Digital photo files take no space, are easy to share with your family and immune to floods and fires if you have them backed up. No, they’re not the same as the hard copy – you can’t hold it in your fingers or stick it on your wall – but when your photos are living in shoeboxes, they’re all but lost to you anyway. Plus, cheap machine prints don’t age well. By digitizing them, you end up with only slightly faded images.
Where to start? I considered scanning the photos myself, but that would mean hours and hours of laborious work. Instead, I sent them to a photo scanning site and wound up with an archival CD containing hundreds of old photos and an online album with all of my photos in thumbnail size. If I want to, I can even have some of them printed.
Photo and Video Scanning Services
Scanning services like ScanMyPhotos or GoPhoto will digitize all kinds of formats, from printed photos to negatives and slides (minimum and maximum sizes vary by service). They’ll also digitize VHS and Betamax tapes, and 8mm film, all of which they convert to DVD. Most of these services have a prepaid box option that lets you stuff a box with as many pictures as will safely fit for a set price.
When you get your photo DVD back, you can upload the images to your computer or to the cloud and from there, make slideshows, attach them to emails, or organize, enjoy and share them in any number of ways. More on that later.
You do have to take the chance of sending your precious old photos through the mail, and yes, it does feel nervewracking, but the scanning service will send you a USPS Priority Mail box with tracking, or you can use UPS or FedEx if you prefer. Many services will also let you track your job’s progress once it arrives there via their website.
Which Service to Use?
Many companies offer scanning services. Look for one that:
Offers secure mail with tracking
Does the job at their US location rather than sending your pictures abroad (ScanCafe, for example, sends photos to India for scanning)
Scans at a minimum of 300 dpi (that’s “dots per inch”)
Provides an online album as well as an archival CD or DVD. The album should be available to you as a logged-in customer indefinitely.
If you look around, you’re likely to find a company that fits the bill and also is offering a discount; you’re also likely to find discounts via a flash sale site like Groupon.
Here are two services we have some experience with.
ScanMyPhotos – the oldest most reliable service according to an article in Forbes – scans pictures as small as 3 x 3 and up to 8 x10, but they have to be bundled together by size. Since I’m not OCD enough to do this, I hired a friend who works as an organizer. It took her a couple of hours, and she charged me $40, which was well worth it. It took about two weeks for my photos to be returned. I not only got two archival CDs, but also a bound album of all the photos in thumbnail sizes and numbered in the same order as on the CD. The CD gave me the option to upload my photos to my Dropbox – my online cloud storage.
Cost: $145.00 for a prepaid, all-you-can-fit box. (ScanMyPhotos was offering a 10 percent discount as I was writing this.)
GoPhoto.com doesn’t require such OCD preparation. A friend sent them entire albums with post-its to mark pages and photos she didn’t want scanned, as well as a disorganized stack of photos of all sizes – even tiny ones. She paid a little extra to get three CDs – one for her daughter and one for her mother – and several years later, she still has access to the downloadable scans on their website, all organized by album.
Cost: 44c per image with no upfront cost. You pay when your order is complete for the scans you want to keep.
What To Do With Your Digitized Photos
My cousins had some great pics of my parents that they scanned individually and emailed to me. Now that I have the archival CD of all our family photos, I can return the favor, plus share them with my friends in a whole bunch of ways.
Email. Once you upload your photos to your computer you can easily attach them to emails. This is the simplest way to share photos.
Facebook. If you’re a Facebook junkie like me, you know about the weekly ritual of Throwback Thursday (#tbt), when everyone posts old family photos. Dare I post those old pictures of me when I was a size 12?
Make a printed and bound photo book, or photo cards or gifts – anything from a T-Shirt to a mouse pad. If your photos are halfway decent, the results will look amazingly professional. For instance, Blurb, a company that prides itself in making beautifully printed books, charges $12.99 for a 20-page large-format book. Snapfish.com will put your photos on pillows and blankets starting at $39.99. photogirl.com will teach you how to make your own digital photo book. Companies like Shutterfly have an easy-track book making process that flows your images directly into a layout and lets you add text. Once you’re signed up with the site, you’ll find discounts for books and gifts in your inbox fairly often.
Share your photos on your tablet or phone. We used to whip pictures of our grandchildren out of our wallets, but now you can hand friends your phone or iPad and tell them to take a look. There are a variety of apps for tablets and phones that make it easy. Here’s an article on the best photosharing sites and how to use them.