How To Digitize Pictures: A Practical Guide
Our downsizing journey was honestly so much easier and more enjoyable than I ever could have imagined it to be. Without too much effort we were able to get rid of approximately 95% of our worldly belongings. There was one impending task that filled me with dread though: what to do with nearly 10,000 printed photos. My father was a professional photographer and I was taught that photos are not only an art form but in many ways, sacred. So when I imagined myself getting rid of them, I wasn’t too confident that lightning wasn’t going to drop from the sky and jolt me.
One thing that I’ve learned about downsizing is that honesty with oneself is key. Yes, I knew that I really “should” get rid of the boxes of photos I’d dragged around for decades, but I made a deal with myself: if I realized that I just couldn’t go through downsizing my images for whatever reason, I would allow myself to keep whatever photos I wanted in hard copy. After all, I had joyfully and willingly gotten rid of pretty much everything else, so I figured I’d earned the “right” to hang on to three boxes. Giving myself this emergency exit before even starting allowed me to go into the process without any fear.
The first order of business was to sort through all the images and decide what I wanted to keep/scan and what I wanted to throw away. This process took me several different sittings as the sheer volume of photos was significant. Fortunately, I switched to digital around 2006 so the last nine years I’ve been happily clicking away and storing images on my computer and hard drive. Had it not been for that, my total of images would have been in the 25,000 range.
One observation I made early on that helped me immensely in my extreme photo diet was that I had major redundancies in my collection. Each vacation or event that I had documented was represented by 20+ images. I really didn’t need that many snapshots of each event so just by being super selective, I was able to whittle down my piles by about 75%.
The remaining images proved to be more challenging to thin out. I had a goal of keeping just 1,000 photos when it was all said and done. That seemed like a reasonable amount of snapshots to represent my life, family, friendships, places I’d lived and trips I’d taken. The remaining couple thousand images were much slower to go through but by being ruthlessly selective, I was able to reach my 1k goal.
I placed all of the discarded images in boxes and closed them up, but didn’t throw them out. I gave myself 4 weeks to gauge whether I wanted to permanently get rid of them or to keep them. In the meantime, I got busy with digitizing my favorite 1,000 photos. To have a company professionally do that would have cost more than what I wanted to spend so I did research on consumer scanning solutions. In the end I went with the ImageBox 9MP StandAlone because it was reasonably priced ($125), it offered scanning for images, slides AND negatives, it was small and lightweight, and it was well reviewed.
All in all I have been very pleased with how the ImageBox has performed. Digitizing all 1,000 images only took me 12 or so hours. The process is very quick and easy and actually pretty fun. Now, a word about quality: this is not a professional scanner. There is a slight loss in quality from the original images to the digitized ones. I am willing to live with that loss in quality because for me, unlike my father, pictures are vehicles to trigger memories more than anything else. If you however really value the best quality possible in your images, you will want to look at getting your images professionally scanned.
Basic instructions on how to use the ImageBox:
1. Plug your unit in and insert an SD card (photo/video card does not come with the ImageBox). My 16GB SD card can hold thousands upon thousands of images, so it had more than enough room on it.
2. If you are scanning a photo, choose which size from the Menu function (3×5 or 4×6) and then move your slider below the display screen to Photo. Lift the top of the ImageBox lid and place your image upside down and back side up on top of the glass. Close the lid and press Scan. In 3 seconds, the ImageBox will take a 9MP photo of your image and store it onto your SD card. Lift cover and repeat for your other images. It helps to organize your images by size and by Color vs B&W. There is some basic light saturation fixes you can make in the ImageBox menu before scanning which saves time in post editing.
3. If you are scanning a negative, lift the cover and then take off the white plastic tab which allows for light from within the box to reach the slide/negative tray. Move the slider on the front to Film, adjust the Menu function to Negative, insert your negative into the negative tray and then slide the tray into the slot on the top of the ImageBox. Again, press Scan and in just 3 seconds you will end up with a digitized negative. With a negative strip, just slide down each image within the slot until you’ve digitized each negative in that strip.
4. For scanning a slide, insert your slides into the slide tray and again insert it into the slot in the ImageBox lid. Change your selection to Positive in the Menu and press Scan.
5. When you are done scanning your images, go ahead an dump the footage from your SD card onto your computer. I have a simple multi card reader that can decode a few different digital card types and sizes. Do check as you are starting out with digitizing to make sure that the images are making it onto the card and that there aren’t any modifications you need to make within the ImageBox Menu in terms of quality.
That’s all there is to it. As I said, I would recommend this to those that want to digitize their images and can deal with a slight loss in quality. It is quick and easy to use. It feels amazing to have all of my very favorite photos now archived and in a stable format that isn’t going to degrade in time (like many of my photos were doing). As a back up, I have all of my data stored on a hard drive which I update regularly. It’s been really fun to share many of the images with old friends and people I haven’t seen in years. For most of them, these are images that they have never seen before and having them out of a box and onto my computer has allowed me to easily distribute them.
And, if you are curious, in the end, I didn’t feel the need to keep all of the images in hard copy. We got rid of the 9,000 or so pictures by placing them in boxes and taking them to the city dump in our trash trailer. On the way, it rained and the boxes became very wet. When we went to throw them out, one of the boxes broke open and hundreds of images went sliding out onto the trash ramp. Surprisingly there was no emotional discomfort at all and if anything I was humored at seeing my life in pictures scattered about for the world to see at the dump. As we drove away, no lightning bolts thundered down to punish me and today I have no regrets at all with the decisions that I made.
How about you? How do you deal with your photos?