1. Equip yourself.
2. Get prepped.
If you want to scan photos mounted in an album, take them out if you can. (Photograph each page so you can put the pictures back in the same spots after scanning.) If the photos are permanently mounted, see if you can separate the pages and scan each page. If you can’t, move the scanner to the edge of the table and hold one page of the album as flat as possible on the scanner, letting the facing pages hang down along the side.
3. Check your settings.
- Color: Scan in color—not grayscale—even for black-and-white or sepia images. Although the color options produce larger files, scanning in color gives you more options for improving the images when you edit them.
- Resolution: Choose a high resolution: 300 dots per inch (dpi) is satisfactory for reprinting a picture at the same size as the original, but you might want to print an enlargement later or zoom in to the photo on your computer screen. If your resolution is too low, the image will look blurry and pixelated. For your digital photo archive, you should scan small prints at 1,200 dpi and large prints at 800 dpi. These high-resolution scans take longer and produce larger files, but extra hard disk space is pretty inexpensive these days.
- File format: If your scanner software gives you the option, save scanned photos in an uncompressed file format, such as TIFF, for optimal image quality. The JPG format, used to email photos or post them online, is a less-detailed, compressed format. Because TIFFs retain more detail, they’re larger than JPGs and take up more hard disk space. If you scan pictures at a high resolution, you’ll notice little difference in quality between TIFF and JPG files, but JPGs do tend to degrade each time you save them. If you want to edit a JPG file, first save it in a TIFF format and keep an unedited copy of the TIFF.
4. Start scanning.
The exact scanning process varies by scanner, but it’ll be similar to these steps for scanning prints using Picasa photo-management software and a Canon scanner (that’s my setup), which uses the ScanGear scanner driver.
Set the photo facedown on the clean scanner glass. Be sure to scan the whole photo, not just the most interesting part—you can always crop it later. Open Picasa and click the Import button. Select your scanner under Import From. The ScanGear driver offers three tabbed options for scanning prints:
- Simple mode lets you scan a single photo at a maximum resolution of 300 dpi in three steps.
- Advanced mode gives you more scanner settings, with a maximum resolution of 1,200 dpi.
- Multi Scan lets you quickly scan up to 10 items at a time at a maximum resolution of 600 dpi without doing any image correction.
Picasa can open TIFFs, but it saves files only in JPG format. If you select Export Picture to Folder from the File menu, you can use the Image Quality button to control the degree of JPG compression.
If the photo has any information on the back, such as a photographer’s imprint or a handwritten note, flip it over and scan the back, too.
5. Label and edit your images.
Labeling your images with “tags” and captions makes it easy to find the photo you need and quickly identify who’s in it. Double-click on a photo in the library, then click on Make a Caption! below the image and type in a caption.
Once you’ve digitized your family photos, take the time to back up the files so a computer crash or house fire can’t wipe out your scans. Save copies to an online backup service, to an external hard drive (stored in a separate location from your computer) and/or to high-quality recordable DVDs. Share copies with family, too—the more copies out there, the safer your digitized photos.