Old images and photos are a powerful reminder of the past and provide a very important visual connection to our ancestors. However, over time the effects of dirt, dust, oil, and temperature cause old photos to deteriorate. Digitising your family photos and old images not only assists in preserving your images but also allows them to be shared and viewed without handling them which can cause further damage.

There are several ways to go about digitising your photos and images; however, for the highest quality, you should use a scanner.

Note: Old photos should be handled with extreme care. Some old photos are light-sensitive, meaning that the bright light from your scanner may damage them. If you are unsure take a no-flash photograph instead or consult a professional.

Setting Up Your Scanner and Photos

Set up your scanner in a dust-free environment.

While the scanner is still unplugged, clean your scanner’s glass using a soft, lint-free cloth such as a camera-lens cleaning cloth or microfibre cloth. Holding a flashlight to one side of the glass will help see any dust or streaks. If necessary you can use a little bit of glass cleaner and then, using a dry microfibre cloth, dry off any remaining residue. Note: It is advisable to avoid any cleaners which contain acetone, ammonia, benzene or carbon tetrachloride.

Carefully remove any dust or dirt from your photos using a soft brush or microfibre cloth before placing them on the scanner bed. Close the scanner top slowly to ensure you don’t disturb the photos on the scanner bed.


Scanners all work in essentially the same way. To get the best quality scans it is advisable to follow your scanner’s instructions. Generally speaking, scanning at 600 dpi (dots per inch) or higher will give the best quality output. If you want a smaller file 300 dpi will give a good quality image without taking up as much room on your computer or storage device.

Choose your settings. Make sure your scanner is set to produce high-quality scans. For black and white photos you can either scan in greyscale or colour. Scanning old photos and images in colour will give you a greater ability to manipulate the images later. Sepia-toned photos should only be scanned in colour.

After placing photos face down on the glass, use the preview or pre-scan setting to adjust your settings and to check that your photo is clean and positioned correctly.

If you have a lot of photos, you can scan several at a time and crop out each picture later, saving them as their own file. Note: Many scanners now come with the ability to scan several photos at once and to save each photo as a separate file.

Saving Your Images

After you’ve scanned a photo, save it as either a TIFF file, which producers a higher quality image, or as a JPEG file, which requires less storage and is easier for emailing. Don’t compress photos or images too much as you will sacrifice image quality.

Sorting Your Images

Rename scanned images with customised file names.

Add basic information to files: Who, What, Where, and When, to help find and identify files later in time. You can do this by hovering over the file name and right-clicking which will produce a menu. Select “Properties”. In the Properties box select the tab titled “Details” and enter your file information in the categories provided by clicking beside each title inline with the “Value” column.

Back-Up Your Files

If possible follow the 3-2-1 rule.

Three copies: two stored on different storage devices, and one copy located off-site.

* You should always keep your originals after you have digitised them, not only for posterity but because digital files can also degrade. Whether digitizing your family photos or papers yourself or having a company do it, it is important that the originals be handled carefully so they are not damaged in the process.