Written by: Nicole Price-Morin
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?
1. The first step is to properly scan your photo with a good scanner.
When you scan a photo, it will ask you to choose certain settings. The most important ones will be the color, and the dpi.
Dpi stands for ‘dots per inch’, and it tells the scanner how much data to scan. You will want to set it to at least 300 dpi, which is the standard for print publishing.
2. Don’t forget color and format.
The other two settings to be careful of with scanning are the color and image format. Scan your photos in color for the best results. And the recommended file format should be JPEG or JPG.
3. 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.
The photo below, for example, shows a side-by-side comparison of a low-quality verses a high-quality scan. Can you tell the difference?
4. Give a descriptive title to each image.
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 ‘SusieMBanks1976.jpg’.
5. Organize your photos properly.
Put this photo into a clearly labeled folder, or upload it to the appropriate section of your Footprint. This is the folder that contains your original scans.
If you need a smaller copy to post on a website or social media, make a second copy of the photo and put it in a separate folder.
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 your photos.
The one aspect of digital archiving that might be the trickiest part is future changes in technology. Just like the obsolete VHS tape, hard drives and the Internet are bound to change.
One reason to use the JPG file type is that it has been aroud for quite some time, and it is the most universally used. It will also be the easiest type to change to another format in the future.
The process of archiving your photos may seem like a daunting task but is so worth it in the long run. You can prevent the destruction of one-of-a-kind images by creating a high-quality digital copy.
What other tips would you add to the list?
Nicole Price-Morin has been an author, researcher, copywriter and designer for 15 years and honed her skills as a genealogist during that time. Her dedication to accuracy and excellent research skills have led to many amazing discoveries for families looking for lost relatives in their past. She is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists.