Digitize Your Family Photos: A DIY Guide To Saving Your Precious Pics

Digitize Your Family Photos

Have you got albums and boxes full of family photos you want to digitize? Do you want to make your pictures available online for relatives? What a lasting and beautiful gift of memories for your loved ones.

Digitized snapshots are fantastic and practical. Faded, yellowed, or damaged pictures can be digitally corrected or enhanced. You can peruse your e-photo albums wherever you are, upload e-pics to digital frames, or share your digitized photographs online. Viewing virtual copies of photos saves wear and tear on your originals.

Before You Start

To start digitizing your pictures, you'll need an image scanner. A scanner will turn your hardcopy into a digital copy made up of pixels. A pixel is a dot of color shading. The number of color dots is measured by pixels per inch (PPI), also known as dots per inch (DPI). The image quality is better when you have more dots per inch. The high-quality photos will have a larger file size.

A few things you'll want to think about before you start scanning your photos:

  • Make sure the original pictures fit on the surface of the scanner. The scanner's lid can crush and crease the original if the paper doesn't fit the scanner.
  • Automatic feed scanners aren't suitable for fragile, weak, or bent photos. Photos like that can jam and get torn in automated feed scanners.
  • If you're scanning from picture slides, slide trays are available for some flatbed scanners. Standalone slide scanners are available too. Since slides are smaller than prints, scan them at a higher dpi/PPI rate, around 1900 dpi.

Read your photo scanner's manual for information specific to that machine before you get started.

A DIY Guide to Scanning Your Photos

Below is your five-step DIY guide to digitizing your photos. You’ve got this!

1. Prepare Your Photos and Scanner

  • Group your photos like you want them organized in digital albums on your computer. You might find it easier to break this project into more manageable chunks by working on one digital album at a time.
  • Get your photographs ready by removing any tape, dirt, smudges, paper clips, staples, etc.
  • Prepare your scanner by cleaning the glass. Make sure it's free of anything that could alter the image of the photo.

2. Select Your Scanner's Settings

To help you choose the best settings for your photos, familiarize yourself with these terms:

  • Bi-tonal: Two-tone black and white scans work well for handwritten and printed text.
  • Palette: The range of colors or gray tones.
  • Grayscale: A palette of gray tones, up to 256. The grayscale setting is better for your black and white photos than bi-tonal. It would also work well for capturing handwritten notes on the back of your photos.
  • Color: The color tones used for photographs and all types of documents.
  • Resolution: The measure of an image's sharpness in dots per inch (DPI) or pixels per inch (PPI).
    • General rules for scanning resolution:
      • Scan a 4" X6" and 5" X7" photo at 300 dpi/PPI.
      • To enlarge a 4" X6" and 5" X7" photo to 8" x10" or bigger, scan at 400 or 600 dpi/ppi.

3. Scan and Save Your Photos

Once you've scanned a photo, you'll need to choose a 'save' option. Besides saving it as a PDF file, you'll probably see Bi-tonal, Grayscale, and Color options.

Recommended save options:

  • Bi-tonal: Save as "group IV compressed" TIFF files.
  • Grayscale: Save at medium quality as standard JPEG (.jpg) files.
  • Color: If you have the options to save your scan as a low-, medium-, or high-quality JPEG, choose medium-quality. But if you want to print or enlarge the photo, select the high-quality JPEG setting.

4. Organize Your Digital Collection

Once you've scanned your photographs, you'll want to organize them. Here are some helpful tips for creating a collection that's easy to navigate.

  • Give your scanned photos descriptive file names. One idea is to use a "yyyymmdd" data-structure, such as "19470915-birthday.jpg". Whatever system you create is up to you. Consistency is the key.
  • Store the files in a folder-within-folder structure on your computer. Create and organize the files in a way that makes sense to you.

5. Securely Store Your Digitized Photos

To securely store your digital photos:

  • Make backup copies and store them in different places.
  • Create at least two copies of your photo collection.
  • Save one copy of your family photo collection on your computer.
  • Save other copies on CDs, portable hard drives, thumb drives, or in cloud storage.
  • Store your additional copies in different locations. That way, in the case of a flood, fire, or another disaster, you'll have extra copies that should be safe.
  • Transfer your digital photos to an updated storage medium every five to seven years. 

Once you finish digitizing your family photos, don't throw away your original pictures. You can lose digital files. Keep your original photographs in a safe place too. This digitization project is a big job, but it's worth doing. You're going to be so happy to be able to share and enjoy your digital photos.