Archiving Photos

Archiving photos is one of the most important things you can do to pass on your legacy to future generations. You know who is in the photo – label it! (Gently use pencil on the back.) Get the photos into computer form, so you can pass them on to your kids. In this form you can store your images in several places for safety, too.

First, get a scanner

Get a good one. I use the Epson Perfection V500 Photo and it is a great machine for archiving photos. It cost me $150 or so at Staples, and it does slides and negatives as well as prints. DO NOT use an all-in-one scanner (printer/scanner/fax). These machines usually have inferior sensors and optics. Given a choice, you want a good, newer dedicated flatbed scanner. If you find a used one, try to get one that will do 16-bit scans. I’ve seen many 8- and 12- bit scanners in thrift stores. These would do for archiving good quality originals but wouldn’t be as good for faded photos.
scanner for archiving photos

Second, arrange your photos

Sally Jacobs is an expert on archiving family records (See her website at She has written an excellent series of articles, one of which discusses what to archive and what to toss. She recommends these criteria:

    • Respect Scarcity: is this the only photo you have of that person? I have millions of photos of my daughter, so I can afford to keep only the best. But I have only a few of my father. I keep every one of them!
    • People Pictures: recently I found a lot of old family photos of my father’s. My dad was a plant nut. He took a zillion photos of trees. I cherish the photos of my mom, but am not as attached to tree pictures.
    • Respect Age: the older a photo is, the fewer photos of that the person are around. You may have a million photos taken last year on your cell phone. But you don’t have as many from fifty years ago. Or a hundred years ago.
    • Consider Sentimental Value: if it’s a favorite, keep it! We have some photos of the home I grew up in, which we value highly. They’re just photos of a house, but we have fond memories of the place.

archiving photos - house

Archiving Photos

  • Get some gloves. I like white gloves (archivists dig ’em), but I also use blue nitrile or yellow latex exam gloves. You can get the nitrile or latex gloves at a pharmacy or home improvement store;
  • Go through your photos. Arrange them into basic groups – perhaps by decade or period of one’s life. Examples might be your childhood, your kids, and current photos. Bag them in food-quality plastic bags (I like the quart storage bags);
  • If you have a large number of photos, consider grouping by “scan now”, “scan soon”, and “scan later”;
  • Set aside your best ones for the high-resolution and TIFF-format scans;
  • Wear gloves when you handle your photos: fingerprints will damage your prints;
  • No food or drink on your worktable, and cover your photos when not in use;
  • Scan once rather than many times: the less light you give your prints, the better;
  • Scan at 300 dpi (dots per inch) for your target print size. That means use 300 dpi if you expect to make same-size prints, and 600 dpi for print twice that size by length. When we archive photos, we use 400 dpi to permit gentle enlargements. We also do a dozen at higher resolution for free, so you can make bigger prints;
  • Save as a TIFF file only if you have plenty of storage space for archiving photos. If you don’t have the space, use the highest quality JPEG file you can. We scan to top quality JPEG files, with your top dozen or so saved in TIFF format. For restoration, we always save using TIFF format.
  • Also, note that you should duplicate your CDs every five years or so. CDs degrade – we’ll remind you when the time comes, and can make another copy for you if you need it then.

archiving photos - gloves

Storing Your Images

    • Have one copy you NEVER alter: make a copy and do your photo manipulation on the copy.
    • Keep your photo files in two places. Keep a copy near and one at great distance so a local flood or other disaster won’t wipe out the backup you have two states away;
    • When you’re done archiving photos, have your digital files in three different formats. At LEAST have them on CD and on a hard drive, and in cloud storage as well. And keep an eye on technology: you may need to change formats as times change.

And visit Ms. Jacob’s site for information on how to store your originals. Find it at You can also find many bags, boxes, and tools for photo storage from Gaylord Archival (