How to Rescue Old Photo Albums

How to Rescue Your Old Photo Albums (and Keep Them Looking Great for a Long Time)

If you were born in the 20th century (like me), you probably have some old photo albums that are not in such great shape.

Unfortunately, many of your old photos may be in danger of getting seriously damaged. If you used “magnetic” pages in your album – the ones with sticky pages that you could cover with clear plastic – your photos might already be in rough shape. Photos on old black paper pages, even with photo corners, might not be faring well, either.

Your photos might be deteriorating, yellowing, or falling out of your albums. None of this is good for your sentimental prints!

You painstakingly, carefully, and lovingly created these albums. Is there anything you can do to rescue these precious memories?

I’m happy to report that there is a solution! You can still enjoy viewing the heritage photos in an album, sharing them with family, and preserving them for generations to come.

The solution is to digitize and archive the photos and the albums. Let’s talk about what those terms mean, and how to do each of them – and I’ll also tell you the story of a photo album that my husband and I “rescued” a few years ago.

How to Rescue Old Photo Albums

What Do Digitizing and Archiving Mean?

Digitizing is the process of using a photo scanner to capture a photo print as a digital file.

Archiving is labeling your photos properly and storing them in an album or a box that is constructed of materials that will protect them from deterioration or loss.

Old photos can lose their meaning if their stories don’t get documented, so you should store your photos in a safe container and put them in a safe place, but also label them so that if they are discovered by future generations, the finder will know their relevance and significance in the family’s heritage.

A few years ago, my husband’s elderly aunt allowed my husband and I to take possession of her extraordinary heritage photo album, which documented her family’s life in Haiti and Germany during the First and Second World Wars.

We offered to digitize her one and only copy of the album, and gave her our sworn promise that we would return the book in its entirety. I think she was nervous, but she trusted us to take care of this priceless album and its contents. The purpose of a heritage album is to pass the book on to future generations, and wanted to make sure the photos and captions in this album didn’t get so damaged that she couldn’t pass them on!

Upon closer inspection, we realized the album and the photos were quickly deteriorating. The materials that her family had used to display the photos in the book weren’t archival quality, so the photos were starting to deteriorate and become discolored.

We developed a plan to upgrade her traditional album to an archive quality album while maintaining the original design, layout and captions. We also planned to digitize all the original photos, so that they could be easily secured, backed up, and shared with future generations.

How to Rescue Your Old Photo Albums

Here are the steps we followed to digitize and archive her historical album:

Step One: Document the Original Version and Remove the Photos.

Before we removed the photos to scan them, we numbered and took pictures of each album page. These images would be used to re-create the album in its original form in traditional and digital formats. We are careful to follow these steps with every heritage album we restore.

Once we had pictures of every page, we went through the album, page by page, and removed each of the photos.

As we removed all the photos, we organized them into groups based on page numbers, and placed each group sequentially into a photo-safe box. We separated each group using index card dividers labeled with the page numbers. This organizational system made the scanning process easier and more efficient.

When a photo was stuck tightly to a particular page, we used unwaxed dental floss to ease it off the page by sliding the floss between the back of the photo and the album page. It did require a bit of patience and care, but most of the photos detached easily using this process.

When it became too difficult to detach the photo from the album page, we scanned that image while it was still attached to the album page.

How to Rescue Your Old Photo Albums

Step Two: Scanning the Photos.

Next, we scanned each of the photos and turned each one into an individual digital file. We set our scanner setting to 600 DPI, since most of her photos were small.

All our photos needed to be dusted off before scanning, since the album hadn’t fully protected them, so we used a very soft microfiber cloth that wouldn’t leave lint behind on the prints. You don’t want dirt or dust to get onto the scanner, because they will be included in the scan and leave a mark on the image.

As we scanned the prints, we gave each image a file name that matched the album name and the page number.

If you’d like to scan the photos from your own older albums, you can use an all-in-one printer, if you have one. You also should make sure you keep the scanner glass free of dust, and use gloves so you don’t transfer any dirt or oil from your hands onto the prints. If you don’t have an all-in-one printer, there are a number of inexpensive scanners you can get on Amazon.com, at office supply stores, or at BHPhotoVideo.com.

Consider your ultimate goals when deciding on your DPI settings. The DPI setting typically means “dots per inch” and determines the clarity of the photo as you enlarge it.

For most projects, you’ll want to use at least 600 DPI. If you want to enlarge your print photo (digitally, or by getting a larger printed version), start with 600 DPI and consider raising it if you know you want to create a really large version of the photo.

