How Quickly You Could Scan Your Entire Photo Collection — What I Discovered From My First Week of Scanning

by Curtis Bisel
updated: June 4, 2017
Curtis Bisel
June 4, 2017
Plastic bin full of photos that need scanning
It’s almost hard to make out what’s in this photo. This is a typical family’s photo collection. We protect them in plastic bins and push them into the backs of our closets so we don’t have to see them. Just know, they want to be scanned… they NEED to be scanned! (I doubt my Mother will be happy with me that I showed the world the bottom of her closet — sorry Mom!)

So you have a closet with boxes full of old prints and slides that you are dying to have scanned and neatly organized on your computer.

The problem is, you’re worried about them either costing you way too much money to send to a scanning service, or taking too much of your precious free time to scan them yourself on a flatbed scanner.

Does this sound EXACTLY like your dilemma?

I’d like to share with you my experience back scanning photos for the first week.

If you want to make scanning your own photos fit into your busy and hectic life, I think my experience here might give you an idea how much time will be involved and how many photos you can easily get through.

But really quickly, here’s a little back story to why I decided to scan my collection myself.

A Big Reason Why I Chose Scanning Myself vs. a Scanning Service

My wife and I spent hours over a couple weeks counting all of my family’s photos and we came up with a total — a whopping total!  We came up with 3,508 prints and 5,805 slides for a grand total of 9,313 photographs!

And that’s not all of them.That’s just the ones I have managed to bring back from my parents’ house so far. But, it’s the lions share.

Before I created this website, I was very close to having ScanCafe scan them all. Considering how much work is involved, they are very affordable and could produce the results I was looking for. But, because I admit I have fairly “advanced goals” for my collection, once I started adding up the extra costs to have them all scanned at high resolutions and saved as “raw” uncompressed TIFF files, the price started reaching upwards of about  $.75 (US) per photo. That means my entire collection scanned would cost me — ball park number here — about $7,000.00 (US).

With a collection as large as mine, for me, when answering that whole “which is more important to you?” question, money easily trumped time.

But the problem is, when you are presented with a challenge so big as to personally hand-scan 9,000+ photos, it’s really easy to put it off. In fact, I managed to put it off for 8 years. And I knew I probably couldn’t afford to throw large chunks of time at it very often — like entire weekends.

If this sounds like your situation as well, let me now walk you through another more realistic option.

I Finally Challenged Myself With a Very Aggressive Goal

It occurred to me the only way I would ever get through my massive collection would be to consistently work at it a little bit at a time. So just recently, I set a goal for myself to scan a small batch of photos every day. That’s 7 days a week — no days off, not even one unless I was out of town.

It had to become part of my life, like brushing my teeth or reading the news. Yes, it would be a big commitment — huge even. But hey, my method before wasn’t getting me anywhere!

It doesn’t have to be a lot of photos I told myself, but just as many as I can do in a short amount of time. And when that time was up, I would just stop.

I am a tad bit slow waking up in the morning. So, I decided this would be a perfect time to accomplish this. Best case, I would probably still be so sleepy and delirious, I wouldn’t even be fully aware that I was doing it, and I might be surprised each evening when I had realized I actually accomplished the task!

Here’s how I envisioned my mornings:

I would roll out of bed every morning, grab a can of Seattle’s Best or Trader Joe’s Iced Latte from the refrigerator and then turn on the computer. I could put on some music, a podcast or an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” or “Three’s Company” on DVD and then I would begin attacking a small pile of slides or photos.

Still Deciding on a Photo Scanner to Use?

If you’re interested in seeing which scanner I was using during this scanning challenge week you’re reading about, or would like to see which I think are the best photo scanners on the market today, check out my Photo Scanning Resources page.

Small box of photo slides I'm halfway through scanning
Here’s what the right side of my computer desk looks like when I’m scanning slides. I found a nice little plastic box that helps me sort the slides I’ve scanned from the slides I need to scan.

My First Day Back Scanning Photos

February 10, 2012 was the first day I started the scanning “machine” back up. I was sick with the beginnings of an upper respiratory infection so I knew things might go a little slow. Yet, I was still determined not to let myself down by skipping the first day.

I had already scanned over 300 photos from the work I’ve done over the last year or two. So, even though it didn’t feel like it, I was already a little over 4% along on my scanning journey.

However, that first morning felt like I had just started from the beginning — like I had the impossible in front of me.

But you know what? I started. I just grabbed a few photo pages full of prints that my parents had taken in 1972 and I started to scan them. 

And well, I also started to cough a little bit — stupid infection.

Turns out I was right about starting slow. In my defense though, it was my first day back scanning after some time. But by 9:39 a.m., about 45 minutes after I started, I had only scanned what seemed like a pathetic 10 paper prints!

