How Do I Convert Old Photos Into Digital Files?

Want to convert your old boxes of photographs into digital images and add them to your digital photography library? If you have a flatbed scanner, you're ready to start.

Get Organized

Sort your old photos into meaningful categories such as by year, by event, or by person. On your computer, create folders with suitable names for each category. Jettison any out-of-focus prints or duplicates. As you scan your photos, you'll assign them to the appropriate folder.

Get Clean

Use canned air and a lint-free cloth to remove any dust from the scanner's glass and from the photos prior to scanning them.

Choose the Right Resolution

Are you are scanning photos for a family Website or are you looking to print a book of wedding photographs? The right resolution to use in scanning the photos depends on the destination you have in mind for the images. The more pixels per inch (ppi) or dots per inch (dpi) you specify for your scans, the more detail will show in the final image and the larger you can print it. As a general rule, you should scan at 72 dpi for Web use and 300 dpi for print use.

In cropping or scaling images, make sure that each image has the dimensions you want at the right resolution. An 8-by-10-inch image saved at 72 dpi, for example, will be minuscule at the 300-dpi size required for printing. Photo editing software uses sampling techniques to interpolate pixels between pixels of known value, but this process won't enable you to transform a low-resolution Web image into a satisfactory high-resolution print image.

Choose Your File Format

As a rule of thumb, you should create JPEG files for Web output, and TIFF files for print output; but be aware that you can print high-resolution JPEGs too. Photo editing programs give you many options for compressing the size of JPEG files while maintaining their image quality. TIFF images generally have larger file sizes than do their JPEG equivalents.

Start Scanning

If you're scanner isn't ancient, it should come with all the software you'll need to handle this project. Besides selecting your output resolution, you can perform minor touch-up editing such as darkening or lightening the photo, adjusting its color, and sharpening objects in the photograph. These functions do not take the place of photo-editing software, but they can help overcome minor blemishes.

Back Up

Once you've finished the scanning process, back up your files. Scanning old photos is a time-consuming process that you won't want to repeat unnecessarily.

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