Preserving Memories: How to Digitize Old Family Photos for Your Book

man sitting on black chair grayscale photo
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

One of the most crucial aspects of creating a family history or life history book is digitizing old family photos. Photographs hold a wealth of memories, and by digitizing them, you can ensure they remain accessible for generations to come. In this post I’ll break down two great options for digitizing vintage family photographs, comparing a large flatbed scanner to smartphone apps.

Digitizing with a Large Flatbed Scanner

Large flatbed scanners have long been a trusted tool for digitizing photographs and documents. Here’s how to use them effectively:

  1. Gather Your Materials: Begin by collecting your old family photos and organizing them. Ensure the scanner glass is clean and free of dust.
  2. Set the Scanner: Place your photo face down on the scanner bed. Adjust settings such as resolution (typically 300-600 DPI) and file format (JPEG or TIFF). – I usually select both JPEG and TIFF because I want a shareable image, as well as an archival-quality image.
  3. Preview and Adjust: Preview the scan and make any necessary adjustments for cropping, color correction, and resolution. Many scanning software packages offer editing tools.
  4. Scan: Once satisfied with the settings, initiate the scan. Be patient as high-resolution scans can take time.

Benefits of Large Flatbed Scanners:

  • High-quality scans with excellent detail.
  • Precise control over settings and adjustments.
  • Suitable for fragile and delicate photographs.

Drawbacks of Large Flatbed Scanners:

  • Time-consuming, especially for a large photo collection.
  • Requires a dedicated scanner and computer setup.
  • Expensive to purchase.
  • Travel time to and from a FamilySearch Center with free flatbed scanners can be a deterrent.

Another option if you’re interested in flatbed scanner quality is to use a scanning service, like me! Did you know I digitize family photos? You can send me your things and I’ll happily return high quality images back to you on a flash drive.

Digitizing with Smartphone Apps (e.g., Photomyne or Reimagine App)

Alternatively, you can use user-friendly apps to digitize photos directly from your smartphone:

  1. Download and Install: Download the app from your device’s app store, install it, and create an account. MyHeritage members can download and use the Reimagine app for free (though I’ve had a hard time getting into it!)
  2. Photograph Your Photos: Open the app and use your phone’s camera to capture photos of your old family pictures. The app will automatically detect, crop, and enhance each photo.
  3. Review and Save: Review the digitized images, make any necessary adjustments, and save them to your device or cloud storage.

Benefits of Smartphone Apps:

  • Quick and convenient, ideal for large photo collections.
  • Automatic cropping and enhancement features.
  • No need for specialized equipment.
  • Much cheaper than a flatbed scanner, some subscriptions are as little as $40/year.

Drawbacks of Smartphone Apps:

  • May not achieve the same level of detail as a flatbed scanner, especially for larger prints.
  • Limited control over advanced settings.

The smartphone apps are getting better all the time, so I wouldn’t put the brakes on it altogether! They are a fantastic option if you’re strapped for cash.

Ultimately, the choice depends on your preferences and the size of your photo collection. Whichever method you choose, the goal remains the same: to safeguard the cherished memories of your family’s past. The journey of preserving your family’s legacy is a labor of love, and each digitized photo is a testament to the enduring bond of family.

If you like the idea of getting photos digitized but it feels overwhelming to do it, reach out to me! I’d love to help you.

Follow me on Instagram where I talk all about preserving memories and creating custom family history books!

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