When my grandfather passed away three decades ago, my mother and her siblings inherited photos…many boxes and albums full of them. The rare photos documented not just my mother’s and grandparents’ lifetimes, but also of previous generations. For over 30 years, these inherited photos remained divided between nine families and experienced a variety of storage conditions.
In early 2015, my oldest uncle, then 88 and researching family history, started on an ambitious project to reunite and digitize this trove of photos. The idea was to make a combined digital library that could be shared by the entire family. It was a slow, tedious, yet nourishing process – and after a year, less than a quarter of the inheritance had been scanned. Then he found a faster way to do it, but more about that later.
Saving & Sharing Inherited Photos
What to do when older relatives pass and you inherit their collection of old photographs – picture albums, shoe boxes and manila envelopes stuffed with family photos? Legacy that forms an important part of your family history, yet you cannot put names to many of the faces and places in those fading, decades-old photos.
This short article suggests steps to get your treasured photos ready for conservation. The steps are: Assess, Protect, Sort, Start and Store.
Spot anything missing? Yes! The only way to preserve these fragile pictures for posterity is to scan them. Today, we will show you a really fast and easy DIY way to do this.
Once you have assessed and sorted your photos, consider scanning the best and most memorable of the lot. This preserves them forever, and also makes them portable and shareable. Digitizing also makes photos easy to enhance, restore, label and organize.
How to scan photos
Option 1: Desktop scanner
When it comes to scanning, most people would think of a conventional desktop scanner. There is plenty of choice when it comes to specifications and prices, but you can get a fairly good one for less than $200. Here are a few. They’ll all give you sufficient resolution, but one thing you MUST look for in the scanner’s bundled software (Unless you are proficient at Photoshop) is the ability to automatically crop multiple photos scanned together. This is a great effort saver.
Well, my old uncle started down this route with an Epson. He would fit as many photos as he could on it, scan and transfer to his Macbook; auto-crop with Epson software; and edit them with Photos for Mac. The quality was impeccable, but it was slow going.
Option 2: Photo scanner app
In 2016, he got himself an iPhone, and was promptly volunteered to test my under-development app Pic Scanner Gold. This was a much advanced version of Pic Scanner, our 2013 effort that was the world’s first mobile app for scanning and auto cropping multiple photos at a time. From that point, it took my uncle just eleven weeks to finish scanning everything. Every question he asked, every time he got stuck doing something, told us where we needed to improve our UI (user interface). Every time he said, “I wish this app could…”, we got a new feature for our “to-do” list.
We especially love the multi-scanning, auto-cropping feature: You scan multiple photos with one tap, and the app automatically detects, perspective-corrects, and saves all the photos. We should mention, however, that this is great if you are scanning photos to post on your Facebook page. However, when scanning old photos for archiving or reprinting, always scan one photo at a time. The app crops the photos automatically and accurately, which will save you a lot of time.
Pic Scanner Gold has come a long way since then. It has gained many innovative features and much acclaim. Best of all, quality of iPhone and iPad cameras has improved. They now have 12 MP cameras. Pic Scanner Gold app’s proprietary algorithm harnesses this power to capture high resolution scans with relatively small file sizes. The app’s features are designed specifically with an eye on old photos. These include editing tools to enhance and restore fading photos, and Captions feature to add date, place and other details. It also has great features for organizing and sharing photos, but we won’t go into those (You can read about them here).
Scanned. Now what?
Upload scanned photos to your preferred cloud service. Pic Scanner Gold provide direct links to iCloud, Google Photos, Dropbox, and many other apps. Uploading to cloud serves two purposes: One, it ensures that your photos stay safe even if your iPhone or iPad is lost or damaged. Two, you can share photos with family members, and invite them to help add the forgotten details.
Many apps allow you to capture these details electronically. This extra effort is well worth it, since it ensures that the stories behind every photo are preserved. In Pic Scanner Gold, you can use the ‘Captions’ feature to save these details, as shown in the example below.
If you have iPhone 6S / iPad Air 2 or a newer device, get Pic Scanner Gold. You will get much higher quality scans and a raft of useful features. It costs $4.99 on the App Store. For older iOS devices, we would recommend our lightweight app Pic Scanner. It costs $1.99 here. User guide for Pic Scanner Gold can be found here, and for Pic Scanner here.