Should You Bother Scanning Your Duplicate Photos?

by Curtis Bisel
updated: February 9, 2024
Curtis Bisel
February 9, 2024

I’ve read the average family photo collection, made up of prints, slides and negatives, is about 3,000 photos. And of all of those photographs, there’s a good chance a portion of them are duplicates.

Back when we created paper prints from our developed rolls of film, it was common to pay a little bit more to have some extra copies, or at least a duplicate set. These were either stored away as a backup, or most likely, shared with someone else in the family.

And now, as you are going through your collection of prints, getting them ready to scan or send off to be scanned, you will find yourself faced with this important question:

Is there a good reason why I should consider scanning my duplicate photographs?

Some people feel you can be very selective about which photos in your collection you scan. For example, Ed Hamrick, founder of Hamrick Software who makes the scanning software Vuescan, said in a blog post called Batch Scanning Tips:

The first and most important step in scanning a collection of photos or slides is to make the hard decisions about what you want to scan. A good rule of thumb is that you should only scan one out of five pictures from a roll of film. Most people can go through a set of 36 photos or slides and quickly see the 7 or 8 that they would like to scan.

Of course, if these are the only existing photos of your parent’s wedding, then you probably want to scan them all. Otherwise, be discriminating – nobody needs to scan out of focus pictures of a cousin’s friend’s back garden from 10 years ago.

And for anyone who feels you are allowed to be this selective and only concern yourself with scanning 20% of much of your collection, I can only assume you would also feel that duplicates would probably fall into that other 80% pile.

Simply put, when it comes down to it, you really have three options when you come upon duplicates:

  1. None — You don’t scan any duplicate photographs.
  2. All — You scan every photograph you come across.
  3. Select  — You pick and choose which duplicates to scan.

“Why would I even want to scan my duplicate photographs — aren’t they all exactly the same?”

That is the big question here. And if you’re still asking yourself this, let me try and answer it for you by explaining the thought process I had when deciding what I was going to do with my own duplicates.

How I Chose to Handle My Own Duplicates

First, let’s get this pink elephant out of the way. Scanning your duplicates might seem absolutely asinine to you.

As•i•nine  |ˈasəˌnīn| – adjective 
extremely stupid or foolish.

See, I just looked that fun word up for you, just to make your point look even more… eh let’s say… effective.

And hey, that’s a fair statement. I can take it.

If you agree with this, I’m sure you feel there are far too many books to read, destinations to visit, buckets to list, friends to meet and movies to watch to spend extra time scanning something you feel you already have.

Life’s short.

All that being as it may, after a fair amount of “mental debating,” I still decided it was in my collection’s best interest to actually scan most of my duplicates — paper prints as well as slides (if I ever came across any).

You know, I can actually hear you screaming at me through the internet.

“Are you kidding me Curtis !????”

And well, just for the sake of putting up a decent fight, here is my reasoning — if you still care to know. This isn’t meant to convince everyone to do the same. But, it’s possible you just might discover an important point you hadn’t thought of that applies to your own collection.

Is Your Photo Collection Unorganized?

In order to avoid scanning any duplicates, you will first have to establish which of your photographs have duplicates.

Think about that for a second. And for many, this is much easier said than done. This requires an extreme amount of organization in the pre-scanning stage.

The problem with my family’s collection is it’s almost entirely unsorted — there is almost no logic at all as to why some photos are with other photos.

Through the years, a lot of duplicate prints of treasured snapshots were made and given to family members to enjoy. As these family members passed, many of these duplicates were returned to us and were then randomly mixed in with all of the others.

And as I explained in Is Organization Preventing You From Starting to Scan Your Photo Collection?, my family’s entire photo collection has not been in one location while I’ve been working with it. Even though I know we have roughly 9,000 photos total (because we counted them), I really didn’t have a firm grasp when I started the scanning process what specific photographs we had — like a company would have with a master list of their current inventory.

So, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t easily go through them all to even determine what duplicates I had.

United States map with another photo of a stack of photo albums over california and a photo with bin of photo albums over Kentucky
(Left) A small portion of my photo collection that I currently have to scan at my house. (Right) A bin full of albums I haven’t scanned yet stowed away with my parents in Kentucky.

