Updated: July 5, 2022 | Contains affiliate links

Best Way to Scan and Organize Old Photos

Old photos are fun because they bring back lots of memories. It’s funny how we mostly remember the good things about past memories. Memories are the primary motivation for me to go back into my old childhood photos and scan some and make them digital. I have hundreds of photos from when I was a child, mostly black and white. Even though I would like to scan all of them, I usually pick a few to scan and then forget about it for a while. However, learning how to scan and organize old photos is mostly the same as organizing current digital photos. I follow the same system I use with all my pictures with one important difference. Read on to learn how to scan and organize old photos.

Before diving into a large project for scanning your large pile of old photos, take some time to understand the entire process. Planning a little bit beforehand, will help you along the way as the process of scanning large quantities of photos is both time consuming and tedious. Read along so you can prepare and then actually scan and organize your old photos efficiently, so you can simply enjoy them.

1. What is Missing from Scanned Photos?

Unlike current digital photos produced by a digital camera, scanned photos do not contain any information about when the photos were taken, there are no tags or keywords and certainly no geo-tags.

The most challenging aspect about organizing scanned photos is the fact that scanned photos are missing photo metadata.

In terms of metadata, scanned photos are dead unless you learn to find and capture any photo metadata outside of the photos themselves.

2. Find and Capture Photo Metadata for Scanned Photos

Fortunately, there are three possible sources for gathering metadata for your old scanned photos.

On occasion you can find metadata on the back of old photos written with a pencil. It might be fading away and hard to decipher but that is lucky metadata left by an organized family member long time ago.

Secondly is an old family member with all the metadata in their head. My best source of metadata for old family photos is my 94 years old grandmother. I can show her pretty much any old photo and she tells me the event , a pretty close date and who is in the photo.

The third source of metadata for scanned photos is yourself. Whatever you can remember or whatever you can guess from your old photos is all you have.

3. Scan Old Photos in Groups Related to the Same Time Period

My wife and I have quite a few old pictures of our families: parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins…you get the picture…I have a large family with lots of old photos.

The best way to approach the organization of these scanned pictures is to group them by approximate time…I mean large approximation since for many old pictures we do not have any dates unless something written on the back.

I usually pick a group of pictures that have to do with similar time period. And I mean roughly similar…more like: “these are pictures from the 70s and these are pictures from 80s”. Unless you have more clues written on the back of your pictures (or somewhere else), it’s really hard to determine the date and place of an old picture. Unless of course you have a grandmother that remembers every detail about every old picture.

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Sometimes the content of the pictures triggers memories that help me remember more details about the date and place, but those pictures are not too many. When I run into pictures from a particular event, I put them all together in a folder and create a precise folder name (Read How should you name your folders?)

4. Create Efficient Folders for Scanned Photos

I place all my newly scanned photos in the TRANSFER folder and I process them just like new photos I just transferred from my camera.

Then I create folders for scanned photos just like I would create folders for current photos. The only difference is that I place them in the higher level folder called VLAD. My wife’s old pictures when she was a child I place in her own folder where I create similar folders for the years.

As you know, I place all my current photos in the FAMILY folder.

So my folder structure looks like this.

    1970s-childhood (pictures scattered all over the 1970s)
    1979-12-first-day-of-school (a few pictures from this event I remember)

You may choose another name for your high level folder for scanned photos. You may call it OLD-PHOTOS or you may simply choose to put your old photos in the FAMILY folder along with all your current photos.

5. Group Photos by Long Time Spans

The fact that you don’t know the time and circumstances of these old photos will force you to group them generically by long time spans. Make this grouping before you start scanning.  Analyze your piles of old photos, and divide them in groups of long time spans.

This is the most important and challenging difference between scanned photos and current digital photos.

Other than that, you treat scanned photos like any other digital photo you take with you camera or phone.

Can You Scan and Organize Old Photos Efficiently?

With some preparation and realistic expectations, I believe you can have a lot of fun scanning your old photos. There are lots of memories that these old photos bring. So, arm yourself with patience and perseverance, and bring your history to life by making all your old photos available to share on modern platforms.

What do you think? Have you found another helpful way to group old scanned pictures?

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If you do a lot of image editing like I do, I recommend using Adobe Lightroom Classic CC via the annual Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Lightroom has best photo editing capabilities even though it has a steeper learning curve. Adobe Lightroom is my favorite for image editing.

I recommend Backblaze Personal Cloud Backup for affordable & reliable unlimited cloud backup. I have been using Backblaze for backing up all pictures & videos for more than 5 years now. All my invaluable digital memories are safe and secure. This is the best solution especially if you have a large quantity of media files.

Use a reliable & affordable external hard drive for backing up everything on your computer. It is absolutely essential for keeping all your memories backed up and safe.

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  1. wendy Conaway

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