I’ve spent a lot of time this year decluttering, both physically around the house, and digitally. But there’s no task more daunting, perhaps, than scanning and then throwing out decades of paper-based photos.
To be clear, I can’t claim to be an expert here, nor any good at the task at hand.
I have, in spurts, digitized thousands of photos from the past over the years, but I always give up eventually. In my cellar, the photo albums are stacked tall, in boxes, taking up space, and serving as fuel to some potential future house fire.
Most but not all of these photos are from the 20th century, if you will, as I transitioned to digital photography in the early 2000s. A subsequent shift to smart phone-based photos further complicates matters because those pictures are automatically backed up to the cloud and are often not formally organized on a PC and backed up locally as would be digital camera-based pictures.
That’s it’s own story, I guess. But looking through the many boxes of photos in the cellar recently, I resolved (again, not for the first time), to scan them and then throw away the photo originals. I started with 1986. No reason.
By the way, I’m still not sure about the negatives, which are in most cases not organized at all, or are non-existent. I do know from my previous photo scanning experiences that scanning negatives can often result in superior images, and that they also often contain more information that was shown on the original prints. But I’d resolved not to worry about that, as the photo albums themselves are mostly very well organized, with dates and event descriptions.
(I did consider a photo scanning service. But given the volume of photos I have—these services often charge by the box size or even weight, go figure—it didn’t seem like a good option for me. You may feel differently.)
First, I needed a new scanner. The scanner(s) I had used in the past had over time broken, and while I do have a decent but small single-feed scanner, I wanted something I could automate a bit better. After a bit of research—sites like PC World and PC Magazine still have their place, apparently, I paid a bit under $80 for a Canon CanoScan LiDE220 Photo and Document Scanner, mostly because it offered higher quality 600 dpi scanning when compared to an even cheaper version.
The scanner is light and small, and is powered solely over USB. And aside from the fact that the terribly-written Canon scanning software is barely readable on the high DPI Surface Book screen, it works well. In fact, one of the things I really like about it is that you can place 4 photos on its face and the scanner will create four separate images, instead of one you need to manually crop into fours. That saves a lot of time.
Configuring the scanner to scan photos at 600 dpi is easy enough, as is making sure that the resulting file names reflect the event that’s being scanned at the time (“Sandia Peak,” for example, or “Durango, Colorado”.) But I belatedly realized I had skipped an important step after scanning hundreds of photos and then uploading them to Google Photos: Even though the pictures are from 1986, in this case, Google Photos thinks they were all just taken today.
The issue, of course, is that the “Date Taken” file property is set to whenever the photos were scanned, not to when they were taken. This should be an easy enough fix, but I was surprised to (re)discover that you can’t select multiple photos in Windows 10’s File Explorer and bulk change that property. So I’ve been using Windows Photo Gallery, that increasingly out-of-date standby, to do so instead.
To change the Date Taken property for multiple photos with Windows Photo Gallery, open the application and select the photos. Then, choose Edit and then Adjust Time. (I change just the date, not the time.) Voila.
It’s a slog, but you develop a sort of rhythm for this kind of work. I was able to get through most of two photo albums just this morning, and I’d like to keep on a pace where I’m getting through a few each week if possible. I backup all of the scans to my NAS, to OneDrive, and to Google Photos, and I throw out the original photo albums as I go. Yes, it’s a bit hard, and of course some pictures will need to be hand edited a bit, if only to remove scanned hairs and other errors.
But it will be worth it in the long run. My wife and I have dreams for the future, and those dreams include a more minimalist existence that enables us to be more mobile. What form that takes is unclear, as it’s still years away, but thinking about the home swaps we now do each year and extrapolating out to when the kids have moved out, I can imagine splitting time between different places. And if our memories are always available in the cloud, that’s one less thing we need to store or cart around.