Converting Old Photos to Digital Pt. 1

This project is large enough that I feel it’s best to divide the posts up, too. In this first post, it’s all about organization prior to scanning in the photos. In future posts, I’ll go over scanner settings, scanning, importing into photo software, what to do with handwritten notes on the backs of photos, meta data, and more. At least, that’s the plan.

If you’re like me, you’ve got boxes of photos from the pre-digital camera age. Maybe you’ve decided to scan them in to preserve those photos for years or generations to come, or you’ve decided to protect your precious memories in the case of fire or other disaster. But what if you have a LOT of photos? I not only have my own photos, my those I inherited from my parents, and my husband’s collection of photos as well. By my calculations, there’s over 8,000 photos. Getting them all into digital format is no small undertaking. As of writing this, the project is still in progress.

I had two choices: pay someone else to convert them, or do it myself. For as many photos as I have, it was cheaper to buy a quality digital scanner and do it myself. Believe me, when you’re a writer, every penny counts. After some research and determining what my needs were, I decided on an Epson V3300.

But then came the time consuming part. Getting it all into Aperture on my Mac. I don’t want to make this a long post, so I’m going to divide it into multiple posts. Step one? Organizing your photos. Trust me, it’s much easier to organize the actual photos ahead of time. Why?

  • You’ll find you have photos you don’t care to keep.
  • You’ll have duplicates of photos.
  • It’s easier to meta tag them in Aperture, iPhoto, or other software if the photos are in like groups, subjects, or events.
  • If you want to name them by subject matter, it’s easier to do it in the scan process.

The first thing I did was collect all the photos. Every one of them. Then, I sorted them into photo boxes. Most photo boxes have divider cards you can place between events or groups of photos. If you’re using shoe boxes or don’t have divider cards, you can buy them at an office supply store, or cut your own out of cardstock. I suggest a at least 5×7 cards as dividers. Now, if sorting them into events makes you crazy, don’t stress. You don’t necessarily have to go to extremes. What I found the easiest was to do two rounds of sorting. The first round was merely to collect subject together. The easiest was Christmas – the day everyone seems to take the most photos, and weddings, which accounts for another large group of  like photos. From there, I went on to military photos and birthdays. Each subject was tucked neatly behind a divider card. I didn’t worry if my dad’s service photos were mixed in with my uncle’s. I know it sounds daunting, but this is something you can do in small chunks of time – especially during TV commercials.

After all the photos were grouped by subject, I went on to round two of the sorting phase. This round, I put photos from the same time/event/person next to each other. Now, all my dad’s service photos were together and each of my uncle’s were together as well. You get the idea. I didn’t worry about sequence of the event. It was okay for me to have pictures of the bride and groom’s kiss before her walking down the aisle. I didn’t see this as any big deal, but if it’s important to you, then this is where you’d do that. This phase is where I also discovered duplicates. Since I don’t want to scan in the same  photo twice, I tossed them. Alternatively, you could give them to another relative or someone else who may want the photos. This is also when I found a lot of photos that were not worth keeping. When in doubt about throwing a photo away, I used the five second rule. If I couldn’t decide within five seconds, I kept it.

And that’s part 1 of converting your photos to digital. Next up, we’ll take a look at scanner settings and importing photos into a photo application.

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