Old Photo, New Life: A Practical Guide to Scanning Old Photos

how to scan photos

Maybe you are like me and your old family photos live a little bit of everywhere. Some photos take home in shoeboxes tucked away in a nearby closet. Others live in dusty albums and in countless zip codes: your baby photos are split between the home where you grew up and a token few reside in your nightstand; your teenage years are caught up in a half-finished scrapbook; and the photo from your grandparents' wedding day has always been in dispute amongst your siblings. Sound familiar?

You're not alone. For my mom's 60th birthday, I set out to scan and digitize old photos to create a photo book for her. Below, I'm breaking down the entire process to get you from here to there. To all those keepers of family photos, it's our turn to step up and make something worthy of passing down. — Laura, Marketing Director

scanning old photos


The Photo Hunt

Put out the photo call and let your friends and family know you're counting on them to get this done. Give them enough time, but not too much time (there's nothing like a looming deadline to spur action!). It's likely the level of tech know-how varies in your circles, so let your aunt know she can snail mail some of her favorite photos and you'll have them safely returned. Then for your sister, tell her you accept texts, emails, Dropbox, Apple Photo Shared Albums, etc.

scan old photos


Curate Your Images

Good news, folks: getting the photos in hand is the hardest part, so consider yourself on the home stretch! Next up: getting organized. Familiarizing yourself with the photos from the get-go will help simplify the album design process. When shuffling through your pile of photos – in print or otherwise – start pulling out the images that tell a story or make you feel something. We recommend getting a second pair of eyes from a family member to chime in on key dates or the stories behind these photos. You just might learn a thing or three about the people you come from. Trouble organizing your photos? This guide will help.

organizing and digitizing old photos

Step 3

Digitize Your Photos

If you're lucky, your family and friends can help you in digitizing those old photos that live across zip codes. But if they've sent the photos your way or you find yourself digging through boxes in your grandmother's basement, these next tips to make the images digital will come in handy. Use your mobile phone to capture images of your old photos. See also: your own mini photo studio. When you get the lens of your smartphone close enough to the image, the resolution will then be high enough to reproduce a beautiful print, album, calendar, etc. Simply find a well lit spot and start snapping (think natural light in a nearby window or well lit space). You'll want to avoid direct sunlight, which can change the color and look of your photographs. I have found it useful to create a small shadow with my body by hovering over the photo to ensure there is no glare on the original print. Hold your phone overhead and make sure the image is in focus first. You are able to focus most smartphones by simply tapping on the middle of the screen on the subject. Then click away!

Photo scanning apps for digitizing old photos

There's an app for that?

You heard that right. Forget the old-school scanner and let your phone do the work. New apps allow you to quickly scan photos and documents right from your mobile phone. Here are a few of our favorite photo scanning apps that are free to download:

  1. Pic Scanner — Photo specific and gives you the ability to batch scan.
  2. Shoebox — Detects the edges of your photo and auto-corrects the perspective.
  3. Heirloom — Simple to use with an intuitive design.


Save And Share

You now have digital versions to share with everyone else (cue: family favorite). Our go-to for cloud file storage is Dropbox — through this platform you can upload your photos from either your laptop or from your phone by using their handy phone app. Create a folder and invite all of your friends and family to access the photos. Best part? These same Dropbox photos can be accessed through our online editor during the album design process.

scan photos with your phone


Build Your Album

Now for the fun part. There's no second-guessing: what's going to make your album its best are all those photos you've carefully curated and given a second life. Now it's time to put them to print. We've made quite a few photo books ourselves, and have certainly collected a few telltale tip-offs for making them stand out. From our staff to your screen, we've shared our Insider's Guide how to make this photo book your best yet — take a look here.

best way to scan old photos

I handed my mom 60 years of photos in one album. With a lot-a-bit of digging and a little bit of time, I was able to print history back to life. Perhaps this guide was just the nudge you needed to dust off those boxes and get to work. I promise you it's worth it — just ask my mom.

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