Some quick examples: If you’ve got a 3×3 print, start with 600 DPI – this will be sufficient in most cases for regular backup purposes. Use 1200 DPI if you want a really large version of the original print, but be aware that you will be enlarging everything on the print, including any imperfections or discolorations in the image. If you have a larger print (like an 8×10), then 600 DPI will be just fine.

Step Three: Archiving the Traditional Album and Creating a Digital Copy.

We wanted to create a digital copy of the album, and recreate the original album in its original physical format – this was important so that his aunt could still have a physical album that she could hold in her hands and show to guests and family members. This process of recreating the original album in a safe and protected way is called archiving.

For the traditional album, all the original prints were placed onto archival-quality paper using photo corners, then slipped into page protectors. We scanned each caption with her handwriting to keep the album feel personal and original, and added printed-out versions of those captions to the album in the appropriate spots.

How to Rescue Your Old Photo Albums

If you’d like get your own archive-quality paper and photo corners, you can get both at Hobby Lobby, ArchivalMethods.com,  or Michael’s.

Once we completed the recreation of the traditional album, we finished off the entire process by scanning each page of the album. Once we were done with that step, we also had a digital version of the album to share and backup.

The once-deteriorating album is once again a family heirloom that is proudly displayed and shared with friends and family!

Protecting and Backing Up Your Albums

If you’ve got old albums sitting in closets or on bookshelves, you may want to archive and digital them using this process. It does require a bit of patience and organization, but it is totally doable for any family.
Of course, if you’d like some assistance with keeping your albums safe and intact, we’d love to help! Just contact us for a consultation.

Finding the Treasures

“This must seem mundane to you” said a client at the end of a recent session. The statement caught me off-guard because I would have described that past two and a half hours much differently!

Depositphotos_7173485_original

During her photo organizing session, we were sorting through her print collection; identifying the best and organizing them in preparation for digitizing. This phase in the process is a combination of a fact-finding mission and a treasure hunt. One of the treasures we uncovered was a newspaper clipping of her husband as a young adult during his days as a Golden Glove boxer! She was delighted to find it and couldn’t wait to share it with him. It was such a fun reminder that her retired seventy-something husband had once been a fierce competitor! And we knew he’d enjoy sharing this moment of his past with their grandchildren!

Photo organizing is so much more than the task at hand because it’s about understanding family relationships and the stories revealed through their photos. I’m the cheerleader for their stories.  I’m the person they count on to share the heart of the matter. And I’m not just searching for milestone events, celebrations and accomplishments. I also look for the everyday moments that connect the pieces of their life puzzle together.

Sitting side-by-side as we sorted her pictures was actually fun, rewarding and a reminder of the importance of cherishing those mementos (like a newspaper clipping) to tell the story.  If this story resonates with you and you would like some help sharing your photos and mementos, contact us. We make the process fun and easy.

Print Organizing Part 3: Securing Your Photos

Once you have selected the prints you want to keep, they should be stored in archive quality, lignin free containers. They should also be kept in a location that’s temperate – not too dry or humid and with a moderate temperature – not too hot or too cold. Photos and memorabilia can deteriorate if not kept in the right conditions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When you are ready to scan, decide whether you’ll be doing the scanning or if you will be outsourcing it. If you’re going to outsource, it helps to communicate your preferences and system to the person or company doing the scanning. Then when you upload your digitized photos onto your computer, the system you’ve spent so much time creating is kept intact. You’ll want to ask your scanner to name the photos according to the categories you’ve created. You’ll sometimes be charged an extra fee for this but it will save you time in the future. For example if you have organized a year’s worth of photos into monthly divisions, give that information to your scanner so the photos are named accordingly.

With the sorting boxes and index divider system, photos are grouped and named according to each section. Some scanning companies prefer that you use envelopes or zip lock bags to keep photo groups sealed and separated from each other. Ask your scanning company for their preference so that you are getting the outcome you expect for your scanned images. If you are doing the scanning, then keep each category together and then name the images by the category. This will help to group your photos together.

Congratulations. Before you know it you’ll be enjoying and sharing those memories with family and friends.  To speed up the process, you can contact us to help you.  For more information on how we can help you secure your photos, go to our Services page.

