How to Digitize Old Photos & Bring Them Back to Life

Having your printed images scanned is the most reliable way to keep them safe and accessible for years to come. By scanning photos onto a computer or other device, you may rest assured that even if the physical prints are lost, you will always have a digital copy of your memories.

You may be weighing your alternatives for converting photographs into digital format. Print photographs are often digitized using one of three methods: smartphone scanning, scanning using a specific scanner or sending photographs to a digitization service to make the greatest choice for yourself and your pictures.

Why Digitize Printed Photos?

Source: PhoneWorld

Let’s start by discussing how critical digitizing any physical photographs you possess is. Though printed photographs might be aesthetically pleasing, certain drawbacks exist before opting for this display method.

  • They are readily damaged — physical photographs are quickly ruined, discolored, and ripped. Your precious photographs are at risk of being lost forever in an emergency.
  • They take up much space — if you’ve ever put photos in albums or notebooks, you realize how much room they can take up. However, a digital copy requires no physical storage.
  • There is no way to alter the quality — old family images may have faded. Physical photographs are difficult to edit since adjustments to lighting, such as brightness and contrast, are impossible. Currently, this process exists solely in the digital realm.
  • They’re difficult to share — with digital cameras, showing your images to loved ones is as easy as pushing a button. Photo sharing via tangible media is far more difficult.

Scanning at Home with a Scanner App

You might not want a photo scanner if you only need a quick way to convert paper images into digital format. You could always use your phone’s camera to snap a shot. However, this could lead to problems including imbalanced contrast, incorrect exposure, distortion, and just downright degradation in quality.

Apps like these make it easier to walk through the scanning procedure while working out those shortcomings:

  • PhotoScan by Google Photos

PhotoScan | Google

The Google PhotoScan app, available for iOS and Android, scans your photos many times and then stitches them together to minimize glare and improve image clarity. Prints in either matte or glossy finishes, as well as those stored in or removed from albums, can be seen using the app.

Get on App Store

Get on Google Play

  • Microsoft Lens

Microsoft Lens | CyberSolutions

Microsoft Lens is a free scanning program for business use, available for both Android and iOS. It can be used to digitize printed materials, whiteboards, postcards, invoices, menus, signage, handwritten memos and, of course, your old photos. It even has an option to sync with Microsoft 365 for added backup options.

Download iOS App

Download Android App

  • FilmBox by Photomyne

Source: Photomyne

With the help of FilmBox, you can convert your film negatives into digital files without needing a hardware scanner. It is now possible to see, capture, and save film negatives, making them much easier to browse, organize, and share. FilmBox converts the image’s negative colors to their positive counterparts and improves its overall quality. FilmBox is only available for iPhones and iPads.

Get on App Store

  • Use Your Camera

You might think it’s funny to take a picture of a picture. In contrast, updating your family photo albums with the help of a digital camera is a great idea. It needs to be a high-quality camera, whether a DSLR or mirrorless, but phone cameras have also gotten quite good these days. A camera of superior quality will produce digital photographs of greater quality.

You will also want a tripod, preferably one in which the base may be used. This not only makes it easier to take pictures, but eliminates any potential camera shake that would occur with it in your hands. You’ll need a bright, natural light source when taking pictures of prints. If you’re shooting negatives, you’ll also need a lightbox.

Set the camera on the tripod so that the lens points straight down. Keep your prints and negatives in one secure spot down here. Focus your camera properly before taking any pictures. The pictures can then be easily transferred from the camera to the computer or mobile device for further processing, sharing, or storage.

Scan it yourself with a Home Scanner

If you’re on a tight budget or want to try it yourself, obtain a scanner and start digitizing. Scanners can be found at a wide variety of price points.  Scanning your recollections one by one is like taking a trip down memory lane. Involve your loved ones in sorting through hundreds of photographs, and enjoy the time spent together recalling wonderful memories.

Choosing a scanner

A wide range of photo scanners, each with features and price points, is available today. A cheap, high-quality flatbed scanner is a great addition to any home or workplace. A portable scanner, such as the Doxie listed below, can be purchased and used to scan a photograph anywhere.

When selecting a scanner for digitizing images, evaluate your priorities, such as whether you wish to have some of them published in a larger size on Fracture glass (or any other format). The following recommendations are based purely on research, with no affiliate marketing incentive.

Hiring a Photo Scanning Service

Source: Fotolab

It’s not hard to find a service that scans your photographs. In most cases, you’ll need to send your pictures to a company, which they’ll then scan them after some time has passed. After the digitization process is complete, the business will offer you a link or login to an account where you can access all of your digital copies of photos.

Images can also be purchased on physical media, like USB devices. The company will return your original images by postal service after completing the job. Here are a few reasons why you might consider employing a photo scanning service:

  • Professional results
  • Ease, as some businesses even provide packaging supplies.
  • The time-consuming task of scanning each image is handled by someone else.

Here are some of the drawbacks of using an online photo scanning service:

  • Sending original photographs over the mail risks them being damaged or lost in transit.
  • Price; while some businesses promote a low per-photo rate, you may discover the entire cost to be significantly more once you factor in volume pricing, additional costs for retouching, and other expenses.
  • Expense, as it may take weeks or months to receive your original photographs back, based on the number of orders currently being processed.

Tips for Digitizing Old Photos

1. Choose the best phone

A photo-scanning app’s accuracy depends on the quality of your phone’s camera. The effects will be excellent on a modern iPhone or Android but not so much on an older model.

2. Remove from albums

Scanning images while still in frames or photo albums can seem like a time-saving option, but the presence of plastic and glass increases the likelihood of reflections.

3. Clean your photos

Dust can be wiped away with a gentle brush or blown away with the help of compressed air. If there are scratches or stains, you can use a lint-free cloth, but you shouldn’t use any cleaning supplies and move carefully and softly. In most cases, even water will do more harm than good. 

4. Natural lighting is vital

Find a spot with plenty of natural light that is both bright and soft, and practice a few times there. It’s best to avoid direct, bright sunlight and artificial lights as they can generate glare.

5. Position carefully

Position yourself right over the pictures and as near to them as you can get. Make sure your photos are focused and taken at a straight angle before scanning. The importance of maintaining a steady position to prevent blurring is also highlighted. Use a tripod if you feel like your hands are causing a lot of micro-movements. 

Final Thoughts

Photos can be digitized in several ways, but the end goal is the same: you’ll have more free space, your memories will be protected, and you’ll have that special feeling of thankfulness that only a journey down memory lane can bring. You can do whatever you want with your images now that you’ve tried digitizing them.


Kamil Anwar

Kamil is a certified MCITP, CCNA (W), CCNA (S) and a former British Computer Society Member with over 9 years of experience Configuring, Deploying and Managing Switches, Firewalls and Domain Controllers also an old-school still active on FreeNode.