Preserving and protecting old (and new) photos

Quite a while ago, I began trying to scan old family photos and preserve them.  Some were in pretty rough shape and took a while to restore and fill in blemishes to the prints.  Most were in very good shape, though, so I was able to go through some of my family’s oldest photos and get those back into shape rather quickly.

That was last year.  My photo preservation project has been pretty idle for the past year, but it hasn’t stopped me from thinking about it from time to time.  I’m thankful to have those photos, to be able to show them with my daughter and future generations and to have digital files to make prints from.

After tackling some of our family’s historical photos, I looked at my file of snapshots from my younger years and even early in my marriage – a time before we had digital cameras.  Two things are evident – we take lots more photos with the digital cameras than back in the film days and, secondly, prints are easy to get very disorganized.

What I am also struggling with is the best way to store and share these scans.  As of today, the most sharing that has happened with the scans is loading them to Facebook or Geni.com.  Unfortunately, neither site stores the photos in high-resolution (as far as I can tell) for sharing with others, so they aren’t print quality.   I don’t have my solution yet for this, but I suspect I’ll use something similar to Gallery, which I have used before for personal photo galleries prior to moving everything to PicasaWeb.

My project so far has left me with a few lessons learned and a few tips to share for you if you’re looking to preserve your family’s historical photos as well as your current snapshots.

Tip One – Organize your photos
The first tip is to start with organized files of photos.  This will greatly aid you once the photos are digitized and I’ll leave it at that.  If you have photos grouped before scanning, you’ll have a much easier time with the digital files once they are scanned.  One thing I’ve also been trying to do is get dates of events with groups of photos (if possible).  This additional information (metadata) will help a lot once you move from scanning to cataloging your photos (in Picasa or iPhoto or whatever photo management software you prefer).

Tip Two – Choose the best scanner for the job…
Before you say “no duh”, there are a few interesting tid-bits.  Scanners come in lots of shapes and sizes.  I picked up a $100 CanoScan a few years ago which is a great portable scanner.  For documents, I use the document feeder and scanner on my HP Officejet.

What I have been missing is a great portable scanner which you can use without a computer and I found a very good deal on one in December.  Radio Shack has previous generation Pandigital Photolink 4″x6″ photo scanners on clearance for only $15 at its company stores (company stores and not franchise stores — I found out in my own experience that franchisees do not honor the clearance price).  The Pandigital scanners are great because they scan directly to an SD card and do not require a computer and they only take a few second per print to scan them, as opposed to putting photos on a flat bed, previewing them, scanning in the images individually and naming them on a computer.  These Pandigital scanners are ultra-portable and come in a variety of sizes from 4″x6″ up to 8.5″x11″ (larger scanners are capable of scanning smaller prints, by the way).

My coworker, Jamie, purchased one of the larger 8.5″x11″ earlier in the year and raved about how good it worked for his snapshots.  On his advice, I began looking at these.  The 8.5″x11″ model is available from Amazon for $99.   I have found Kodak also makes a simliar scanner.

Tip ThreeCatalog the scans
When I say catalog the scans, I don’t just mean to import them into iPhoto or Picasa and forget about them.  Cataloging, as any librarian will tell you, is a lot more than just collecting things.  It involves a process of categorizing, organizing and sorting through your items and assembling them in a way that you can search an easily find a particular subject.

Lifehacker recommends that you also spend the time to delete and purge any unwanted digital photos.  As I mentioned earlier, this is a big issue because most of us snap far more photos now with our digital cameras than taking the time to get good photos from back in the film days.  We don’t need ten out of focus photos of weird rock formations.

Tip Four – Archive your photos
Once you have assembled a good catalog of your photos, archiving becomes a big deal.  You have a lot invested in your library now and so you want to protect both the images and their metadata.  There are a lot of ways to go here, so what works for me may not work best for you.

Online backup is my first recommendation here.  If its not your first time on my site, you’ve probably heard me talk about Mozy and other online backup solutions.  These are my preferred backup method for anything you want to survive a fire.  #1 – Online backup moves your data offsite, which is a hallmark of backup strategy.  #2 – Online backup generally provides online download or offline download as part of its service.  #3 – Most services are generally cheap – Mozy, for instance, is $59 per year per computer.  I keep my library on one computer, so it costs me less than $5 per month — less than one Starbucks drink.

External hard drives would be my second recommendation.  These provide quick and easy recovery from a hard drive crash or accidental deletion.  Most external hard drives come with some sort of backup software — and if not — Windows has Windows Backup and the Mac has Time Machine.  I would recommend making it something automatically schedule and not something you must remember to do — because we are all human and forget.

Archival disks would be my third recommendation.  I don’t think that any one backup method is sufficient.  For instance, I use Mozy and Time Machine to backup my Macs at home.  The two protect differently and from different threats.  Mozy is for the most important — cannot part with this if my house burns down — data.  Time Machine is for the oh crap, my hard drive crashed situations (the external hard drive method).  In the same way, I think investing in Archival CD or DVD media is smart.  Once you create collections in your library, move these files onto archival media and then store them with your other valuables – offsite — in a safety deposit box or other form of offsite storage.  Ritz Camera has a nice description of Archival disks and why they are better than regular CD or DVD media.  (They also have a good set of tips for preserving photo prints). I recommend this because these have a greater chance of surviving for future generations.  And of course, keeping your archival media current is crucial.  Whatever replaces DVD’s as a format — you should move your data to that format in the future.  Same with file formats (but that’s a bigger discussion).  And most importantly – label these archival disks!

More Tips:

By no means am I an expert.  These sites have some great advice on the subject and so I want to share these links and articles with you:

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One Response to “Preserving and protecting old (and new) photos”

  1. Dorothy #

    If you have thousands of photos to scan, an even faster bet is to use an iPhone or iPad and Pic Scanner, an app that can concurrently scans several photos and automatically crops them. It’s like $3 or something

    October 25, 2013 at 12:36 am Reply

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