 

Print Organizing Part 2: Selecting Your Favorites

As you think about which photos to keep, you’re likely thinking about sharing them with family and friends. While you can share the extra copies, we prefer sharing digital copies.  This means your prints will need to be digitized.  Since this is a bit of an investment, you have some things to consider: Scan now, select and organize later or Organize now and then scan the best ones. We like to organize before scanning because it’s easier to build upon this system and use it for all digital photos. And you avoid the cost of scanning photos you don’t want to keep – especially those duplicates and blurry shots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Organized stacks

Getting Picky – What’s Worth Keeping?

If you’re like most people, your photo collection includes some great shots, duplicates, a few blurry pictures and the ones that tell a story.  Using the ABC’S as our acronym, this will be our guide for how to select our favorites. The “A” photos are the ones you like the best – typically the ones that you liked so much you ordered reprints of them. You may even have them in an album. These are the ones you want to highlight, preserve and share with family and friends.

If you have photos in albums, you will need to consider whether to keep them in place or remove them from the album.  If the pages of the album are the old, magnetic sticky sheets, then it’s best to remove them from the album to avoid further deterioration.  Since someone spent the time to carefully group photos together, you’ll want to pay attention to this and keep them in the same sequence. However, if you cannot remove the photos from the album, they can be scanned while still adhered to the album.

2002-03_Sam_2nd Grade_00001A
A treasured note from the teacher!

Memorabilia can and should be scanned for safe keeping.  Include this in your organizing system so that when the digital versions are uploaded to your computer, you can easily locate them following the same system.

The “B” photos are those shots that are close to the same quality as the Album-worthy shots, but you don’t think they are as important to showcase. You should still digitize these for safe keeping so include them in your “To be Scanned” box. An example of a “B” photo might be a look-alike version of a pose – might not be the best one but still good for preserving.

The “C” photos are usually an easy decision. These are the blurry or under/over exposed shots.  Or they may be photos of people you don’t remember! No need to scan a picture of a stranger – unless it’s an heirloom photo! Discard similar shots of the same view or pose. Then use a genealogist to help you identify it! If they are duplicates you can consider passing them along to family/friends or putting them aside to use for craft projects.

Telling the Story

Sometimes the story-worthy photos aren’t the best quality shots but the only copy you have to commemorate that event. You’ll want to keep this in mind as you select your photos to be digitized. As you think about how to group/categorize your photos, think about your preferences – chronological, themes, people and special events.

If you’re creating a life book or showcasing eras, organizing chronologically is typically the way to go. If you want to showcase interests, traditions or events then theme-based organizing works well. There’s no right or wrong way to group your photos – keep in mind how you remember events and traditions. Some folks are great at recalling dates, while others work better with themes!

As you find or recall important details such as the date, event name and location, document these on the index cards.  Or you can create a spreadsheet to list them in chronological order.  This is especially helpful when you are ready to put together a photo album or a slideshow.  Then the process of telling the story is easier because all the pieces are organized together.

Selecting photos can feel like a huge responsibility. If tackling this on your own seems daunting, send me an email. We have a keen eye for recognizing those important story telling details.

Next Step – Securing your Photos

Organizing Your Print Photos – Getting Started

Most of us have sizable collections of prints and memorabilia taking up space in our closets and storage rooms. Bringing them out of hiding and into our lives can seem like nothing more than a pipe dream. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In this 3-part series, you’ll learn the basics of getting started, selecting the best photos and ways to secure them.

Step One – Gather your photos.

With everything gathered and in the same place, you’ll be able to see what you’re working with.  Include the loose prints and the ones you have in albums. You likely have some artwork or memorabilia that are precious to you so include those as well.

Don’t worry if your collection isn’t neatly organized because with this system yours CAN be!!

Step Two – Set up your work space.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Lots of room

You’ll need a work area so that you can spread out your collection to review and select your best ones. A large table or work surface works best.

Chairs can be useful if you need to spread out!

Pick a room that’s out of the way so you won’t have to worry about encroaching into the family activities! If you have a large collection it might be easiest (and less overwhelming) to work with a portion of it at a time.

Step Three – Supplies are Key

Sorting Box
Sorting Boxes

You’ll need some sorting boxes, some index cards, sticky notes (Post-its work great) to use as tab, a pencil to write on the tabs and a photo safe pen/pencil for storytelling. These will be used to label and record information on your photos.

Are you feeling empowered and ready to go?  You are ready to begin the next step – Selecting your Favorite Photos. If this sounds overwhelming, you might need some coaching to take the leap. Send me an email to schedule a 30 minute consultation. We can create a plan for you that will help to get things started.