Most of us have boxes of old photos at home that are stored away, with some likely spanning decades if they were passed down from previous generations. Unfortunately, those old printed photos weren’t meant to last forever, and are slowly degrading over time. Eventually, you’re left with fading colors and silhouettes where people and places were once seen. However, thanks to advances in technology, digitization is proving to be a photo-saving option that will preserve your cherished memories forever.
Why Do Photos Fade and Degrade?
- UV Light Exposure – The largest contributor to print photo degradation is UV light exposure, or sunlight. Sunlight shines on the plastic materials that comprise the colors in photos, and over time breaks down the molecules. The end result is fading photos that lose their color definition, often to the point of some people and objects being unrecognizable.
- Exposure to Household Elements – Despite keeping a clean house, your old printed photos are exposed to toxins that are everywhere. Micro-particles such as dust can collect on your photos, causing them to fade over time. While proper storage helps this to some degree, it’s virtually impossible to avoid even when photo boxes and albums are opened only occasionally.
- Fungus – While it’s not something any of us want to think about, fungus is another culprit in degrading photos. Unlike UV light exposure that causes fading, exposure to fungus causes brown splotches on the surface of your photos. If you’re storing old photos in an attic or basement where moisture may be a factor, considering moving them to a closet on the main floor of the house where it’s more climate-controlled.
Easy Ways to Digitize Photos
- DIY – If you’re an avid DIYer, photo scanning is certainly an option for digitizing your print photos. When it comes to memories and the various forms of analog media that exist, such as film reels and VHS tapes, photos are among the easier formats to digitize since you just need a good scanner. If you don’t want to invest in a high-quality scanner, scanning apps also exist that allow you to take a picture of your photo print and add it to the photos on your phone. They’ll even automatically crop out the surface in the process, so your photo scan is a replica of the original. Just keep in mind the amount of time you need to dedicate to this process, which is a cumbersome project if you have hundreds of photo prints.
- Local Retailers – A few of your local retailers can help digitize your photos, with Costco, WalMart and others offering digitization services of photo prints, slides and negatives. Send them in an you’ll receive a USB or DVD back with your digitized memories. Be sure to investigate their return process first, as you want some reassurances that your cherished originals will be safely returned to you.
- Professional Digitization Services –The best way to digitize photos is to utilize a company that specializes in the process. Companies such as iMemories will take your photo prints, convert them into expertly-digitized memories, and make them accessible via the cloud, their app, or on DVD or USB thumb drive. Companies focused on this process as their core business take extreme care with your originals, ensuring their safe arrival and return. This will also prove to be the fastest option, given the manual nature of the DIY process and the superior state-of-the art equipment that companies like iMemories utilize.
DIY Digitization In-Depth
Let’s dig into the DIY option a bit more, and detail the equipment and process needed to achieve quality photo scans.
- DIY Converting to Digital – To successfully convert your photo prints to a digital format yourself, you’ll need a high-quality photo scanner – preferably one that can scan stacks of photos at once to reduce time. There are a few options on the market that even allow you to include Polaroid and black and white photos in your stacks, but plan to spend at least $600 for a scanner of this quality. If not scanning via WiFi for automatic transfer to your computer, you’ll also need USB thumb drives with large storage capacity. Look for 2 Terabyte (TB) flash drives so you’re not dealing with multiple smaller thumb drives, which will complicate the next step of downloading the digital copies to your computer. Once you have them transferred to your computer, upgrade your iCloud account to accommodate the extra storage volume, or invest in an external hard drive as a backup.
- DIY Editing – To get as close to perfect digital photos like iMemories, be sure to utilize the photo editing capabilities that come with your new scanner. For old photos that might already be degrading, there are plenty of tools that can help bring them back to life, including auto enhancement, color correction and red-eye reduction. These features are usually detailed in a helpful DVD that accompanies the scanner.
While the DIY route will provide you with a fun walk down memory lane as you go through the process, keep in mind that outsourcing to a professional company might be more cost-effective and take less time if you also have film reels, VHS tapes and other forms of analog media to digitize. Bundle them all together and check out iMemories.