Photo Scanning: Organization and Items Needed (photography)


I was talking with a friend when they asked me how I handled my photo scanning project. As a little background, my parents died and they left me photo albums and negatives of thousands of photos (many of them duplicates). This was all I had left from my childhood, so I wanted to make digital copies for the future.

Initially I didn’t have any plan, and it was a horrendous project that things got lost, didn’t get scanned, etc. So I turned around and did it again in a more organized manner and had some really good results. Because of the size of this write up (I try and keep my posts small enough to keep people’s interests) I am dividing it up into three posts.

Scanning involved different container requirements, specific types of storage supplies and organization. The key factor you want to do is protect your photos/negatives in the future (there was a lot of damage to the albums over 40 years from my parents). So here are the steps I took.

The materials you want:


I know from the outset that organization is my weakness in almost all aspects of my life. Knowing that and with a bad experience scanning when I made my first attempt, I decided I would do it differently. Instead I would break my albums into time periods (grouped as closely together) or specific events/hobbies depending on the subject. I would also write that information down on the storage box and/or sleeve.

So I spent two days straight of going through a couple dozen photo albums (not just my parents, but my husband and I’s pre-digital albums as well… we are old after all) and then compiled those piles into an order for scanning (no pictures of that experience, but trust me you will know when you get there).

I knew that the photos would not be going back into the photo albums for several reasons. The light will wash the photos out (I have hundreds of photos I am going to need to retouch from 40+ year old photo albums). The plastic film that goes across photo albums discolored many photos and allowed mold to grow in others.

Finally, the act of pulling a photo out of an album and putting them back is pretty hard on photos. If you keep them in a box you don’t have to worry about pulling film covering off of them, or trying to get them to unstick from a page.

It was at this time that I cut up the archival buffered tissue and slid a tissue between each photo. It does suck for timing, but in the years since I started this, it has paid off in helping keep my photos in good shape.

I then turned to my photo negatives and divided those up as well into similar groupings. I put them in their sleeves, labeled the sleeves and then set them aside to scan as a single process.

You can read the steps below with a bit more detail:

  1. Divide the photos and negatives into two different piles.
  2. For the photos, determine what you want to store your actual sets of photos in. I looked for plastic containment that would seal and be safe (see list above). You will want to label these containers as you fill them. You will not regret this a year later when you want to rescan something.

    This is the Iris set I used, small containers for the batches, with a larger container to keep the batches organized
  3. Group the images into categories that work for you (for me it was mostly organized by time, but some of them were organized into subject matter like LARPing, or adult photos of my husband when he was my wife).
  4. You also want to pick up special photo tissue paper, basically a tissue paper that prevents the photos from sticking together, keeps the photos in good shape and protects the images from not only photos but the oils in your fingers (at least to a point).

    The tissue does a great job.
  5. Place a sheet of archival tissue paper between each photo. It is time consuming, but definitely worth it.
  6. In a separate pile, put your negatives into their respective sleeves and label the sleeves.

    Trust me, labeling will save you time because you won’t be crying when you have to find things later.
  7. Get yourself a bed scanner if you can, not a multi function printer/scanner (although honestly a multi function printer does work fine, it gets harder when you get to negatives though).

    A bit pricey, but refurbished it isn’t bad, and its worth it.

You are now prepared to start your scanning photo and negative journey. I will start how I did the actual process for each in upcoming posts.

important note... I am not a professional photographer, but I do dabble in it a lot. Take this as the advice it is... free.

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