If you are trying to decide whether you want to scan duplicate copy A, B or C of a given photograph, you would first need to know that you have 3 copies to begin with.

And then, it would also be helpful if you actually knew where A, B, and C was!

Because I am not organizing and ordering my prints before I scan them, that means I will not know I have a duplicate of a given photo until I come across one in a later batch to scan and possibly realize it looks strangely familiar.

I might think, “Didn’t I just scan that the other day?” And then I could go looking through my image manager and after some time, I might find an image that looks just like it.

But then what? If was trying my best to avoid maintaining duplicates in my digital collection, I would then have to make that decision whether or not to scan the duplicate I just found and delete the first digital master, or just stay with the copy I already scanned.

It can get really messy.

Is It Hard For You to Decide Which Copy to Scan?

In theory, if you decide not to scan any of your duplicate photos, I hope you would at least prefer to scan whichever copy is the “best” one. Right?


If you are holding 2 copies of a print, and one is faded and ripped a bit (because it was kept inside a wallet for 25 years), and the other copy is in pristine condition, almost brand new, then it would of course be an easy decision which of the two you should scan.

But, not all copies are this clearly differentiated. If two or more copies look similar in quality — and trust me, many of them will be when you try and compare them — you will have to make that tough decision which one is the most worthy of being scanned.

A less obvious example of condition would be when one copy of a photo may be perfectly flat, but it may have a nasty scratch or two across it that would be difficult or expensive to restore. And your other copy may not have any scratches, but the corners are really worn, even into the important center part of the image, and there’s also a crease or two throughout it.

Which is the “better” candidate if you only allow yourself to scan one of them?

And here’s something else to keep in mind in a situation like this. Like magic, a professional photo restorer could take both of those photos and extract and then blend the best parts from each of them to create a more superior master. But, this would only be possible if you could provide both versions.


What about more subtle differences, such as with their unique characteristics. Ask yourself, which copy physical holds the most amount of image detail or “information” on that piece of photo paper?

Who’s to say each of the copies were created in the same way using the same technology.

Two prints you are holding could have been made from the exact same film negative but by different technicians, on different days using different equipment, in entirely different states or countries, printed on different types of photo paper stock, and stored through the years in completely different environments.

Any or all of these factors could produce multiple copies of a photo that may look similar at a quick glance, but upon careful and close inspection with a trained eye, will actually expose them as being fairly different.

If preserving the best image quality is important to you, are you currently qualified to decide which version of your photos holds the most and best “information” and should therefore be the one that gets to be scanned?

I think it’s fair to say I am just scratching the surface here with reasons why you might want to scan all, many or at least some of your duplicates.

These reasons were certainly enough to convince me it was worth a little bit more of my own time in front of the scanner.

Know Your Own Goals

If you’ve read even just a few of my posts, you know I like to use the term “goals” when I discuss your photo collection. And this topic is no different.

As the goals for your collection get more and more advanced, the more advantages you will have by archiving more and more of your collection — even the duplicates.

But, if you know your goals are more basic, and you for sure want to rule out having any duplicates within your digital collection, just understand that you will have to be very organized from the beginning and have all of your photos sorted. This also means you should contact friends and relatives beforehand who may have photos you want to be a part of your digital collection. And then after that, you will have to make those tough decisions which of your duplicates you are going to exclusively scan.

If you aren’t really sure where you fall — you feel you are somewhere in the middle here — you probably should find some kind of balance.

Maybe you just pick and choose duplicates of photos or a series of photos that are really important to you — like in Ed Hamrick’s example of your parent’s wedding. Or maybe you scan the ones where it’s difficult to figure out which copies are the best quality and therefore the foremost candidate for being scanned.

And if you are still reading this looking for that one last reason that will push you over the edge to at least scan some of your duplicates, how about you just hand your faith over to the old proverb…

It’s better to be safe than sorry.

The more you scan, the more information or “evidence” you will preserve. And the more you preserve, the more choices you will have later.

For me it’s all about no regrets.

I would love to know how you feel about your collection after reading this. How are you, or how are you going to handle your duplicates photos? Let the community know in the comments below!

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