15 Min Read – It often seems like one home project just rolls into another one… After successfully cleaning out the garage and purging a ton of junk, we noticed the 6 bins full of old photos & memorabilia on the shelves. It’s been at least 20 years since we’ve taken an actual photo, involving a camera and film. But from childhood through the 90’s, we took a lot of snapshots to capture the moment! Digitizing old photos was now the next and perhaps greatest COVID lockdown project we would undertake.
“A good Snapshot keeps a moment from running away”
– Eudora Welty
Why Digitize Old Photos?
There are pressing reasons to digitize old photos now, rather than put it off …
The Race Against Time
First, many of the older photos have begun to degrade & will continue to do so. Using available technology to digitize and even enhance the picture quality is time sensitive. It’s also far easier than you think to do it yourself or hire someone to handle it. Digitizing old photos and safely backing them up means your memories will live on.
Visiting the Past
Second – And perhaps most important, keeping great memories sequestered in bins is a crime! On the rare occasions that we pull these time capsules off the shelf and have a look, so many interesting stories ensue.
I still learn things about Bev & her family, after 30 years. The pictures of my kids when they were youngsters brings waves of wonderful memories. Old photos of generations of my family remind me of things I’d forgotten about myself, which gives me perspective. Quicker and easier access through digitizing old photos is a gift.
Separating the Wheat from the Chaff
Third – some of the memorabilia in these 6 bins is… well… junk. Or at the very least not worthy of digital and hard copy. While we plan to keep hard copies of things like wedding albums or family portraits from previous generations (as long as they will last), my 3rd grade class picture or ticket stubs from a 1983 Grateful Dead show will likely become digital and then the original discarded.
I have a lofty goal to cut photo storage bins from 6 to 1.
Digitizing old photos and backing them up is ultimately more secure then the degradation that’s taking place in garage bins. Also, selectively editing some of what’s in those bins means not everything will make it to digital. Some will likely land in the recycle bin.
One and Done
Finally, digitizing old photos is a finite process. Most of us cut over to digital photography years ago. Yes, this will be a time consuming process. But once you’ve converted all these old photos to digital, you’re done… forever.
You preserve your past history and bring it current with the thousands of more recent, contemporary digital photos.
Three Part Post
For digitizing old photos we’re creating three connected posts:
Today’s Post Discusses
- The manual sorting process
- Creating a photo organization strategy
- Cleaning up the digital photos you have now
- Deciding where to safely backup & store your photos
Post Two – looks at methods for digitizing old Photos that might work best for you
Post Three – discusses convenient ways to access & display your photos
Think Jigsaw Puzzle for Success
Digitizing old photos is a lot like piecing a big jigsaw puzzle together…
- Reserve a table in your house where you can sort, organize & digitize your photos
- The process could take weeks to complete.
- Work in small doses, then take a break. Chipping away at it will make it more enjoyable than muscling through it
- Much like puzzle pieces, sort & organize your photos into logical piles, making the entire process go faster and smoother.
- Be patient! It’s took years to accumulate boxes of old photos. It’ll take some time to organize and digitize old photos
- The satisfaction when you complete it will be huge!
Sorting Tip – Dental Floss
Have dental floss handy. After years of being stuck in albums, some photos might be stuck to the pages. Try using dental floss to slid in between the page & photo
The Manual Sorting Process – Sifting through Mountains of Memories
Sorting through decades of photos is a fun, yet time consuming task. It’s also an important step towards digitizing your photos. Taking the time to review the photos helps to weed out snapshots that won’t make the cut to digital. We found plenty of fatally flawed photos that had little or no meaning for us. Have a trash bag handy!
Sorting also begins the process of organizing your photos into logical groups and sub-groups. While some photos are already in neatly organized albums (like our wedding pictures) many are not in a logical order.
Another Jaunty Article you might enjoy…
Benefits of Compression Therapy – faster recovery, flexibility & more!
Create a Photo Filing Strategy
Transferring boxes of disorganized photos into a disorganized collection of digital photos isn’t ideal. So, as you begin to sort through your old photos, you’ll need to map out your photo filing strategy. Having a photo organization plan will let you smoothly merge the old photos with your existing digital photos.
As we are Mac users, most of our digital photos are in Apple’s free iPhoto application. While not perfect, iPhoto does a pretty good job of initially categorizing digital photos by date, faces & places. This was a good place for us to start, when setting up our photo folders.
Setting up logical photo folders will make having quick access to all these wonderful memories much more fun.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any one folder naming scheme that works best. Once you begin sorting photo albums & pictures you’ll likely begin to see an organizational pattern emerge.
Then, create an agreed upon naming scheme that makes sense to you and your significant other. This make retrieving and adding photos quick and easy.
Here’s how we set some of ours up so far. We are still sorting pictures, so likely more categories to come.
Bev Childhood John Childhood Ryan Childhood Ian Childhood
HS/College HS/College Ryan HS Ian HS
Bev Ancestry John Ancestry Ryan College Ian JR Hockey
Wedding Germany 85-86 Homes/Cars Ian College
Travel 80’s Travel 96′-06′ Travel 07′-17′ Travel 08′-28′
Family/Friends 90’s Family/Friends 00’s Important Docs
Cleaning up the Digital Photos First
A good place to start might be to look at how your digital photos are organized. Much like your shoebox full of photos, your digital drawer probably needs some tidying up. It’s so easy to take a quick shot with our phones nowadays. I have hundreds of digital shots taking up space on my phone and laptop.
