How you approach saving, organizing and restoring requires a plan, and the plan
must be formed with intent.
Scanning Old Photos
Trying to organize your old shoe box of photos requires you to scan or use a scanning
service to digitize your photos. Scanning services can be a great way to get the digitizing
done, however, it can be expensive and you do lose control of your photos. Nobody loves
your photos like you do, and many services just pack them up and send them overseas.
This comes with risk. Sure, there may be an insurance policy if your photos are lost or
destroyed during the trip, but that insurance won’t bring those photos back.
There are options beyond relinquishing control of your pictures and negatives. Many
libraries have scanners that you can use. This is a great way to go if you don’t have your
own scanner. Even if you do have your own scanner, the library will often have a better quality scanner for this type of work then you might have at home. In most libraries,
there is no charge for using the scanners. There may be a time limit but you can try off
hours if you need extra time.
Just a few basics settings are needed and easily found with a Google search. And help
from the librarian is nearby. The downside of scanning is that it can be very time-consuming work. But chances are these photos have been sitting untouched ‘forever’ so it’s time to start taking control.
The first step is sorting through the old shoe box. Not all photos will be something you
need to scan. Pictures of Aunt Ethel walking in the house may not be a keepsake if you
have good pictures of Aunt Ethel and of the house. Sometimes you just need to let go.
To keep the project manageable, start with small batches.
Before heading to the library stop and think about intent. Will you be doing any photo
restoration work on your images? If so save as a tiff file. If you save as a jpeg, each time
you open the file and make changes the image will deteriorate. The loss isn’t excessive
but why lose anything if you are going to the trouble of making restoration or damage
On the other hand, if you just want to save your photos, saving as a jpeg is just fine.
Jpegs use much smaller file sizes then tiffs. And if you will be just emailing copies to
others, jpegs are better as some tiff files can be too large to email. Again, it all comes
back to intent. Have an idea what you will be doing with the final photos. I always start
with a tiff scan. I save it as an ORG (original) and then make copies to send in jpeg
format. Be sure and thank the librarian as you leave if she/he has been helpful!
Hopefully, you now have your photos on an external hard drive, flash drive, cd/DVD or on
your computer hard drive. Just as there are lots of companies doing restoration of old
photos, now there are companies that will do the organization of your photos for you.
Just Google it. Like the scanning services (and sometimes they are one and the same)
they are expensive and you lose control of your photos. At least this time you should still
have your originals and will only be sending a copy of your photos to a service.
A better choice may be to purchase a copy of Adobe Lightroom, the standard for photo organizing. Yep it’s expensive. But a good alternative is to purchase an older version. Make sure it’s a complete version and not an update. Like Photoshop, Lightroom can do many different things. But primarily it is a great photo organizer. The learning curve is a bit steep but like Photoshop there are thousands of free tutorials online. And in this case your intent is only to organize your photos. So much of the program is not needed to organize your photos.
At this point you now have your original photos digitized, and backups made. You have organized your photos so you can find them and go directly to the photos you are looking for without handling your originals. You will be able to locate any of your photos by typing in keywords you enter into Lightroom on your computer. Want a photo of your Aunt Ethel? Use Aunt Ethel in your keywords. Looking for pictures of your vacation in 2003 in Texas? Use 2003 and Texas or any other words related to that vacation as keywords. As many keywords as you want. If your intent is also to correct some of the problems with your photos, such as exposure, color, minor restoration, Lightroom can also handle that.
You now have your photos digitized, organized and possibly some of the restoration
problems dealt with, throw away the old shoebox! Probably moldy and smelly! Separate
any negatives from the photos. Some negatives give off gasses that can harm your photos surfaces. Store negatives and photos separately in archival products.
Follow these steps: Digitize Backup Organize Store originals in archival materials.
These are the key steps whatever your intent.
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