We knew that the job of scanning nearly 100 years of family photos would be a big one, and it was. It’s a little difficult to determine the actual number of photos we’ve scanned over the past few months, but I am estimating it at 7,000 photos. The folder where they are all stored is showing over 14,000 files in 108 folders, and I know that the majority of the photos were scanned front and back, which is where I get my 7,000 estimate. Close enough for jazz/government work/horseshoes & hand grenades/choose your metaphor.
Thankfully we didn’t have to scan 7,000 photos on a flatbed scanner. One of the benefits of not starting this project earlier was that in early 2017 (I think) Epson introduced their FastFoto scanner, which I suspect has answered the need of a lot of folks in a similar position to ours. The FastFoto scanner is a high-speed photo scanner with a document feeder, designed specifically for scanning stacks of small prints but also capable of scanning prints and documents up to 8.5 inches wide. Rather expensive at $500 (the current model is $600) it proved to be a real time saver. It will literally scan the front and back of 30 4×6 prints in about 30 seconds, applying auto-rotation and auto-correction (if desired) and saving the photos to your computer. We used Dropbox, figuring that we’ll be able to share them that way. I also set up a backup to my photo hard drive where our own copies will reside permanently, out of the so-called Cloud.
We decided early on that our goal was simply to turn the photos into digital files to be shared electronically. The default output of the scanner is a 300 dpi JPEG, which is good enough for our purposes. I did not intend to get into retouching or repairing damaged photos – the goal was to scan them just the way they are as best as we were able. The scanner does a great job of reproducing the actual photograph, but for photos that were obviously faded or discolored we were able to selectively turn on the auto correction and it did a good job of restoring colors. There is virtually no chance that anyone is going to want to turn these photos back into prints, but at 300 dpi there is plenty of resolution to print them at the original size. We could have scanned at a higher resolution and saved them as TIFF files, but no one but me would care about that, and I don’t. Our mantra was that we were not trying to do Library of Congress-level archiving, and that good enough was good enough.
In order to get familiar with the scanning process, Kathy started with albums of our own, that were newer and easier to work with. And we had boxes and boxes of loose prints from the point in our kids’ lives where things got too busy to bother with albums. That part of the process was pretty easy for one person to handle. As she got into the older albums from her parents, it became clear that having one person remove the photos from the album while another handled the scanning would be much more efficient. We set up the scanner attached to my laptop, situated where I could work on my desktop computer while she made a pile of prints. In about 3 weeks we had knocked out about 20 albums.
There were a number of photos and documents that either would not come out of the album pages, were too stiff to take a chance on feeding through the scanner, or too large for the document feeder. I even scanned the pages of a 60-inch growth chart and used Photoshop to stitch the pages together! Just using the flatbed for a few dozen photos drove home how worth-it the purchase of the photo scanner was.
I still have binders and boxes of 35mm and 220 slide film that I’ll need to address at some point, but clearing off those shelves of years and years of albums has been a big load off, both literally and mentally. The slides take up a lot less space and they aren’t going anywhere. So we’ll get to those at another time, maybe next winter. In the meantime, it’s just about time to go out and make some new digital photos. Stay tuned!