Written by: Joe Fiduccia
As the world becomes more and more digital, it is getting easier and easier to preserve family photos forever.
Paper photos can be easily destroyed, and although it seems as if a digital copy might be more fragile, with proper handling a digital photo can be the safest way to preserve precious pictures.
However, anyone who has tried to put a picture online knows that it can be difficult to preserve the quality of a photo. For example, you might take a photo of an old picture to post on Facebook (on #throwbackthursday?), but you’ll notice that the photo will not have the same crispness.
It may have square blocks in it that look ‘fuzzy’. These blocks are called artifacts, and every time you copy or send a photo across a digital device the file will lose data. In other words, this means that your photo will lose detail every single time you copy it.
So, how do we digitize a photo and store it forever? Here are a few of our recommendations!
1. Find a good scanner.
In today’s modern world, scanners are very affordable and usually come built in to many of the All-In-One printers. A simple Google search for ‘scanners’ will yield thousands of results that is immediately overwhelming to most hobbyists.
If you are shopping for a scanner, avoid impulse buying…or settling on the most inexpensive option. Take your time in the research. Check multiple sites and articles. Read reviews both good and bad. But beyond that, also consider the settings offered.
For example, when you scan a photo, the device typically offers a variety of options for saving it. The most important ones initially will be the color, and the dpi. Dpi stands for ‘dots per inch’, and it tells the scanner how much data to scan.
We recommend a scanner with at least 300 dpi scanning ability, which is the standard for print publishing.
Also don’t forget the color and image format. Scan your photos in color for the best results. And the recommended file format should be either JPEG, JPG, or even PNG.
2. Pay attention to the final size.
The size of the scanned photo will likely be at least 1 MB if you have scanned it properly. This is how much data it takes to save all of the color information in the photo, even if it is black and white.
What you are archiving will determine how detailed the image should be. For example, if you are scanning a photo from last year’s backyard pool party, a 20 MB file size might be a bit much. But if you are scanning medical records or physical documents, the ability to read and see everything becomes much more important. Justifying the overall file size.
3. Scan files individually, and give a descriptive title to each.
Depending on what you are scanning and where you intend to store the digital scans, you may wish to consider scanning files individually vs. in one bulk scan. For example, locating a single photo 10 years from now might be a bit easier if it was isolated and easily visible, vs. part of a larger photo album that may contain 30 images in a single scan.
When scanning pictures, we recommend the “less is more” mantra. That said, scanning multiple pages from a written document or contract into a single file is recommended to keep everything together.
As basic as it may seem, once you have scanned your file, change the name to something very specific. Something that has meaning, and perhaps briefly describes the photo in a few short words.
For example, if you are collecting an archive of photos of a certain family member, make sure to use their full name, and the date the photo was taken, such as ‘SusieMBanks_July1976.jpg’.
4. Organizing is critical.
Take the time now to properly arrange and organize your files. Your future self will undoubtedly thank you for it.
If you are storing the scans on a computer, place them into clearly labeled folders. For example, adding pictures to a folder named “2020 pics” is not as useful as a folder named “July 2020 Family Photos”.
If you are considering storing those images on a digital platform such as America’s Footprints, take advantage of the categories provided to store your scans in an appropriate (and easy to find) location.
Now it’s time to make backups. There are many ways to do this, but you should have at least two kinds: a backup of your computer hard drive, and a cloud backup.
On a Mac for example, you can set your computer to automatically backup to a hard drive device called an Airport. You can also plug in a stand-alone hard drive and just manually transfer the files you want to backup.
This kind of redundancy is important because hard drives tend to fail. If you have two copies at home and a copy on the Internet, you can be pretty certain that accidents and disasters won’t be able to destroy most or any of your important scans.
In closing, there is one aspect of digital archiving that might be the trickiest to predict – technology. Just like the obsolete VHS tape, hard drives and the Internet are bound to change. But doing something to preserve your story now with the resources available to us is certainly better than doing nothing at all.
The process of scanning images and documents archiving may seem like a daunting task. But is worth every minute in the long run.
What other tips would you add to the list?