Photo and film scanning

How to tackle your first big photo scanning project – my collection of 5 blogs about scanning

Are you starting a photo scanning project and looking for a little direction? This blog is for you.

My first family photo scanning project began in 2013 when I was gifted/ entrusted/ encumbered with digitizing the 4 packed apple crates that comprised my grandparents’ photo collection. Since then I’ve been entrusted with 3 more family photo scanning projects and I am amassing what is beginning to feel like a personal archive.

This blog is organized in order of the issues you’ll encounter: the very beginning, the problems that will come up, and what to do with all your hard work once you’re done.

Getting started

My story about the first photo scanning project: The family picture scanning project: how I digitized 3000 images in my spare time.

Problem #1: sorting

See How to sort photos from the past 50 years when you have almost nothing to go on.

When we packed up my grandmother’s things, we were more focused on efficiency and speed than preserving archival order. In this post, I talk about how I was able to use batch sorting techniques to help me identify thousands of undated photos.


Problem #2 – scanner settings

See: Behind the scenes – my scanning setup. In this post, I take you through everything from hardware and DPI settings to naming conventions.

I have a maxim: when starting something new, don’t reinvent the wheel. Someone, somewhere knows a lot about this and has done it before. Check out Curtis Bisel’s blog Scan Your Entire Life, and read Q&As in the Facebook group Technology for Genealogy. That’s where I met Art Taylor of the Ontario Genealogical Society. Thanks to Curt and Art, I developed my own system.

Problem #3 – needing a faster scanner

See: Review: Epson FastFoto 640 High Speed Photo Scanner.

After spending 2.5 years carefully scanning all the fragile photos, the negatives, and the oddly mounted photos, I had about 5000 larger printed photos left over. At the rate I was scanning on the flatbed, it would be years more of spending every weekend scanning until I was done. There comes a time when you need to decide what’s more imporant: time or money. Investing in a high-speed scanner had 4 main benefits: i) I was able to complete the project; ii) I had time to process the images; iii) I cleared the deck for the next project; and iv) it was fun to watch photos zipping through at 1-2 seconds/piece.

Photo of a sorted collection of 5000 images preparatory to scanning
My dining room table stacked with thousands of prints, sorted by decade and ready for scanning.

Can you sum it up in a list?

Yup. See 11 tips for anyone starting a photo scanning project.

What to do with all the scans

Once you scan the photos, anything is possible. Let your imagination run wild: slide show for the next family reunion? Newsletter? Book? PowerPoint? Movie? Blog? Please do something with all your hard work.

I cannot overemphasize how rewarding this journey has been.

With a personal archive at my disposal, I’ve made genealogical discoveries that would not otherwise have been possible, helped others in the communities of family history and genealogy, and contributed to books and archives. The collection has opened conversations amongst family members from my nuclear family to the most distant cousins, encouraged members of the Chinese diaspora to reach out, and sparked discoveries in communities around the world.

My stories about Dick’s time in WWII as a member of Force 136, about Lily’s time as a Rosie the Riveter, and about finding my uncle Yim were informed and expanded by the photos I’d so carefully scanned and archived. I’ve worked with authors such as John Adams and John Burwood, and contributed a photo for the Yucho Chow book by Catherine Clement. More recently I’ve been working on a project to contribute Chinese Canadian photos to Wikipedia for the preservation of our collective history.

More personally, I simply love having faces in my genealogy programs.

  • 1918 photo
  • Artwork. © 2020 All rights reserved.
  • A photo of 5 of the men of Force 136, London, UK. Abt. Mar 1945.
Photo of negatives and envelopes. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10).
© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10).

Thank yous

Thank you to my family for entrusting me with scanning the family photos. Thank you to everyone who has given so generously of their time and expertise in helping me with the nunances of scanning formats and software. Thank you to the members of the Facebook groups Chinese Community of Victoria BC and Genealogy for Asian Canadians.

And thank you to readers Art, Paul, Chris, and Diane, for asking me about scanning.

6 thoughts on “How to tackle your first big photo scanning project – my collection of 5 blogs about scanning

  1. Bookmarking/Pocket/Zoteroing this post 🙂 I have done photo scanning projects as well, but love seeing what others do. Re: doing something WITH the photos – for me, it’s a matter of finding the time. But I have some ideas and must carve out that time soon.

    1. Thank you, as ever, for the lovely comments.

      There is no predicting what clue awaits in photo genealogy. Yesterday, I was reviewing photos from a family reunion in 2008. Our nametags were sharp and clear, and I got the idea to start entering faces into my family tree. I found a 2C1R on my two family lines who was related to us on both sides. I never would have stumbled across him if I hadn’t been reviewing the photos. That was a nice win.

  2. Hi Linda,

    The email link in your DNA email doesn’t appear to be working?
    I would dearly love to win your DNA giveaway prize and have followed you on twitter but I am not a Facebook user, so not sure if that precludes me from entering?



    1. Hi Paul, that is a possibility I did not consider. Thank you for asking the question. I won’t ask the reasons for not being on Facebook. For me, the genealogy groups on FB have had a hugely positive impact – I call them the “hive mind”, like an on-call genealogy help line. I think in fairness to the people who have already entered that I must hold to the rules as set. I’ll think carefully for the next contest – thank you so much for asking.


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