I decided I was going to keep a digital log (journal) of each day’s work so I could track my progress on this site. Here is my simple entry for day 1 that I will share with you: (ES stands for the software “Epson Scan”)

Day 1 - Scanning Journal Entry

The details of what went wrong for me aren’t that important for this post. I will save that for another time. Let’s just say I tried to pre-label a unique number on each of my prints and then have my scanning software automatically attach this number to the .Tiff file for each scan. Think of it like a barcode.

Needless to say, it didn’t work out so well. None of the numbers on the files matched what I had already written on the backs of the photos. So I used up a lot of time relabeling the files and trying to figure out how to actually make it work. I just can’t make things easy on myself. Ever! 🙂

Regardless of the problems I ran into, I was still very happy. I had just completed day 1. And that 45 minutes was over before I knew it!

And get this. I finished actually wanting to scan more !!  I was really having a good time seeing these slides I don’t think I had even seen before. But, I had to stop and go to work — yeah the work that pays the bills. 🙂

Days 2 – 7 Scanning Photos

So here’s how the rest of the week turned out:

FEB 11
Scanned 61 slides — Time Required: 4 Hours

I had just bought a new antistatic slide cleaning brush and a hand-powered air blower. I was trying to figure out what was the most effective way to remove the dust from my slides. I even tried using the DIGITAL ICE scanning “filter” in combination with the brush and compressed air etc. It was a lot of testing which is why I spent 4 hours on just 61 slides. (Saturday)

FEB 12
Scanned: None — Time Required: None

Day three didn’t go so well. I was so sick that morning, the thought of scanning slides felt like just about the last thing I was up for. Day three was spent on the couch with the cat a staring at our flat screen. (Sunday)

FEB 13
Scanned 13 slides — Time Required: 23 Minutes

Apparently this was a pretty short day of scanning — not even a half hour. (Monday)

FEB 14
Scanned 20 slides — Time Required: 68 Minutes

I made a lot of mistakes this day trying to take shortcuts to make the scanning more efficient. I learned when you are scanning slides with the Epson V600 at least, you have to hit “Preview” each time when in the “thumbnail view” or in most cases it won’t scan your next set of 4 slides correctly. This cost me a lot of time. Lesson learned. (Tuesday)

FEB 15
Scanned 28 slides — Time Required: 58 Minutes

This was a very successful day. Other than losing my special archival writing pen, which took me about 10 minutes to find before I started, I didn’t have any problems this day! I wrote this in my notes that day:

So I got 28 slides done today in less than 1 hour!  Fantastic!

FEB 16
Scanned 29 slides — Time Required: 62 Minutes

No problems today. Smooth sailing. Well I had a few I had to redo because there was excessive hair and dust — even blowing it with compressed air didn’t help that much.

4 Slides sitting in Epson V600 waiting to be scanned
And here’s the left side of my computer desk. Four slides lightly brushed of dust and waiting in my Epson V600 to be scanned. While these 4 are being scanned, I have time to get the next 4 prepared.

So How Did I Do?

For the mathematicians out there, you may have already figured out that in my first 7 days back, I scanned a total of 161 photos using a total of 8 hours and 16 minutes of my time. That’s a little over 3 minutes per photo. I knew I could do better than that.

For some context of how well I did, I remembered seeing statistics about this on the scanning service ScanCafe’s website. They have a page that does a good job convincing you that a service is the best way to go. It almost makes it seem like you are basically out of your mind if you even think you can scan your entire photo collection by yourself.

Well, let me rephrase that. The point they are trying to get across on their “doing scanning yourself” page is that it costs a lot of money and also requires a ridiculous amount of time. They write: to research firm GfK North America, the average American adult has 3,000 old analog images. Scanning and repairing those, once you’ve learned how and bought the equipment, should take about 7.5 minutes per photo. For 3,000 photos, that’s 22,500 minutes, or about 375 hours. That’s nearly 10 workweeks — or 47 Saturdays at 8 hours a day.

Now, please don’t let this paragraph scare you! I know it sounds pretty overwhelming. It’s not that what they said is unrealistic. But, allow me to put things in perspective. Most of the 7.5 minutes they quoted for each photo is alloted to “repair” the image of dust and color shifting etc. in photo editing software — 5.5 minutes to be exact.

Some may disagree with me here, but you personally may find that a lot of your collection, if well cared for, may not require much if any repair. You may be satisfied with the results of using the “auto color correct” setting during scanning or in your image management software. And it’s possible having a small amount of dust and scratches on your images won’t bother you.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you may find that intensive repair work on every single photo in your collection is a luxury to you and is by no means necessary for you to be content with the results.

