Your Family Photo Collection – Safe Forever!
Organizing and managing a family photo collection can be a monumental task, fraught with both stress and fear. The responsibility of caring for what is often the only copy of your family’s photographic history can be stressful. Still, you probably realize that photographs have a limited lifetime and even that can be quickly snuffed out by a fire or other natural disaster. So how do you conquer this dilemma once and for all?
Today, the best answer is digital scanning. Paper photographs from the pre-digital age have a limited lifetime. The heat, ozone and light have been steadily attacking your important family treasures. The resulting yellowing, fading and deterioration are usually visible to the naked eye. Unless you store your photo collection in the freezer as recommended by Kodak, the aging process will continue indefinitely.
Digital scanning, however, captures your photographic image at today’s quality level, in essence preserving the image in its best possible condition. The benefits of digital scanning numerous, but the key ones can be broken into four primary categories.
Although the improvements to the dyes and paper used in pre-digital photography after 1990 suggest that these photos may last 100 years or longer, the same cannot be said for prints dating back into the 1980′s and earlier. These photos are especially prone to fading and yellowing. As the top layer of dye deteriorates, the dyes underneath are exposed to thermal, light and ozone deterioration, eventually leaving behind an unusable image. The old black-and-white photos are much hardier, with the image often retaining its sharpness for up to 100 years. Unfortunately for these historical treasures, the paper often becomes fragile much sooner, still leaving you with an unprotected photograph.
The greatest risk to our photo collections is actually a generational one. Photos that are in good shape today, probably won’t be by the time our kids grow up and have the time, money and inclination to scan them. Once they open those old boxes and albums, they are likely to find that a large percentage can no longer be saved. Our generation is the keeper of this vast collection of photographs from the last 170 years. Like it or not, the products of the photographic age are ours to protect or they will simply fade away in the coming years.
All of the acid-free paper and cool storage cannot protect your family photographs from fire, flood and other natural disasters. Once scanned, you start to have affordable options on how to preserve your photos. For those of us with diligent computer hard drive back-up habits, our family photo collection is just additional data protected through our regular procedures. For the more routine-challenged among us, once your photos are digitized, you can store the images on a CD or DVD. For extra safety, keep an extra copy of the discs in a safety deposit box or simply send to a close friend or relative for safekeeping. One important note is that CDs and DVDs are subject to the same short lifetime as photographs. To provide a further level of protection, try 100 year archival CDs, available from companies like Delkin Devices in San Diego.
Another option for long-term safety of your family photo collection is online storage. Popular with professional photographers for years, consumers have begun using free or low-cost photo internet-based storage accounts from companies like Flickr or PhotoBin. Check carefully to make sure your images will be saved at full resolution, as Facebook and most social media providers offer a lot of photos, but they may actually save your images at such a small size that you cannot reproduce them at an acceptable level of quality.
One of the most immediate benefits of digital photographs is the ease of organizing your photo collection. On your computer, you can quickly create folders, copies and slide shows. When discussing photo organization plans with my clients, I always recommend that they spend as little time as possible organizing their photos prior to scanning. Sorting old photos by hand is a monumental task in handling, thought and story-telling. Conversely, viewing those same photographs on your computer screen makes decision-making fast, easy and fun.
Here is the best part; right now, most of us have two photo collections to manage. Your computer is likely full of your recent digital images. Your closet may be packed even fuller with the memories of your lives. Getting them altogether in one place is more than a joy. It is a relief!
All of my clients have one thing in common. They all have great photographs of people they love that have never been seen by the subject of the photograph. Before the age of email, paper photographs were hard to share, especially with friends and family from out-of-town. As a result, we have real prizes that don’t get shared.
However, once your photos are on your computer, emailing them anywhere in the world is a snap. Plus, you can make inexpensive CD or DVD copies of your entire collection in minutes. The popularity of inexpensive photo books make sharing photos even more fun. Here the power of scanned photos becomes even more valuable. Imagine creating a “Life Book”, combining scanned photos from the last century with your modern digital prints, showcasing the life of a loved one from birth through last week!
How to Get it Done
The benefits of scanning are appreciated by most everybody. For most, there are a few basic questions that must be answered before taking action.
Should I Scan My Photos Myself?
For most people, the real question is “Will I ever do this?” Unfortunately, the answer is usually that we are all just too busy to take on a scanning job of anything more than a few dozen pictures. It isn’t a matter of intention. This is simply an issue of time.
Here’s how the math works: A determined person with a good quality consumer scanner can generate a 4×6 scan at 600 DPI in about 2 minutes. If you have an average-sized photo collection of 2000 photos (about two shoe boxes), this puts your total commitment at nearly two weeks, working full-time. Most people just don’t have this amount of time available and either dismiss the possibility or do nothing and leave their photo collection at continued risk.
Are outside services available at a reasonable cost?
Recent advancements in scanning technology are increasing the speed at which a quality photograph can be accomplished on commercial-grade equipment. These improvements in efficiency translate to lower prices for you. A recent review of scanning companies show the price for a 600DPI scan ranges from as low as 10 cents to as much as $1 at high-end companies that the pros use. Although quality differences exist, most consumers are more than satisfied by a reasonably priced, good quality 600DPI scan from a reputable company.
It is important to consider the location where the photographs will be scanned. ScanCafe and BritePix, two of the largest scanning companies marketing in the USA actually ship your photos out of the country to save costs. If the idea of your photos going to India doesn’t concern you, you can get a good deal on quality work. Still, there are plenty of companies right here in the USA with reasonable prices and it is worth considering them carefully.
How long will it take me to get this done?
If you do the work at home, you should plan on about 40 hours for each shoebox full of 1000 photos. This allows enough time to dust the photos clean, place the photos on the glass, re-pack them and check the scans on your computer. If you don’t have a couple of weeks of free time, most scanning companies will complete your order in 14 days or less. Be careful of lead times if you use an out-of-country scanning company as a turnaround time of six to eight weeks is not uncommon!
However, the real issue is how long you need to take preparing the photos for scanning. Whether you scan them yourself or hire the work done, you still need to organize and prepare the photos for scanning. This depends more upon you than the current condition of your photo collection. Here are a few tips:
1) Sort by size. At home or using an outside service, having your photos sorted by size will save you time and money.
2) Orientate and upright your photos on the computer after scanning, not by hand before. Doing it on the computer is much faster.
3) Don’t organize your photos before scanning. Resist the temptation to put them in date order or sort by person. You will never get it completely done and it is about four times faster to do it after scanning. Remember, on the computer, it is simply click-and-drag. However, if your photos are in some sort of order now, preserve it. This makes it even faster to organize electronically later.
4) Don’t get nostalgic. These are the memories of your life and going through them is a ton of fun. But, it can easily take a one hour job and turn it into a six hour, half-done project that gets returned to the closet. Reminiscing after scanning takes discipline, but pays off.
5) Consider your photo albums carefully. If the albums have pockets where the photo slips in and out, you will find removing and replacing to be a tedious, but quick job. If they photos are glued or taped down, you may choose to find a large format scanner that can scan the entire page without removing anything.
Photo scanning is clearly an important responsibility that was handed to our generation without plan or warning. Without choice, we are the keepers of our society’s photographic history. Whether you use an outside service or take on the challenge yourself, it is important to remember that these family treasures won’t last forever. Taking action today will preserve your family legacy for eternity.