Five Tips For Scanning Your Old Photos

If your family is anything like mine, you have hundreds or thousands of photos that will never be seen again.  We have boxes filled with old photos (typically hidden in the attic); everything from black-and-white pictures from the early 1900s through to colour photos of me and my brother growing up.

Even if we open up those boxes and look through them occasionally, that doesn’t help the family who live elsewhere.  I have cousins living around the world who, of course, share the same grandparents – of whom we have a lot of photos.  The only solution is to scan the pictures and put them somewhere we can all access.

Scanning in old photos is a BIG job – especially if you have as many as we do – so I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned while working through our old photo collection.  Here are five tips for scanning in old photos…

1. Choose your device

The first decision is whether to use a flatbed scanner or your camera (or smartphone) to digitise your old photos.  Using a camera is certainly the simplest option – it is far easier and quicker to snap, snap, snap your photos than it is to load them one-by-one into a scanner and wait while it scans.  It probably takes an average of 60 seconds per photo using a flatbed scanner, versus maybe 10 seconds using a camera.

But the quality of the scan from a scanner is far superior to what you’ll achieve using a camera.  Scanners are designed for scanning flat documents, while cameras are designed for taking photos of 3D things in the real world – and the difference shows.

With a camera, curled paper edges, lighting glare and lens angles can all diminish the quality of the final output.  With a scanner, these problems are all removed.

Whether you invest in a scanner and spend the extra time it takes to use one depends on the quality you want in the digital versions of your photos.  I’d suggest you try a camera first and see if the output is good enough for what you need.

2. Don’t aim for perfection

With the choice between scanner and camera in mind, it’s worth noting that any digital version of your photos is better than nothing at all.  Your family and your future self will be delighted just to see the photos, even if they’re a little skew or there’s a little glare in the top-right corner.

It’s tempting to spend a lot of time perfecting the scanning process, but your main aim should be getting your paper photos onto a computer.  The longer it takes to arrange photos, align them, adjust lighting and everything else, the less likely you are to finish the job.

It takes a little experimentation to see what you get from different methods, so have a play and find a compromise that you’re happy with between speed and quality.

3. Sort the photos first

It’s a lot easier to organise the paper copies of your photos than it is to do it on a computer.  It’s also a lot more enjoyable – you’ll find yourself spending a few moments on each photo, either enjoying your own memories or trying to solve the mysteries therein.

I suggest grouping photos by date primarily.  In some cases you’ll have an exact date written on the back of the photo (or imprinted in the photo itself in some more recent pics).  Otherwise, you might need to make a best guess on the month or year or maybe just decade.  

Organising your photos before scanning makes it much easier to store them in appropriate date-based folders on your computer later. For example, you could scan photos in date batches, so that all photos from 1973 go into one folder.

It’s also an opportunity to remove any that aren’t worth scanning in. Underdeveloped shots or the seventeenth photo of the same anonymous landscape might not be something you want to spend time scanning in.  

4. Check your scanner settings

Most scanners, cameras and smartphones will offer some level of customisation for the resulting image.  You’ll want to get this setup correctly before you start.

There are three considerations: image settings, resolution and file type.

The image settings include options like brightness, colour levels and contrast.  You may find that the default settings are perfect, otherwise you may want to adjust them until you get the image output you’re looking for.  I found that my colour photos looked a little too blue by the time they reached the screen, so I adjusted the colour balance to fix that.

The larger the resolution of your scanned-in photo, the higher its quality (and file size).  Bigger is always better, but there is a maximum to the quality you’ll actually be able to use.  It may be tempting to reduce the resolution to save disk space, but if you go too low you’ll end up with photos that aren’t good enough to print – and you may regret that one day.  I’d recommend a resolution of 300dpi (dots per inch), which will give you more than enough for viewing on a screen and emailing and plenty to produce quality prints if you ever need to.

You can often select the file type that you want to create during scanning, such as JPEG, TIFF, PNG or PDF.  For most purposes you’ll want to choose JPEG, which is a good compromise between quality and file size.  It’s the most familiar type of image file and can easily be used for viewing, emailing or printing.

5. Scan multiple photos together

Whether you’re using a scanner or a camera, you can save time by scanning more than one photo at a time.  A typical flatbed scanner can accommodate at least 3 typical photos and you’ll probably fit 3 or 4 into the viewfinder of a camera at a reasonable distance.

