories and memories are preserved for generations to come. You want to pass something onto your children at least don’t you?

2. Clean your photographs

After you have found all of the photos around your home then you will need to clean them. This is important to do as any dirt or dust on the photograph will show up when they are scanned. A clean picture will mean that a sharper picture will be scanned.

You can do this by using a microfibre cloth. This type of cloth will help lift the dust off the photograph.White Gloves You will want to be gentle though when handling the photograph.

Before you start though make sure that your hands are clean and free of lotions and perfumes. You will not want any oils or residues to make contact with these photographs as they will obviously have a damaging affect to them.

You maybe thinking to yourself about wearing gloves. However, despite white gloves appearing in this post you maybe surprised to know that you do not actually need to these at all. In fact you maybe doing more harm than good by wearing them!

Let me explain. In the first place washing your hands thoroughly will ensure that no damage will be done to your family heirlooms. As your hands are clean then there are no oils to pass onto the photograph.

If you do wear gloves then this will affect your ability to lift up your photographs and handle them. You will not be as dexterous as you would be if you were without them. Wearing gloves may even result in you bending your photos.

The gloves you wear may also leave small fibres that will attach to the photographs and as a result do damage. Gloves can also absorb moisture and this can then be transferred to your photographs as well.

3. Organize your photographs

Once you have found and cleaned all of your photographs then your next step will be to organize them. Now why should you do this I hear you say?

Organize Your Photographs

Well, it’s simple really! You obviously do not whack any of your ancestors here, there and anywhere into your family tree do you? No, you follow a pattern. You start with yourself and then move up the tree, one branch or line at a time. You work in a logical manner.

Organizing your photos is important because:

  • You can tell how many photos you have for a particular ancestor, and
  • Whose picture is missing from your family tree.

You could ask your relatives to help you with this by inquiring whether they have photographs that they could give or lend to you. They could then help you with photos of ancestors that you may be missing. Or they may even have better quality photographs than you have.

==> Click Here To Read How You Can Organize Old Photos <==

4. Prepare your scanner

You may think that once your photographs are cleaned and in order then you can start scanning. Well, I’m afraid that you’re not quite ready just yet. There are a few more steps to go until you are ready.

Prepare Your Scanner

You have already found and cleaned your photos of any dirt by using a cloth. What is the point taking the time and care to clean your photographs only to use a dirty scanner. Obviously no point at all really is there?!

Any dust or dirt that is on the scanner will definitely show up on the scanned picture.

After you have cleaned your scanner you will need to become familiar with how it works. If this is the first time using your scanner then I recommend you to read the manual. Make sure you understand all the different settings.

Another good tip is to conduct a few tests with your scanner so that you know how the different settings will affect the scanned picture. Most scanners have their own editing software so do these tests first to become accustomed to them.

You will kick yourself if you realize only afterwards that you could have done a better scan by changing a setting.

5. Decide on a naming convention

By this stage you have organized your photographs by family member. There is therefore no point undoing this hard work by naming your scans as image001, image002, image003, and so on. By doing this you will not be able to easily find a particular ancestor that you are after.

Naming Convention

So how should you name them?

My approach when filing any material about my ancestors is to break them down by branches, (or surname). So for each different surname in your family tree you can have a different folder for each of them. If you have more than one ancestor with the same name then you could add their birth year to help differentiate between them.

The problem though with this approach is where do you put the women in your family? Either the folder with her maiden name, or her married name? You could decide to put the scanned picture into both folders.

Rather than have two copies of a picture, (and wasting storage memory), you can put the photograph of a female ancestor before she was married within her parents folder. Then if you have photos of her when she married and afterwards then you can put her in the folder with her married name.

Of course you may decide to use a different naming convention than mine. And that’s ok. Whatever works for you. It doesn’t really matter as long as you can find any particular photo that you are after without any problems. You want a system that you are comfortable.

6. Decide where to store your photographs

By now you have done some testing and thought of how you are going to name them and organize them on the computer. The last step then is to consider where you are going to store your scanned photographs. Trust me, you want to think about this before you start scanning.

Store Your Photographs

You may decide that you just want to store them solely on your computer. However, you would be foolhardy to do just that. What would you do if your computer crashes and you couldn’t retrieve your scanned photos?

You’ve probably spent hours upon hours scanning your old family photos. The heartbreak that you would feel I could only imagine if this happened to you. You would have to re-spend that time scanning and scanning again.

So why not make duplicate copies of your scanned pictures onto various devices besides your computer? You may even want to store your photos in separate folders or drives on your computer. That way if you are working on a picture and make a mistake at least you can rely on the original backup.

Options that are available to you include portable drives and flash drives, as well as the cloud. The term cloud simply means “over the Internet“. Popular cloud services include Amazon Cloud Drive, Dropbox and Google Drive, (which I personally use).

Final Thoughts

Hopefully after reading this post you are more aware of the steps that you need to take before you start scanning your old family photographs. You want to do this phase of your family history justice so that the memory of your ancestors lives on.

So I do urge you to prepare yourself before you start to scan your collection of old photographs. You do want to be wasting your time if you haven’t done it right to begin with. Or waste your time if you lose all that hard work due to your computer crashing.

