This isn’t necessarily something any of us really like to talk about. Because I’m dealing with it personally and creeping up there in age, I’m seeing and hearing more and more of this subject come up in conversations. What do we do with all of these photos?

I know I’m not the only one who has shelves and shelves of photo albums along with shoe boxes, containers, tubs, bins and stacks of photographs. Printed. Yes, prints. It’s quite overwhelming, to be honest. Not only do I have my own going back over 40 years (told you I was creeping up there in age), I also now have my family’s prints some of which date back to the 1940s.

photo albums in bin

Start by sorting

Easier said than done, I know because I haven’t started yet even though I say I’m going to every week. It’s daunting but just start. Pick one box or album and start making piles. Decide ahead of time what you want to do with the prints you have. Your piles may be Keep, Toss, Give, Scan.

Which photos do you want to keep for yourself and your family? Some of the photos may have zero meaning to you and/or you have no idea who those people even are in them, toss those (recycle when you can). Give the photos to family/friends who are in the images. Scan the images you want to share either online or with friends and family.

Create new albums

Once you’ve completed the sorting process, you may want to make new albums. Update those little photo mounting corners that no longer stick or are missing. Write any information you have on the back of the prints so the next person doesn’t have to figure out who, what and when the photos are from. You may even want to cut out the original writing in the old albums to keep with the images, paste under the photos in a new album or create scrapbooks based on years or family events.

photo albums

The scanning process

Depending on the number of prints you have to scan you have some options. Scanning is a very time-consuming project.

Scan them yourself. You can purchase film/negative/slide scanners in a wide range of prices from $40 to $900 depending on the quality you need/want and the type of film you have to scan. This range includes 8mm film as well. You’ll need to learn how to prepare the prints, slides or negatives; make sure they are clean and dust-free so you get clean scans.

There are several online companies that offer scanning services. One I used several years ago is ScanMyPhotos.com. They did the job I needed to archive around 600 prints for me so that I had them digitally. They offer several different services and options for how to send your images. Legacybox.com is another online company that offers scanning services. They allow you to include different types of media, film, printed materials and audio files that they digitize for you. There are a few others out there. Like anything, do your research, read reviews, ask around and make your decision based on the information you’ve gathered.

35mm slides

If it makes you a little nervous sending your prints out into the world via the postal service or other delivery companies, do a little research and find out if there are scanning service companies near you. I found a couple within an hour from me.

I asked for quotes from both places and was a little surprised to find their prices varied quite a bit. One quoted me based on 1,000-4,999 prints at $0.29 each print. 1-99 prints were $0.99 each. The other company gave me $1 per print and only dropped down to $0.75 for the 1,000 prints or more.

The digital images

Once you have your prints archived digitally then decide where to store them. How to preserve those files and the media they are stored on for generations.

Obviously we also need to consider our digital legacy as well, especially since we’ve just digitized our old prints. What do we do with all those external hard drives? Who has access to your digital files, passwords, cloud-based storage and do they know how to handle images? I think it’s a good idea to create a plan and share it with your family. A similar process as above, sort through your images and decide what stays, what goes and what to share.

processed film envelopes

Technology is constantly changing. Will your files be easily accessed, will file types change? Remember floppy disks? Yea, those among a myriad of other types of storage that basically no longer exist. The tried and true method of printing our images is still one of the best ways to ensure future generations will be able to see our stories.

What are you doing to preserve your images?