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Saving Our Photo Heritage - Scanning to Digital At Last

Updated on May 27, 2016

The Sudden Realization

While watching the evening news each night, it seems that severe weather is becoming more and more common. Each night seems to bring more accounts of tornadoes, hailstorms, windstorms, and floods.

The damage these events inflict is mind-numbing, but it was only recently that I started to think about a form of loss that is - perhaps - not as dramatic as what you see in the news coverage, but in some ways could be just as devastating - the loss of the families' photographic heritage.

These days, of course, everything is digital. We take pictures with our smart phones and digital cameras, download them to our computers, back them up (you do back up, don't you?), and upload them to the Cloud. But - I think we might be inclined to forget that for most of us (at least those of "a certain age") there is a vast trove of photographic history that is not digital, and is therefore subject to sudden, catastrophic loss.

Our family has been fortunate enough to travel a lot across Europe, the Caribbean, and the USA. Much of our travel history exists in the form of physical photographs - slides, prints, and negatives. Were something to happen to our house, most or all of these records of our past experiences would be lost.

Mont Saint-Michel, France

One of France's Most Dramatic Sights
One of France's Most Dramatic Sights

Memory is Not Forever, Scanning Is

When you look back on all that you have done and experienced in your life, it is pretty easy to realize that - for most of us - there is simply no way that we can recall all of the important and special things we have done, and experienced. That is why we took pictures at the time - and why they are so very important to us now.

The problem is, in many cases, those photographic memories have drifted to the back of our consciousness, and our lives - displaced by more current, and urgent, priorities. So, they linger (and often moulder away), in closets, basements, attics, and other storage locations.

Even without a catastrophic event, those photos are at risk. All photographic materials change over time - they are damaged by mold, dyes fade, colors shift. The only way to prevent that from happening is to preserve them as digital files.

Colorado Springs, USA

US Air Force Academy Chapel
US Air Force Academy Chapel

The Scanning Solution

There is a website that is dedicated to this important idea: This is one of the sites I found as I started to research this whole idea. It points out the need for action on this kind of project, with some great personal stories included.

The problem is, this can be a rather daunting project to contemplate - particularly if your photo library is large. The questions are: what is the best way to get all this stuff scanned into digital files, and what is it going to cost (both in time, and money).

There are a couple of ways to approach it: the DIY (Do It Yourself), or the Go Commercial approach. If you decide to do it yourself, you have to first buy a scanner (and a cheap one will just waste all your time and effort), then you have to actually do all the scanning, color correction, dust and scratch removal, and file organization.

The alternative is to go to a commercial scanning service, and have them scan all your material for you. Then, all you have to do is gather your materials, perhaps organize them and prioritize them, and take them, or ship them, to the scanning house.

The Parthenon, Athens, Greece

One of the great Greek Ruins
One of the great Greek Ruins

Where to Go For Scanning?

When it comes to choosing a scanning service, there are lots of them to choose from, with a wide range of prices and services. Scanning 35mm slides, for instance, can cost from $0.25 - $1.00 per slide, depending on quantity and the scan resolution you want. In many cases, there are extra charges as well - for instance: rotating an image to the correct orientation!

Some scanning houses limit the formats they accept. Most, for example, won't touch disc film negatives (and the few that do will charge up to $30/disc!). Cropping of scans can also be an issue - for example if you have some of the old "super slides", most houses will crop the image when they scan it - so you have to hope that nothing important is lost when that happens.

If you're like most folks, you don't have just one type of image to be scanned, but rather a mix of slides, photos, negatives and photo albums. This brings up another issue - many scanning houses are "picky" about what they will process. They want to scan what's easiest for them to handle - speed and volume are their major concern. If you have some items that they don't handle, well - just find another vendor....

Scanning Stonehenge

Stonehenge, England
Stonehenge, England

Finding the Right Scanning Service

Finding the right scanning service is a bit like finding the right date for a Friday night. There are a lot of prospects, but probably only one "right one" for you. As mentioned earlier, prices vary widely, as does the range of materials that a Service will handle. I did find one place that is a bit different from most of the others - and I think I'll be getting all my scanning done there.

Digital Conversions LLC, located in Glen Mills, PA, has a scanning website that is quite different from the others I looked at. Most of the other sites have a very "commercial" feel to them - glitzy graphics, lots of stuff to look at. This one has a totally different feel - it is more like a photography website than a commercial one (perhaps because the Owner is a photography enthusiast). The site is decorated with personal photos taken nearby at a place called Longwood Gardens.

Here's just one example:

Water Lily Blossom

Universal Scanning Service?

In addition to the unusual website, the other thing about this Company is that they appear to place no limits on what you can have them scan - all slide formats, all negative formats (including disc - at about half the usual price). They will scan photos, and photo albums. (They also offer Photo Restoration - sort of a "one stop" shop.)

They promise "no crop" scanning - for all sizes of slides, etc. Price-wise, they seem to be at the lowest end of the scale. The impression I got was that this is a Service run by someone who values photography, and will treat my (and your) photos with a great deal of care.

They even offer to scan a few items for no charge - just to give you a chance to try the service out and see if you like the results! All things considered, it looks like it is worth checking out. There is one last difference worth pointing out: you can't just box up your stuff and ship it to them. They require that you fill out a Request Form - then they will let you know when you can send your materials to them. This is apparently the way they maintain a 14-day turnaround for your scans.


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