This situation reminds me of a great saying that I know I can’t remind myself of too many times:

Progress is more important than Perfection.

So even though repair is important to me, I’m really just concerned with scanning right now. I can do photo repairing anytime I want later. For me — and I would suggest you do the same if you asked me — it’s most important to just get them all safely scanned first.

Time Required Just to Scan

Now, if we go back to ScanCafe’s 7.5 minutes per photo estimate, they actually say it only takes 1-4 minutes to “complete each scan” — the most important part. Which sounds just about right from my experience during this first week.

This made me REALLY happy. Do you know why?

This makes me happy because really, I had a pretty average to almost poor first week. Seriously. I mean it was my first week back and I was a bit rusty. I had problems remembering my scanning techniques I had used over the last year or so. Also, I was doing some testing to figure out how to be the most efficient while scanning and removing dust from my slides. And on top of that I was sick.

Yet, I still managed to scan 161 photos in an average of around 3 minutes a piece. And most of those were slides and not prints. Slides take a scanner longer to scan than paper prints because of the higher resolution you have to scan them with.

By the last two days, once I had picked up momentum, I had improved and was scanning about 30 slides in almost exactly one hour.

Yes — that’s a slide every 2 minutes !

Seriously. That’s not bad. That’s not bad for a pro-sumer level scanner and me just being a normal guy. What I mean is, I don’t scan for a living.

YOU could easily achieve this pace too after a little bit of experience just doing it.

By the seventh day of this first week, I was thinking to myself that I would be the happiest guy alive if I could just wake up early enough that I could clear a full hour of my morning — first thing — just for scanning. Because if I could, I could continually hit this count of 30 slides a day.

And I know with paper prints, I can get through 40-50 of them in a single hour of scanning!

At this point I was so excited, I couldn’t help but wonder how far along I would be in a year’s time at this rate. Would I be halfway through? More?  So I did the math.

Then How Long Would It Take You to Scan Your Entire Collection?

If I could scan just 30 photos a day, that would mean I would actually be finished with all of the photos I have here at my house in less than a year from now!

9,313 (total photos) ÷ 30 (photos daily) = 311 days

So You Might Be Saying To Yourself, “Who In the World Has a Free HOUR to Scan Each and Every Day !??”

Yeah, I suggested this goal to the guy that cuts my hair and he thought I was bloody insane (he’s British). With a wife, a young son and a never-ending list of clients fighting for his time, he couldn’t see any way to give up an hour a day to scan photos.

But here’s the thing, I doubt you’re going to need an hour each day. Not even close to it.

According to that earlier quote, if you have an average-sized collection, then you probably only have around 3,000 photos. Which means, if my math is correct, if you could find just 20 minutes a day in your busy schedule, you too could be finished scanning in just a year’s time.

If you could scan 30 photos in 60 minutes, that means you are doing 10 photos every 20 minutes.

10 (photos daily) x 365 (days) = 3,650 total scanned

What If You Wanted to Scan Just Once a Week

Is scanning every day too much to expect from you? Okay, what if you waited and did it all on the weekend — say on a Saturday afternoon while the kids are playing with their friends. If you did all of the scanning in one sitting, it would only require a single time chunk of 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Hey, that’s easily how much time many of us “waste” on social networking sites and watching mindless television shows every week here in the U.S.!

It’s Time

I may have procrastinated for 8 years, but eventually, I finally realized how important this was to me and made it a priority in my life. And boy am I glad I did.

You will discover the treasures you’ve totally forgotten about or never knew you had.

Couple posed in front of globe at 1964 World's Fair
On the sixth day of my first week back, I scanned this very slide. It’s my young parents on their Honeymoon at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Even though I wouldn’t expect this photograph to mean anything to you, I can guarantee you your collection holds a bunch of precious memories like this one for you. I had heard the stories of this trip for 30 years of my life, but I had never seen one moment of it until the day I scanned this slide.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re already talking yourself out of this, telling yourself you can’t do this because a year sounds like too long — like you’re thinking you’re never going to finish this project like you never finished learning to play the piano — just remind yourself this:

How many times a year do you say to yourself, “Man, it feels like just yesterday I [fill in the blank].”

Typically what you fill in this sentence with is something you did a year ago, like prepared your taxes, paid your car registration or celebrated your last birthday.

Before you know it, another year will pass you by. Only next year, your photo collection will have been scanned.

Just make this happen.

Whatever it takes.

Yes, you can do this.

You will never “find” time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.

~ Charles Bruxton

I’m sure after reading this, you have some questions for me. I would be glad to answer them for you in the comments below.

I hope this inspires you. Cheers!

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