“I'll get to it someday.”
“Maybe when I get around to buying a decent scanner.”
“It's just too much work.”
“I'll make one of my kids do it. They know that ‘tech' stuff – I don't.”
Those are just a few reasons why your irreplaceable film and paper photograph collections are probably in jeopardy of being no more – just a distant memory. You see, there are forces greater than your lack of will power hurting your chances of having an everlasting collection to pass on to future generations.
And unfortunately, because of the way we often store our prints, negatives and slides, it's kind of that out of sight, out of mind situation. Your photos are screaming for your help – you just can't hear them because they are tucked away deep deep in your closet.
So for those who need a little push in the right direction, here are thirteen reasons why you should already be scanning your photo collection, and therefore should not be reading this article right now. (Okay well then finish reading this and then go get to scanning)
The first six demonstrate why time is not on your side – why waiting is only making matters worse. And the last seven show the often surprising benefits that come with having your collection in digital form.
Identification of the Unknown
This is one of those situations you will probably never think about until you actually start the digitizing process. A few days in you are going to be scanning photos and saving them with unique filenames and typing in the names of everyone in the photos when you come across images of people and places you aren't familiar with. Either you have forgotten the information or maybe the photo was taken before you were even born and you have never met them before.
We have security in believing our “all-knowing” family and friends will always be here for anything we need – all of those questions we ask them – but there may come a time when we will wish we had taken the time to go through those old boxes of photos and shared some stories together.
For those of you who weren't around for the 1970's, or just can't remember too much of it for a number of questionable reasons, let me inform you that the way it now looks in your old photographs, isn't how the decade actually looked back then. Your photos have color-shifted baby! And nothing you or the best Tupperware could have done to stop it. Well unless you upgraded to some museum-grade archival storage, and even then the clock is only going to spin a bit slower.
Fire and Water Damage
We never think it's going to happen to us until – well – it happens to us. (Knock on wood – my immediate families have been very lucky so far) We build our homes with wood and run pipes in and around them so it only seems reasonable to expect a few of them them here and there might catch on fire or get really wet. Your insurance might replace a lot of possessions but it's not going to bring back those albums full of paper prints.
Since it's not practical or even smart to keep our photographs conveniently stored by an exit for a quick grab during a fire, it's up to us to have a “backup plan” already in place just in case the worst should ever happen.
Much Needed Backups
Two is definitely better than one when it comes to how many copies you have of your one-of-a-kind photographs. And yes, more is even better!
I know – it's your collection and maybe you don't want those ungrateful cousins of yours to have a copy of that amazing shot of your Uncle Phil after falling on that icy sidewalk your father took back in 1964. But that's no reason the only copy of it should be a paper print you stowed away in a shoebox under the bed in your guest room.
Photos get damaged, scratched, moldy, torn, bent, and when we aren't careful – misplaced.
Messy Hands and Accidental Spills
When I was a kid, on weekends we would watch movies on television eating air-popped popcorn with real butter melted all over it with a big ol' reused plastic sporting arena souvenir cup filled with concord grape juice. (I'm not sure how that combination came to be, but they really do go well together) But indulge in either one of these while handling your photos or even being near them and you're just asking for irreversible damage.
I don't even like to leave my loose photos out when I am not using them. Even if they are in some kind of envelope or folder, it's just too easy spill something on them.
Photo Scanning Services Are Now Affordable
When considering how serious the six reasons above are, it's comforting to know there really are photo scanning services for those who don't want to do the scanning themselves. There are services that cater to every budget – dipping all the way down to as cheap as 5¢ a scan. You place your prints, negatives or slides in a box and mail them off. Before you know it, your photos are returned with a DVD or hard drive full of digital images. You still have a lot of organizing and possible corrections to do with the images, but a lot of the hard work has now been done for you.
It's a Blast from the Past!
You are going to find pictures of people and events in those boxes you have totally forgotten about. It's so much fun discovering photos you may not have seen for decades!
Some of my favorites have been of Christmas mornings where my brother and I have just opened toys we played with for years and years. To see pictures of them again when they were brand new and in their original packaging, with our excited little faces, is so worth whatever agony my parents put us through posing for those shots.
Distribute Copies to Family and Friends
Do you have family begging you for a box of original prints or negatives you would rather not part with until it's over your dead body? Would you like to be able to upload copies of them to photo sharing sites or social networks such as Facebook and Twitter? Making them digital will give you the freedom to duplicate each photo as many times as you would like while keeping the original prints and film safely archived.
Easier to Sort
Digital photo software programs make it really easy to re-order photographs based on many criteria. In addition to being able to sort chronologically (by the date they were shot), or by event, the newest software lets you “tag” people in the photos so you can then isolate all the photos that particular person is in.
Adding keywords works in a similar way allowing you to attach photos with significant words. For example tagging all shots taken at your birthday parties with ‘birthday party' makes it really easy to create a new album called “All My Birthdays!”
It's safe to say your original prints and negatives have probably been moved around a lot through the years. They've probably been relocated from under one bed to many others – maybe in a few closet floors – maybe a lot. Hopefully they have never been in the garage!
All this shuffling around may have caused some of their corners to be bent and curled. Others might now be exposed to sunlight coming from a nearby window causing premature deterioration. Maybe the containers they are stored in are falling apart. Scanning your photos will give you a chance to re-organize and store them under better conditions.
Strengthen Relationships with Family and Friends
Don't be surprised if you end up calling up family and friends, as excited as you can possibly be, screaming, “You will never believe what picture I just found! Do you remember when you [fill in the blank here with something really really embarrassing]” And before you know it, you and this old schoolmate you friended on Facebook but never bothered chatting with are now talking like you were never separated by time.
Though don't be surprised when once the laughter dies down, she asks you to burn that photo. “Burn it right now. I'm totally not kidding with you.”
Ability to Create Photo Books
I pretty much never thought I would see the day when we could have our own hardback photo books printed without a negotiation with the words “quantity” and “over 1000.” Until you hold one of these beautiful photo books in your hands, flipping through the pages in awe of the quality, you will have no idea how amazing they really are.
And since the prices are so reasonable, it would be a shame not to make as many as your bookshelf can hold. You can create them right in many photo organizing programs like Apple's iPhoto or Adobe's Photoshop Elements, or download an easy to use standalone program from a company like Picaboo.
Reuniting Split-Up Collections
It's very common to hear about families “gifting” all the photos taken of a particular family member to that family member when they start a family of their own. It's a beautiful and generous thing for parents to do, but unfortunately the consequence of which is detrimental to ever having a complete collection in one place again. And worse, as these members pass, their personal collections are often given to members of their family you may not have any close connections with – basically disappearing from your grasp.
By making the effort now to scan in all of these sub-sets of photos, spread out between multiple households, you are increasing the chance of being able to tell that complete visual story.
I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. Of these thirteen reasons, (or possibly one of your own) which is the most important reason why you started scanning or are now finally going to start scanning your photo collection?