Photographs are a great way for people to connect to the stories you have told about them. By seeing the individual you do feel more connected to them, they are family after all.

==> Click Here To Learn How To Archive Family Photos! <==


Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post which helps you with the steps that you need to take before you begin to scan old photos in your collection. 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.

16 thoughts on “6 Steps To Take Before You Scan Old Photos

  1. Kristi

    Very informative post! I have also heard of some places offering restoration services. Should this be a step to consider as you clean and organize? Also, do you have any tips on how to catalogue the unknown people in the pictures? sometimes others in your family can identify the unknowns and you will want to be able to refer back to them now and again. Anyway, great post and great site! I am looking forward to future posts!

    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you Kristi. I wanted to cover the basics of what to do before you start to scan your photographs. Obviously could choose to have them restored by a company. But I was concentrating on doing it yourself. I can cover services in another post.

  2. Tammy

    Great information. I am bad at organizing and putting my photos in albums. This post will help me know what to do when I do decide to get them organized and preserve them. Thanks for the information.

    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Tammy,

      Organising my own family records and photographs I have learned by myself. I just did what worked for me. So if it works for you as well then that’s great.

      I will be adding a follow-up post on how to scan photos. Later I will add posts concentrating on how to organize and preserve. These are hot topics I feel that need to be covered here on this site.

  3. Kevin Bulmer

    Great topic, Owain! You make a lot of really good points. I especially like the idea of considering your naming process ahead of time. That drives me crazy with a lot of things. I see people just save file as, for instance, “Owain.” Well .. what if you want to find it again?

    I long ago got in the habit of dating all my files when I save them like this: “03-24-17 – Tips from Owain’s Blog Post” or something to that effect. If I could do it again, I’d have started with the YEAR, so it’s easier to search without creating multiple sub-folders. But… whatever works for you. I just feel that’s a great tip.

    Most of our family’s archives of photos are on slides. So … we’ve got a lot of work to do if we want to enjoy them again.

    Keep up your great work


    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Kevin,

      Not only can you give your files suitable names, (that can be found easily), but also the folders as well. You want to make it as easy as possible for yourself. As I have said you go to all that trouble in scanning your photo collection only not to bother with it because you cannot find what you are looking for.

      Hope you get time to transfer those slides to the computer. I will be reviewing products that you can use to do this in a future post.

  4. Greg

    Very detail post about scanning old photos. I just got 100’s of photos from my mother sitting in a box that I want to scan and have in digital format. I never thought of cleaning the photos and a good way to organize them. This info comes in handy just at the right time. Thanks


    1. Owain Post author

      Well I am glad that I could be of service Greg. Scanning can be a laborious job to do. And if you haven’t prepared beforehand then you are only going to have to do it again. That would be a waster of your time.

      I am a firm believer in getting things right beforehand you start a job. For example if I was doing some DIY around the home then I would get all the tools and whatever else that I needed first.

  5. Derek Smith

    Thanks for posting this. Good advice about the gloves – I guess a lot of people would get this part wrong.
    Informative and interesting, well done.

    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you Derek. I was quite unaware of this before I started researching this and doing it to my collection.

  6. Furkan

    Hi Owain,
    There are so many scanning settings and I actually have not scanned a thing for a year now.
    Is there any ideal setting for scanning old pictures or should I try some and see which one is better?

    1. Owain Post author

      I wrote this post ahead of what settings that you will need to scan your photographs. That post will be nextbso stay tuned for that. Incidentally though whatever settings that’s you do decide to use just make a note of them. So if you do take a break from scanning at least you know what the settings that you used before.

  7. Craig | UK TV Services Abroad

    Hi Owain,
    Very good information for pre-scanning old photos. It’s something that I wished I had done before I left the UK. I have very few photos and didn’t think to bring any when I moved to Malaysia. If I has scanned them before I left I could have brought them with me. You mentioned about copying them to a device and also keeping them in the cloud which I agree with but what happens in 10 or 20 years when file formats change? Or do you think we will always be able to open old file formats? It’s a bit of a worry when companies are continually changing software and hardware. I don’t even have a CD/DVD drive in my Mac Book Air, it’s considered old technology already.

    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Craig,

      Is there any chance a relative in the U.K. could either scan the photos for you or maybe even send them to you in Malaysia? I hope that you can preserve this piece of your family history.

      You bring up some very interesting questions about file formats. I have often wondered this about video files as they are constantly changing. The file sizes seem to get smaller as compression gets better.

      I think though that TIFF will be around for a while. Although maybe in the future you could When formats change and get better you could transfer to these. There are always online options for converting file formats. Or maybe download a software program for this conversion.

      I like to have my information digitally, (I still have old hard copies though). It’s always to have a couple of backups of your digital files. It’s easy to do this. I try not to clutter my home with CDs and DVDs so go for portable drives, flash drives and the cloud.

  8. Oshea Bose

    Thank you for this information I can defiantly use this I never really thought of the benefits of scanning photos.

    1. Owain Post author

      You’re welcome Oshea. There is a little preparation to take before you do scan photos so I am glad that you found my post informative and useful.


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