If your digital collection could do with some reorganization and clean up, make the changes now… before you add 1000’s more photos.
After, add your new category strategy to accommodate the soon to be added photos.
Convenient Apps to Eliminate Duplicate Digital Photos
There are several really clever Apps (free or very inexpensive) available that review your hard drives and identify all the duplicate photos. Apps like Gemini 2 for Mac or Duplicate Cleaner for Windows find duplicates, blurry photos and photos of the same thing taken at several angles. Then, they give you the option of deleting them. This is a great place to start before adding hundreds more photos!
We were able to pull 6 GB’s of duplicate & poor quality photos off our Macs!
Deciding Where to Store & Safely Backup your Photos
Before diving into digitizing the old photos, it’s important to decide how to safely store and backup everything.
Our plan was to digitize all the old photos & keep some originals from important occasions like our wedding, oldest family photos etc… At the same time, we intended to discard several bins of old photos.
Having confidence in a backup solutions was important!
One of the keys to protecting your photos is to create updated backups in multiple locations, including up on the cloud. In the unlikely scenario that your house burns to the ground, your photos will always exist somewhere else..
Storing on the Cloud
We believe storing our photos on the cloud is one of the best options for preserving our photos and important documents. Cloud backup is safe, simple & offers lots of applications that will backup automatically for you.
There are also hundreds of cloud services to choose from, from small companies to big names you’re more familiar with. Google Photos, Microsoft One Drive, Apple Icloud & DropBox are just a few recognizable options to consider. Prices range from free to about $150 a year. From 50 Gigabytes to 5 Terabytes, it would be impossible to eclipse all of available storage!
Upsides of Cloud Storage
- Large, familiar companies offer services
- The cloud is available to all your devices, from anywhere, provided you have internet access
- Unlimited amounts of storage space.
- For a few more bucks terabytes of space at your disposal.
- Very safe backup option
Downsides of the Cloud
- If you lose access to the internet, you can’t access your photos and data
- If someone gains access to your login, they could gain access to your photos. (Create a strong password!)
Local Device Storage
In addition to cloud storage, having local copies of your digital photos make sense too.
Why Local Storage?
- Local storage maintains redundant copies of your photos.
- Having local storage provides immediate access to photos, even if your internet isn’t available. Should you want to show off some pictures and your not on the internet, you have them locally on your device.
- Computers, Laptop, iPads, Cell phones and network attached storage are all easy local storage options. Most of us already own one or two of these devices. Assuming there is enough hard drive space to accommodate all of your photos, these are an excellent choice. They offer quick and immediate access and are another redundant copy of your pictures.
- Mac & Windows also come with apps to automatically backup your photos to the cloud. If you’re not a fan of your computer’s native offering, there are numerous backup applications to choose from. And when combined with the cloud, your photos are still safe when your local device fails (and eventually it will).
Thumb drives are another cheap and easy way to backup photos. Copying from your laptop to a thumb drive is easy. That said, making copies to a thumb drive is always a manual process rather than an automated backup. Make sure to matchup the right thumb drive with type of port on your laptop or computer.
The SanDisk 256GB Thumb drive can plug into iPhones, iPads, & your computer with a Thunderbolt port. 32,000+ 4.5 ratings on Amazon!
Samsungs 128gb USB Thumb Drive has over 28,000 4.5 ratings on Amazon!
Samsung’s extremely compact 256 GB USB drive – 18,000+ 4.5 ratings on Amazon!
Local Network Storage Drives
One of the downsides to storing photos, videos and important docs on your laptop or cell phone is that you may eventually run out of hard drive space or the drive will fail
Here’s where a local network storage drive might be a great fit. Network storage devices come with their own backup application, are accessible from any of your devices via home WiFi, have their own redundancy built in & offer large amounts of storage for relatively low cost. Centralizing all of your data is also really convenient and accessible to everyone on your network.
Network Storage is still one piece of the puzzle in protecting your photos. It’s still a good idea to back up your network storage device to the cloud. Without it, your network storage is the single point of failure, should something go wrong!
Some of the more popular Network work storage devices include:
The Western Digital Home Cloud
The Buffalo Link Station Private Cloud
Our Apple Mac Solution
Being a Mac household, we decided to use our laptops & Cell Phones to store photos locally. We currently have enough drive space to house all of the photos & it’s the current simplest solution. When we eventually run low on drive space, we’ll move to a network attached storage drive.
The Apple iCloud App then automatically backs up all our photos (& important documents) to the cloud, and syncs them to our laptops, cell phones & Ipads. This way, all the old & recent photos are immediately accessible on all devices.
The Iphoto App also allows us to share albums. So if I take a photo and put it in a shared album, Bev immediately has access to it.
Finally, we also copied the core of our photos to three thumb drives, for a 3rd safety backup. It was a quick, inexpensive solution that offers yet another layer of redundancy. Throw the Thumb drives in a safe or firebox for safe keeping!
Next up: Read Jaunty’s 2nd post:
Choosing a Photo Digitizing Methods that Work Best for You