Digitizing photos

Digitizing for Disaster – Part 2 – Photographs

Photographs and home movies can be irreplaceable and priceless to families.  Sadly disasters don’t care.  It’s up to you to protect and preserve them as best you can.  For us, that meant digitizing them…all of them.

Printed Photographs

flatbed scannerAs much as we use our phones these days to capture memories, we must remind ourselves that that is a new thing.  Many of your most cherished photos will already be printed, likely because they’re from the dark ages of the 80’s and 90’s, before digital photos were really a thing.  As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series you have a choice between a scanning service or purchasing a scanner and doing it yourself.  Personally I bought a quality flatbed scanner and did it myself.  This option took many hours to complete, but saved me hundreds of dollars compared to the service.

All kidding aside, many people have family photos that go back generations.  If you are lucky to still have a photo from great-grandparents, or your great-great-grandparents, it would be truly heartbreaking for it to be destroyed now.  Flatbed scanners are also wonderful for these types of photos because they’re very gentle on the brittle paper (they don’t bend or get pulled through a feeder like a document scanner) and they can accommodate a wide variety of sizes (lots of older photos aren’t 4″ x 6″ or 5″ x 7″).

When you’re scanning your photos make sure you scan at a high enough resolution to allow you to enlarge them in the future.  As opposed to digital images that have inherent resolutions and film negatives that lend themselves to easy enlargements, scanning a photo means you need to select the resolution.  The best plan I found was to determine the maximum size that you would realistically want to enlarge a photo, and then set the resolution to that.  There are lots of resolution calculators online that you can use to determine the setting you need.  In my case I scanned everything at 600 dpi to allow the 4″ x 6″ photos to be enlarged to 8″ x 10″ in the future.

Digital Photographs

digital photosYes, I know that digital photos are already digital.  This is about organization.  As I started this project I realized that we had digital photos everywhere.  Some were on our desktop computer, some we on my laptop, some were on our phones, some were on external hard drives and thumb drives.  Like I said, they were everywhere.  If a disaster strikes, a hard drive can be damaged just as easily as paper, so you want to have a plan.

I recommend copying all of your photos to one location first.  This will help you deduplicate some of your photos and organize them before you decide on a final storage solution.  For our family, we made our desktop computer in our family room the main location.  All family photos now get loaded into a specific folder on that computer.  We didn’t delete the photos from the original locations, because it doesn’t matter if you have duplicates out on other machines, the key here is to make sure that you have everything on at least one machine.


photo storageWe store our photos in the cloud and on an external hard drive.  Some people are not fans of the cloud, but for this application I personally feel that it is secure enough.  The external hard drive is just for redundancy and incase something happens to the desktop computer – It’s a lot faster to reload gigabytes worth of data from an external hard drive than it is through Wi-Fi.

I have used several different cloud backup services over the years, and they all work pretty much the same.  They all have similar features and similar security.  I used to use SugarSync because it had a continuous backup feature that I needed for work projects.  However, a couple of years ago I transitioned to Google Drive.  It’s very easy to use, the storage is very affordable, and it integrates with other apps and services so I can store files and use files more efficiently.  **Big Caveat: This is my personal choice.  There are lots of factors that can sway the decision of which cloud service to use and even whether to use a cloud service at all. I get that.  This is just my choice and my recommendation. **

Since we take pictures frequently, the cloud provides another feature that is specifically helpful for photographs – continuous backup.  We have a folder on our computer that is being continuously backed up.  We don’t need to schedule a backup or manually set a backup to begin, instead the cloud pulls up and stores any new file that is put in the designated folder instantaneously.  Additionally, we can connect our phones to the same account so any pictures we take on our phones are immediately backed up as well.

Video…A Side Note

I very quickly want to touch on video.  Unlike photographs, the process for digitizing old family movies can be much more complicated.  You will need a machine to play the videos in the format that you have; VHS may be easy to find but Beta or 8mm may be much more difficult.  For video, I highly recommend using a digitizing service like Costco offers.  There are other companies that offer this service too, but ultimately this will be money well spent.  Once you receive the digitized video, then add that to your cloud storage just like your pictures.  If you already have digital videos…then don’t digitize it again…just upload it :-).

If you missed Part 1, you can click here to read about our Digitizing Strategy.  Check back soon for Part 3 where we’ll talk through digitizing your documents.


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Author: Casey Feves

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