There is a good answer to a similar question here: What is the best way to digitize old photographs for preservation

This came up on reddit. The problem posed however is different: Dad died, leaving boxes of pictures. Son wants to digitize the entire collection so that all the siblings, and grandkids can share them.

So the question is one of doing this reasonably rapidly, without losing virtual metadata in the collection.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you elaborate on the "virtual metadata" part? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 17:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you need to process negatives as well? \$\endgroup\$
    – n0rd
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 21:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ I just want to comment. There is no need to rush the scanning. Take your time and enjoy viewing them. That was the original point when your dad took the images in the first place. :o) \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 4:48

5 Answers 5


Your DSLR can do it in about 5 seconds each.

You need a tripod, a piece of glass and a decent light.

Try to come up with a way to work at table height. Aim the camera straight down.

Put a flat board down, and make a right angle of masking tape. You can apply the tape directly to the table if you are absolutely sure it won't pull off the finish. Not a problem on formica. May be a problem on wood tables.

First: Use a sheet of graph paper. Adjust camera position until graph paper is perfectly at right angles. If you have distortion, use another lens. For this use a prime between 60 and 120 mm works well for a crop sensor, 85 to 200 for a full frame.

Set camera to manual focus. Put a couple rubber bands on your lens to avoid focus creep.

You may want to do this tethered to a laptop to catch problems early.

White balance: I think you are better off setting white balance to manual and match it to your light source. This may not be perfect but all of the images will be off the same way.

The light should shine on the glass at a 45 degree angle. You can use off camera flash for this. I find it distracting. I use an Apurture LED light. Good white balance for this. If you use incandescent bulbs, go for halogens.

You need a piece of plate glass (no density striations) larger than the picture. Tape one edge down, and tape a handle onto it so you can easily lift the edge to change pictures.

The ceiling above you should be dark so there are no reflections of the ceiling from the glass. If you have a light coloured ceiling a chunk of black posterboard and 4 thumbtacks may rescue you.

Sometimes just working at night with the downward facing copy lamp is enough. You can check for reflections by putting something black under the glass.

Take a few shots with a photo under the glass. Transfer to computer and check them. Hold the photo at the same time. If the colours look really wonky, try a different light source.


If you have an interval timer function on your camera set it to about 10 seconds.


Take a packet of pictures. If you can find a date on the packet write the date on a piece of paper, and put it under the glass. Write the same date on the packet. I like using a sharpie for this, as it is easy to read in the pics.

Remove pix from packet. Take top picture put under glass. Wait for click. While you are waiting, get the next one ready.

Swap pix. Pic you just shot up goes face down, starting a stack. This does two things:

A: You know which stack is next and which is done.

B: When you've done the packet, the pix are in the same order.

Repeat for each packet. Don't fret if the camera takes a few blanks while you are fussing with the next packet.

The date on the packet says you've processed that packet.

Once you have done a packet or two, process that batch. This is where you find bugs in the system.


May as well slow down the camera. It will take time to remove a shot from an album, and replace them. Look at the back of a few pix. Sometimes the date development date is on the back -- usually just month year. If you can date an album, write the date neatly somewhere -- inside the cover, on the spine. You can get fancy and put it on a label. You can name an album too if it's themed. Like before first shot is a piece of paper with the identifier for the album.

Generally people transfer pix from packets to albums as a unit, but the packets may not be in date order. You may or may not care. If you care, as you remove them, look at the back. If it's dated, you can write the date on another piece of paper and put it down with the Album piece of paper and snap that. Knowing the album that a shot is from helps if you need to find it again.


These are the worst. Pix are often just loose. They may have been gone through a few times. If boxes were open, there is a lot of dust to deal with.

Dealing with dust: Take a fan, and tape a furnace filter to one side. The frameless furnace filters work best for this. A box fan is easiest. By dusting prints next to the fan, you don't end up with a cloud of dust everywhere. You can use a vacuum for this, but it's noisy.

Buy a new soft bristle paint brush for dusting. Natural bristles don't have as much problem with static. A 2" brush intended for oil based enamel works well. Paint stores have better brush selections than the Orange Box.

A swiffer duster may work.

Back to the boxes: If there are clumps, take the whole clump. Spread clumps out over the table. Individuals become their own clump. Pick up a clump, and check for date stamp. If stamped, write a date label (same one you will use later, lay it beside the clump. Check each pic in the clump to see if it is the same date. Repeat this for each clump.

Either after or while you are doing this, put the stacks in date order. Once you have done clumps, do the individuals and see if they have dates that match up to the clumps. If so add them to the clump stack. If not, start a new clump.