The downside of scanning multiple photos together is that you need to crop the resulting image into 3 or 4 photos.  Fortunately, there are a number of software solutions and apps that will do this automatically – and many modern flatbed scanners come with appropriate software as part of the package.

We’ll be reviewing apps and photo software in the future, so watch this space!

Add your photos to Twile

Once you’ve digitised your photos, don’t just leave them hidden away on your computer – upload them to your Twile timeline so that the rest of your family can explore and enjoy them.  Twile is totally private, which means only the family members you invite will be able to see the photos you share.

Click here to create your Twile Timeline

 

Invite family to explore your Twile timeline

Twile is designed for sharing. The timeline is a great way of letting your family (especially the younger ones) explore their family history and recent events online. You can invite your family to view everything easily and for free!

In our last blog, we spoke about the The power of pictures and how a picture can ignite emotions and spark a conversation that you otherwise wouldn’t have had! So share your stories and record new ones with your family now… remember that Twile is totally secure and private – only the family members you invite will ever be able to see your content.

How to invite somebody…

  1. Click the ‘Family Tree’ tab to load the family tree
  2. Move your mouse over the person you’d like to invite – a popup menu will appear
  3. Click ‘Invite Them’
  4. Enter the person’s email address
  5. Click ‘Send’
  6. We will send them an email with a link to join your family tree

It’s so simple…give it a try!

Click here to go to your Twile Timeline

For every member of your family that you invite, we will give you a free month’s subscription.

Watch the video…

 

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The power of pictures

In our last blog post, we spoke about how adding words to your photos makes a story interesting.

Maureen Taylor, known as the Photo Detective, has been using Twile with her Mother to build their family timeline and found that uploading photos to the timeline and the conversations that followed became quite emotional. Thanks to Maureen for sharing her experience…

I believe that each photo is a story worth telling.

My work as the Photo Detective is proof positive of that fact. I find the family history in family photos by studying the details in a picture.

Images can help someone remember their past. For some looking at a photo is life changing. A picture can reveal where they come from and whom they look like. For others it’s the collection of images that fit together to tell the tale of their family’s past.

A research timeline is a great way to organize your information, but don’t overlook the storytelling possibilities that extend beyond the lifetime milestones to the photo memories. Pictures of ancestors (living and dead) expand our understanding of our family history. All you have to do is “listen” to the stories they are trying to tell.

A Living Example

I uploaded pictures and details of my mother’s life into Twile. I know her story (or so I thought) and since it wasn’t the first time I’d looked at the images, it was easy to arrange her pictures by date and occasion. Then I sat with her while she looked at them.

Her first reaction at seeing her life on the screen was, “Oh my, I’m old.” Looking at her baby picture through her wedding photos made her feel all of her 86 years. She’s a forward-looking person, but her wedding group portrait gave her pause. She whispered, “I’m the only one left.” She stared at it for a few long moments and then with a sigh she began looking through the other photos. The power of those pictures transported her (and me) into the past.

She focused on one in particular. Maureen

She’s the little girl in the white socks and beret crouched down in front. Flanked by her brothers with her parents in the back right. Center and to the back left is her oldest sister leaning her arm on her future husband. A simple question about her cute beret and the memories started flowing:

“Oh that’s me in the center. My sister Lauretta (to the back and left) and her future husband in the (center in the fedora) loved to dress me up and take me to the movies.”

“We saw everything. There wasn’t a Shirley Temple movie they didn’t take me to.”

When asked how old she was in that photo she said 5. That one picture was a door into her life at that time. She talked about a lot more of her life than just that moment.

Her relationship with her older sister: “Because she was so much older she was like a second mother to me”

Recollections of the first day of school: “I didn’t like it so I walked home. My mother took me back saying I’d just have to get used to it.”

And her parents: “There was a family gathering at our house every Saturday night with music. My mother played the piano and she and my father sang.”

All these jumbled memories from ONE picture. We still had a lifetime of pictures to go.

What will your pictures reveal?

Before it’s too late, add pictures to events in a living person’s life using Twile and sit with them while they reminisce. You might hear tales of bravery, lost loves or stories about warm summer days. I guarantee those pictures combined with the simple facts of that person’s life will be mesmerizing.

