An Efficient Way to Scan Old Family Photos

Updated 24 February 2021

photo scanner with title efficiently scan old photos

In a busy world full of competing needs, I have discovered one way to preserve pictures from bygone years efficiently. The tool isn't as important as the method.

What is the Fastest Way to Scan Old Family Photos?

The quickest way to turn a mountain of pictures into digital pictures involves outsourcing the work. Box up your photos and send them to:

Hiring someone else to do the work for you allows you to spend more time researching your family tree or garden. These professionals will digitize your photos and documents and send you organized files that you can then use to create family history books, scrapbooks or share your legacy in other ways.

However, these options require a fee, which can become expensive depending on the size of your album and loose photo collection.

What Do You Need to Digitize It Yourself

If you lack the necessary funds to outsource your digitization project, you can scan vintage photos and historical documents yourself.

All you need is a flatbed scanner or a mobile device. I'm partial to my scanner since it comes with my printer and copy machine. However, many friends have used Photomyne on their mobile devices with great results.

The debate continues whether it is better to scan or photograph old photos. FamilySearch uses camera crews to make images available for free online through their browse online and searchable content. Most of these setups cost thousands of dollars. You would be better off sending your pictures to the preservation services listed above.

The question comes down to what do you have access to and how much money do you have. Both a camera or a scanner will work for your home archiving efforts.

Disorganized pile of potos

Steps For Saving Time While Scanning

To turn your picture collection from the messy stack shown above to organized digital albums, follow the following steps.

1. Sort Photo By Color Type

Organize your photos according to color type

If you have loose pictures, sort them according to the coloration of the original pictures.

In this example, notice the color groups:

  • Sepia

  • Black and white

  • 1970s orange tint

  • Modern colors

Why do this?

By sorting your photos by color, you accomplish two objectives.

The first involves making it easier for your digitizing tool to process the colors. Most scanners and cameras have a hard time producing high-quality resolutions of your photos when printed images differ greatly. When you keep similar images together, the results are much better.

Secondly, you wind up with a more chronologically arranged collection. Why create a messy cloud album to sift through when you can save time and have the best results after scanning or photographing?

As you sort your images, you might also notice patterns that may solve family mysteries.

poor example of scanning photos

2. Digitize in Batches

A big time-waster when digitizing photos involves scanning or photographing each item one at a time. Instead, process your items in batches.

Take your sorted family photos and group them in sets of 3, 4, or 6 pictures to be digitized at once.

The size of your prints and your scanner's surface area or your camera's lens's distance will determine how many images will go in each group.

Work within those limitations to process multiple pictures at once.

Flat bed scanner with spaced out photos for scanning

  1. Arrange your photos on the flatbed scanner or a flat surface.

  2. Do not let the images touch or overlap. If you allow your items to touch, separating them later becomes very time-consuming and tedious.

  3. Photos do not need to be aligned perfectly. Suppose your photos appear tilted during the digitization process. No worries. A photo editing program can help you adjust the orientation.

If you use a program like Photomyne, the program will recognize the photos' edges and crop or straighten them out.

If you use a scanner, use editing software, such as Photoshop Elements, to separate scanned images and crop them.

Save Time By Working With Batches

In as little as 15-minutes a day, you can digitize your mountain of albums and photos. You can then organize your digital files, upload photos to your family tree, or arrange the photos in a family history book to tell your ancestor's stories.

If you're looking for more tips on what settings to use or how to label your images when you're done, check out the following posts:

Good luck and happy preserving.

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