You may end up with multiple clumps with the same date. Likely from a holiday, or someone with a new camera.

You may want to spread out each development date and see if they are in reasonable order. Group similar shots. This is also time for some facetime consulting with your sibs. You can use your cell to send representitive shots. "Did we do the tower of London before or after Kew gardens."

If you want to keep the originals, get albums or get acid free envelopes. Do Not use Kraft paper (brown; manilla) You can go whole hog and get archival envelopes, but that's likely overkill. A good quality white envelope is likely good enough. Uline is probably the cheapest source for envelopes. Write the date on the envelope.


My grandfather would write notes on the back of the picture. This is valuable metadata. So if there is writing on the back, do that side FIRST. When you do the next pic, that the present one is upside down reminds you to flip it over. If it was right side up, like most of them, and you are interrupted, you may not remember to do the back.


From a comment: Shooting tethered or with a remote, allows you to work at your own pace. As would hitting the shutter release. The former methods avoid camera shake from you touching the camera. If you use a remote, I would tape it down so that you don't have to pick it up each time.

Why not use a scanner?

I have an Epson v700 scanner. It takes an inordinate amount of time per scan, and does so in 3 passes. It takes about a minute per scan for 8x10s I'm sure there are better scanners out there.

The reviews I've read on photo scanners show poor dynamic range, and with many of them an unacceptable increase in contrast. Read reviews carefully. Be sure you can return it. I would suggest not bothering with anything not specifically sold for scanning photos.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd recommend pretty much the same, with one addition though: Many modern cameras let you operate them remotely using a laptop, a tablet, a phone or a "old school" remote. This lets you take the pictures in whatever pace works for you, just make sure you place your remote somewhere convenient. This is the way I like doing it. (And you do not necessarily need a DSLR, but it is of course the better solution if you have one:) \$\endgroup\$
    – flawr
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 17:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed with @flawr - Lightroom remote capture (or similar) is the way to do this. Even if OP doesn't have it, it's worth getting it for a month just for this project. You can set up sessions to auto-name the files with meaningful names (by group, collection, whatever). If you don't have a good lens, at least in Lightroom you can apply lens corrections to flatten any distortion and have that (and whatever other) processing applied automatically while you shoot (post crop, etc). Plus the obvious benefits of remote triggering using the laptop. \$\endgroup\$
    – J...
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 10:34

For large collections (in the 1000s) outside services can be very expensive. Especially if you: A) want decent quality, B) don't want them shipped to another country for cheaper processing, and/or C) want to preserve the backs.

Setting up a camera like in Sherwood Botsford's answer is rather labor intensive and has drawbacks of getting lighting perfectly even and avoiding reflection off of the photos esp on old matte textured paper. You'll also have to manually crop most of them after the capture.

Another alternative (And my preferred approach)...

Get a good duplex feed scanner like an Epson FF-640, ES-400, DS-510 or Fujitsu scansnap series. Something with a 600dpi optical resolution (on both sides), can output to tif, and can adjust brightness & contrast is preferred. These scanners can feed photos at about 20-30 per minute, and capture the backs of the photos at the same time if you have writing on them you want to save. They also automatically crop the photos when it saves the images which is a huge time saver.

My Specific Setup:

Epson DS-510
I scan to LZW compressed TIF; 600dpi; Brightness=50; Contrast=-30.
I have Lightroom configured to auto-import from the scanned folder into a library I'm working with. Depending on the photos you're dealing with, you can configure lightroom to auto develop the photos as they are imported (like doing auto color correction, exposure, etc.)
For the most part the only manual work done to the photos is a quick pass over to correct the orientation of the photos if I didn't feed them in right side up to begin with.
You can then export the photos to a cloud photo service like google photos which can be extremely helpful employing facial recognition and allowing you to share the collection with other family members to help identify/comment on the pictures.

Some notes for anyone deciding to run with this setup:
1) feed scanners will create a 1-3px white streak if a speck of dust or paper gets stuck on the glass. It's best to monitor the prints as they are scanned. if you see thin white streaks appear, stop, wipe a soft dust rag over the rollers and glass, and continue. How often this happens depends greatly on how dirty or dusty your photos may be. I've done hundreds at a time and never needed to stop, while other times I end up wiping off the glass with every 10-20 stack I feed it.
2) Epson scan software currently has an issue in the latest updates of windows 10 where it will freeze/crash quite often. The workaround for this is to run epson scan 'as administrator'.
3) You'll read many places that 300dpi is plenty for scanning prints. Anything more than that and you're just adding pixels, not detail. With these scanners however, setting the resolution to 300dpi also speeds up the scan dramatically. From my experience with an S1500 and DS-510, there is a noticeable difference in detail. If file sizes are a concern you could scan at 600dpi, do any post processing, then export to 300dpi when you want to share or copy to USB stick.

edit - it appears from the comments that the FF-640 software has some auto retouching capabilities that might eliminate some of the Lightroom processing or eliminate the Lightroom step completely which would speed up the process even more.

