You need to 'back up' your old print photographs

It’s been more than 10 years since I’ve taken a picture using actual film, or bothered to have a photograph turned into a print—it’s all digital now. However, I still have thousands of print photographs from all of the years prior, and it occurred to me that in the event of a fire, flood, or other disaster in my home those would all be lost forever. Many businesses rely on or use photographs for a variety of reasons, and are in the same boat as I am when it comes to protecting them.

Professional photographers are an obvious business likely to have tons of archived photographs (or at least the negatives for the photographs) stored on the premises. There are many other businesses, though, such as insurance adjustors, real estate agencies, home inspectors, and more that make regular and extensive use of photographs. Most, if not all, of those businesses have probably made the switch to digital photography by now, but those older photos are still at risk.

Scanners are cheap. Even a relatively good scanner isn’t a major investment. The task of scanning and saving photographs one at a time is slow and tedious, though. Take my word for it. If you have thousands of old print photographs that you want to scan, it could be a full-time job for weeks.

I did some digging for my own personal needs, and found ScanMyPhotos.com. The company offers a variety of scanning services, including scanning of slides or negatives, but the service that caught my attention is the Prepaid Photo Scanning Box. For $99, ScanMyPhotos will scan up to 1,800 print photographs at a resolution of 300dpi and put them on a DVD for you. If you want higher resolution digital images, you can opt for 600dpi scans for $189.

The process is pretty simple. ScanMyPhotos sends you a flat, prepaid USPS Priority Mail box to ship your photos. You’re expected to group photos in bundles—preferably bundles of a consistent size to make it easier for ScanMyPhotos workers to feed them in to the scanner—and fill the box to the max. ScanMyPhotos estimates that the box will hold roughly 1,800 standard print photographs.

The photographs are scanned within five to ten business days of receipt, and ScanMyPhotos then ships the original photos back to you, along with a DVD that contains all of the scanned images. There are a number of add-on options available for an additional fee, such as having the images sent on a USB thumb drive in addition to the DVD, or enhancing old or discolored photos.

Once you have the images on a DVD or USB thumb drive, you can do whatever you need to do to protect them. You can burn more DVDs and give one to a family member or business partner for safekeeping. You can put the DVD or USB thumb drive in a fireproof box in your office, or in a safety deposit box at a bank. You can copy the images to an external hard drive, or a cloud storage service. To be fair—you can actually do all of the above to ensure beyond all doubt that no matter what sort of disaster might occur to the original print photographs, you will still have the digital versions available.

The $99 cost seems like a small price to pay for a business to preserve older print photographs. On a personal note—scanning old photos is also a great gift, and with Father’s Day around the corner many dads out there would probably greatly appreciate having all of the family photos scanned.

Compared with manually scanning the photos yourself, it is a very worthwhile investment. Compared to doing nothing and risking losing those photographs forever, the value is priceless.

To comment on this article and other CSO content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter stream.
Insider: Hacking the elections: myths and realities
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.