How To Digitize Old Photos & Letters

This is the third post in a series on photography. If you missed the first, see Treasured Moments in Art. The second is Organizing Your Phone Photos.



My mother died back in 1986. At that time she was living with my sister and had two bedrooms there. One to use for sleeping and one for a TV room.  I helped my sister clear out the rooms and became custodian of boxes of old letters and photographs from my mother’s life and from my grandmother.  My mother had brought home a box of photos from her mother’s apartment after her death six years earlier.  Back in the 1980’s the choices were more limited for organizing the photos.  I bought archival storage items and began trying to organize the memories from the past. Old photos, letters, and newspaper clippings are printed on paper containing acid. Over time the print fades and the paper deteriorates.  Use acid-free paper and album materials to store  precious old family photos. For more information, see  How to Store Old Photos.







Over the next ten years, I gave presents to family members of framed photos and antique looking photo albums with memories from the past.  Later I started scanning on my printer and sharing old photographs using email.  Then I joined and uploaded some of the photos to the family tree. One year my holiday gifts to my sister, brother, and nephews was access to our family tree with a right to add  and change it.   I’ve shared the family tree, old documents, and photos many times at  Christmas  with the goal that my nephews will not have to go through boxes of old memories from my mother and me.  It’s a plan still in progress.







Whether you just have old photos from your childhood or boxes from grandparents and parents, let’s look at ways to organize and digitize those mementos for the future. Time to save that framed photo from mom’s house or those stuck in a dusty old photo album.  Once the photos are digitized, gifts of photo books for your mother, son, or grandfather are a terrific idea. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are a great time to share family history.









Steps in Digitizing


  1. Gather together the photos you want to save. If you don’t have a shoe box of old childhood photos, let your friends and family know you’re counting on them to help get this done. Give them  a deadline to help move the project along. If someone is old school and has a low-level of tech know-how,  let them  send their favorite photos in snail mail.  You should promise to safely return them and do so promptly. For those with great computer skills, tell them you accept digital shots in texts, emails, DropboxApple Photo Shared Albums, or whatever app you use.  You decide what online service you like and make an album.
  2. Time to evaluate and organize the photos. Some old photos will be fragile, faded, or torn. They can be restored using photo editing software or through a service.  Photos can tell a story – dance classes, a wedding, or special memories from a past vacation. Organize in groups of photos that you want together before scanning. Handle fragile old photos by the edge and wear gloves. Make sure scanner and photos are clean before beginning. You don’t want to waste time scanning dusty prints.
  3. Choose a great scanner for your big job. There are three choices here: a flatbed scanner (including all-in-one printers), a dedicated photo/document scanner or your smart phone or camera.  All-in-one home printers scan but it is a slow process, believe me.  On an average-size scanner bed, you should be able to scan four 4 x 6-inch photos at once, and crop them later. Some scanners even come with software that do this automatically for you. Use this method to cut down scanning time.   If you have a lot of prints in great shape that you want to digitize, it may be worth investing in a dedicated photo and document scanner. They take the hassle out of the scanning process by automating everything. You just load a stack of photos into the feeder and in seconds your photos are scanned. Do not use the dedicated scanner with fragile old photos. They will be permanently damaged by the automated process. Stick with the flatbed scanner or a smart phone/camera for the delicate photos. 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.  There are several free, good apps to help. Google’s free app, PhotoScan, is a great choice. Other photo scanning apps include Pic Scanner and PhotoMyne. For a camera, mount your digital camera on a tripod and shoot a photo straight-on (not at an angle) for low risk approach.
  4. If you can’t handle digitizing a large group like a thousand photos, a digitizing service is a great option. You do not have the control like your own scanning project, but it can cut a huge project down in time. Check out several companies like:
    1. Dig My Pics
    2. Scan Cafe
    3. Memory Fortress
    4. Legacy Box
    5. Kodak
  5. After you scanned the photos, review again as images with flaws are likely to happen.  To to eliminate the flaws, use any of the inexpensive photo editing software available.
  6. Upload your digitized photos to your online album to share with family and to use for print projects.
  7. Bring history to life with a photo book that spans the years.



Photo via Mr Pix



Wishing you good luck in preserving your family history – have a beautiful day!








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I was raised in Tennessee but have lived in Florida for many years. Love my small home in the Tampa Bay area and its developing garden. My decorating style is eclectic - some vintage, some cottage, all with a modern flair. Pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Spent many years in social services but am happily retired.

22 thoughts to “How To Digitize Old Photos & Letters”

  1. I worked on my family’s genealogy & my husband’s for nearly 30 years. Records, old photos & births, deaths, immugrations, marriage & more. I publushed a 300+ page book. It was an undertaking, and long hours, hard work. But, worth every ounce of energy.

    I love what you’re doing.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this series!! I have put off organizing tons of old photos including those that my Mother had for many years now… I realized that if I put them all in albums, I would have a million albums with no where to put them and the cost would be astronomical !! I was able to find a storage case that is acid free on Amazon that holds 16 smaller cases, each being able to hold 100-125 photos that can be labeled!! One case can hold 1800 photos! I know I will probably need to order maybe 1-2 more cases. Those will be for our family photos. I do want to put the ones from my Mother in albums for display purposes…..Again, Thanks so much for all this useful info!

    1. I knew I wasn’t the only one dealing with loads of old photos. I suggest you choose a group of your favorite to digitize and put online to share with your family as a present. Maybe one for your kids from their childhood. That way everyone has a copy.

    1. Take a small box or group at a time. If you break it up in units, you can feel you accomplished a goal even if it’s partial. Good luck!

  3. This is such useful information, Carol. I have my mother’s and many of my grandmother’s old photos. I’ve been working on digitizing them and it is a slow process with my all in one printer/scanner. I’m going to check out some of the ideas you’ve shared.

  4. This is another helpful post, Carol. I got as far as sorting the old photos by year. Now I need to scan. And it’s intimidating to think of scanning hundreds of photos, so I put it off. Your detailed suggestions are a big help!

  5. I totally agree, it’s so important to get photos scanned and preserved before they deteriorate. You don’t want to leave it on a to do list and then find it’s too late! Your tips are very helpful.

  6. Wow the memories you brought back with this post. SUch good ones! After the funeral of my Mother (the florida one, she had two – one for each city she lived in) We all congregated at my Aunts house and after going through some old photo albums, my Aunt mentioned she’d love to send me home with some copies. So I told her that her printer was capable of scanning. @0 minutes later she sent the boys out to buy CD’s for everyone and we sat in her office scanning, laughing and drinking until everyone went home with 3 Gigs of family photos of everything she had.

    Was a great day to remember her and how much commemorating was important to her.

    1. You’re lucky it was that fast but I’m glad you have good memories of it. What I inherited was about 4 large boxes. Took much longer to try to make sense of it.

  7. This post really struck a chord. I have all my parents and grandparents old photos. I will look into some of the services you recommend.

  8. Wonderful tips on digitizing photos, Carol. It is a project I am working on both for myself and fro a community historical society.

  9. This is such a great idea. My mom has tons of old photos at her house, and I would love to be able to digitize a lot of them. Thanks for sharing the tutorial at Sweet Inspiration!

  10. Great tips, Carol! I’m currently working on a similar project myself and your post is very helpful. Sharing, including on the H&S Facebook page. Thank you for sharing, and for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party. Hope you are having a great weekend!

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