If you also have old film or slides
You can do these on a flatbed like an epson V550,V600,V700, etc. or any film/slide capable scanner.
This is going to be slower no matter what scanner you have, as you've got to manually load the film or slides, the scanner runs relatively slow because it's scanning at a higher dpi, and you'll likely spend more time post processing these than prints.
However, it's quite rewarding when you develop some memories on 60+ year old film that no family member has ever seen (until now).

If there is a lot of film or slides, this is where I'd seriously consider outside services if you have the money to do it. I've scanned about 1-2K slides and a few rolls worth of film. I'm not sure if I'd do it myself if I had to do that many again.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is probably the most repeatable and least expensive, I have done this in the past and you barely have to do anything. \$\endgroup\$
    – ZaxLofful
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 20:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have almost exactly the same scenario -- a box of prints my father took that I'd like to preserve and share. I bought an Epson FF-680W and it works very well. It's fast. It scans both sides of photo prints and documents in one pass. It does a decent retouching of photos and saves both the original scan and the cleaned-up image. Recommended. \$\endgroup\$
    – John Mo
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yup, this is the best answer -- way easier than the DSLR method, and nicer results to boot. No messing with colour balance etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – jkf
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 0:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nothing in the question presupposes that people who want to do this are inside the US. Can you generalise the first paragraph? I'm not entirely sure what the scenario you envisage is. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 14:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have an scansnap s1500 also. If folks are interested (and I can figure out how to post photo samples on here) I can post a quality sample from all 3 (SLR, S1500, & DS-510) \$\endgroup\$
    – bucknljake
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 13:04

An alternative...

If you have considered Sherwood Botsford's answer and it seems like a lot of work...well, you are not wrong, especially for larger archives.

Consider finding a service to do this tedious, time-consuming, laborious, boring work for you. ScanCafe (for example) have a "Value Kit" option where they ship you a box, you fill it full of "Paper Photos (both color and B&W), 35mm Color Slides or 35mm Color Negatives", ship the box to them, and they do all the digitising for you. They claim it works out as low as 21c (US) per scan. "Media processing typically takes 4-8 weeks and return shipping takes 2-3 weeks." This may sound expensive to some people, but seriously - how much is your time worth? You may well reconsider after spending hours, days, weeks, months, or even years trying to do this yourself.

Please note! I am not affiliated with ScanCafe, nor am I recommending them. I just use them as an example.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Scan My Photos is another similar service. My family used it to scan around 6000 photos taken over 30 years with good results. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark H
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 3:12

While I'm sure a proper photo scanner like the ones bucknljake suggests are significantly better in terms of quality, I've archived a bunch of old photos just by putting them in the feeder of one of the big scanner / printer things at my office (the one I used was Konica Minolta C554, FWIW!)

Whilst the quality probably wasn't the greatest and there were occasional feed problems, the quality was good enough for the photos I was scanning, many of which weren't technically the greatest either (the memories were the important thing).

The biggest advantage: pretty much free, if you already have such a machine in your office that you can use at a time when you're not tying it up for others.


Here's an alternative: buy a good scanner with A4 scan area size and hire somebody to use it.

A scanner of decent quality should cost 200-300 USD. You should be able to fit two 10 cm x 15 cm photos on an A4 scanner simultaneously. If you don't need the scanner anymore after the job is complete, you should be able to get 50-100 USD by selling a used scanner to somebody else if it's perfectly functioning. (You could consider buying a used scanner in the first place, too, if you can find such a scanner for sale.)

When I was 15 years old, we collected money for the school skiing trip by offering a service to scan old photographs with a good scanner and burning them to CD-R as JPEG files. As of that time, Windows didn't have a good photo viewer software so I created such a piece of software that was bundled with the CD-R.

I'm pretty sure there are plenty of people who have spare time and don't mind a small temporary job even if the hourly salary won't be that big.

Now, there are of course some professional services that do the labor at a very low cost (one of the services mentioned claimed 21 cents per photo, you won't achieve that low cost using my proposed method), but if you buy a scanner and hire somebody who really needs the money, you know you have made the world a slightly better place.


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