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maureen-taylor
Maureen Taylor, known as the Photo Detective, finds the family history in your picture mysteries. She’s been featured in top media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Today Show. To discover some stories behind your favourite family photos visit her website

 

 

Also: Family Tree Magazine – Photo Detective Blog:

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RootsTech 2016: The Best and Worst Week of Our Lives?

As tech entrepreneurs with a mission to make family history more engaging for the wider family, we are counting the days until RootsTech 2016!

With a 15-hour flight from the UK – taking in the sights of Atlanta (airport) on the way – we’re looking forward to arriving in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. We can’t wait to be immersed in the family history community, catch up with Facebook and Twitter friends and meet some of our ‘biggest fans’.

The final preparations are being made, exhibition equipment is booked for our stand on Innovation Alley and everything is packed. However the realisation that we are leaving our biggest ‘little’ fans behind has set in.

As parents of small children, the excitement of travelling to the world’s biggest family history event is dwarfed at times by apprehension: none of us have been away from our children for this long since they were born.

We will miss them and their smiles and their cuddles. We will be wondering what they’ve been up to, what they have eaten, did they sleep well, are they missing us?

Thankfully our little ones remind us everyday why we created Twile.  We have used it to record their lives since they were born and we know that we won’t miss a moment whilst we’re away.  Grandma and Grandad are looking after them for the next week and they’ll be adding photos and stories to our Twile timelines. We’ll see that they are safe and having fun.

We also know they’ll see what we are doing: our photos from RootsTech –  including our time on stage at the Innovator Showdown – will be added to our Twile timelines for them to see.

They are very excited for us and have just one request – bring back jelly beans!

Getting the Kids Interested in Family History

I recently read a great post on Lisa Louise Cooke’s blog about getting your children more interested in family history by talking to them about their own early years. You can read the post here: Family History for Kids Starts WITH the Kids

As a father of 2 children (aged 3 and 1), I’m really keen to capture their early years so they have a record of what they were like growing up. I don’t remember much about my early childhood (my earliest memory is probably around age four) and – although my parents have lots of photos from that time – I’ll never know the details…

  • How did my older brother react when I was born?
  • Who was at my first birthday party?
  • What gifts did I get?
  • Where did I go on my first family holiday?
  • How did I react when I was given my first bike?

I use Twile to capture these moments for my children on the same timeline as our family history.

I have hundreds of photos and stories of my children growing up in the last few years, but can also scroll back in time to see my own childhood moments – and then go back even further to see my parents, aunts and uncles as children. And of course my timeline continues back to the early 1800s where I can explore my great-great-grandparents’ lives.

Right now, my children are too young to really appreciate any of this, but I love the fact that their own early years and their wider family history will be so easily accessible to them as they grow older.

I think that recent family history is a great tool for getting children interested in their ancestors, or at least giving them more awareness of the family that came before them.

Family History is About the Living Too

How much of your life will be remembered by your descendants?

The death of a relative can often bring to mind all of the questions we wished we’d asked before it was too late. Why didn’t we ask them more about their life? Why didn’t we pay attention when they tried to tell us their story?

Once they’re gone, we will dig through boxes of photos they’ve left behind, maybe find diaries that we didn’t know existed. For some it may generate a new (or renewed) interest in their family history, but no amount of research can uncover a person’s full story.

I think about this a lot. I remember that my Granddad – who lived well into his 90s – always had a story to tell. But we were too young or too busy to ever really listen. Now that I’m older, I would love to hear the stories about his time in the war. Where was he stationed? What action did he see? How did he spend his time in the days or weeks in-between?

And that makes me curious about how he met my Grandma, where they went on holiday or how life changed when my Dad came along. How was parenting different for them than it has been for me?

Mixed with this frustration is a fear that my grandchildren will know as little about me as I do about my grandparents.

So I’ve made an effort to record my life so far. My family has a Twile timeline that starts in 1843 (the birth of my great-great-grandfather) and runs through to this morning (when I took my daughter to dance class). My descendants will be able to explore my life in detail – photos of my school years, my time at university, my wedding, honeymoon, birth of my children… and all with comments and thoughts that I’ve added.

In time, my kids will start adding their own stories and photos to the timeline, hopefully building a tradition that will continue forever – an endless record of the family story, which starts with my great-great-grandfather (until I get the time to work out who came before him!).

I’m curious to know how other people feel about the stories they’re passing forward. Have you ever thought about what your descendants will know about you? Are you doing anything about it?