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5 tips for digitizing photos
If you are planning to scan your collection of old photos and negatives, here are five things you need to know in order to create a usable archive that will last for future generations. - photo by Tom and Alison Taylor
There is nothing more heartbreaking for us than to talk to someone who has spent hours and dollars digitizing their photo collection, only to find out that the files are too small or too low quality for archival purposes. They may look fine on Facebook, but when printed in a family history book or newspaper article, they look blurry or pixelated.

Here are five musts for properly creating a digital archive of your familys precious photos and documents, in a nutshell:

1. Scan once, scan high, scan right

When you scan a photo or document, make sure you do your original scan at a high resolution, and keep this in your archive as your digital negative. (If this creates a file that is too large to upload to a website, then you can make a smaller copy of your negative to upload, but your original is intact.) High resolution means at least 300 pixels per inch. If you think you may ever want to crop or enlarge the photo, scan it at 600 ppi or even higher if the photo is very small.

2. Get your photos in a TIF

If your scanner allows, always save your digital negatives in a TIF file format. A TIF will give you the best quality and color fidelity, and will allow you to later edit the photo without losing quality. A TIF file will be much larger than a JPEG (see below) and take up more storage space, but the quality will be worth it, and storage is cheap. After you scan your beautiful high-resolution TIF digital negs, you can make a copy of your whole file and save the copies as lower-res JPEGs for uploading to family history websites, etc.

3. Dont smash your pixels

JPEG, which is by far the most ubiquitous file type, is a lossy file format, which means that it compresses the file (and throws away data) when saving. This is great for making websites run faster, but not great for archival use or printing. The biggest problem with scanning JPEGs is that most scanners dont default to the highest quality setting. You can scan a very high-res JPEG, but if its scanned at a medium or low compression quality setting, it will look awful when you zoom in. Trust us, we see this just about every day.

Furthermore, if your JPEG is repeatedly opened for editing and resaved, it will lose quality each time, causing blocky artifacts and color shifts. Repeat after me: TIF for your digital negatives, JPEG copies for websites and social media.

4. No more lost souls

We have a whole box of beautiful old photos of VIPs. We know they must have been important because someone went to the trouble of photographing them at a time when photography was difficult and expensive. But we have no clue who they are. Nobody thought to identify them at the time, and anyone who might recognize them is long dead. Does this sound familiar? Dont do this to your grandchildren. After you complete your scans, add identifying information into the metadata (sort of the digital equivalent of writing on the back of a photo) or even in the file name itself. Metadata will travel with the photo when its posted online or shared.

5. Save it or lose it

Keeping your digital archives in only one place is a sure recipe for disaster. Consider making a printed index book of your photo collection (with thumbnails on a page with the file name underneath) and store the photos on archival disks with the index book. Keep a copy in a bank security deposit box or some other secure place outside your home. Distribute copies of the files to family members on external hard drives or flash drives. Upload your digital negatives to a reputable cloud storage (like Dropbox or Carbonite) and upload smaller JPEGs on family history sharing sites like FamilySearch or Ancestry. Make photo books or history books so your family can enjoy them offline, too.

Most of all, keep on top of proper storage of all your digital photos and video as you create them. You are at this moment creating history for your descendants, so make sure you preserve it for the future.

Bonus tip: If the technology is beyond you, dont hesitate to get help. Ask a grandchild to assist you, or hire a professional photo scanning service. Many family history centers in Utah have free scanning facilities with volunteers available to assist you.
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