Preserving Vintage Photos and Images
A fire breaks out in your home and you only have time to save one or two of your most precious items. What will they likely be?
You already know the answer. Vintage family photographs represent the majority of the recorded personal history of one’s life. Not only do they remind us of special people and occasions, but also provide a vital link from our past to future generations.
It’s amazing to think that billions of people have lived before us and it wasn’t until the invention of the Brownie camera just after WW2 that ordinary people first began recording milestone events and defining moments universally.
Until then we relied on professional photographers, and earlier on, artists or cave dwellers for any images of human life.
Every photograph we took had special meaning. We cherished these photos and put them into albums so they would be safe from the elements.
Then came Kodachrome slides, giving the whole family a chance to sit together and view a slideshow projected from a rotating carousel onto the living room wall.
And what about those instant Polaroid pictures? It was like magic! We could not only capture a special moment but we could see the recorded image almost instantly.
Time rolls on, the kids are grown and have started taking their own family photos. Now with smart phones and social networking they are recording the entire living history of their lives minute by minute while our earlier personal history sit on dusty shelves, turning yellow, the record of our existence fading away. How sad!
The living history of the 20th century was recorded by millions of people. It was the first time in human history such a thing happened. Unfortunately, all of this was captured in a media format that is unsustainable and will eventually be lost forever.
The old Schwinn bicycle, those funny looking trousers, our neighborhoods, haircuts, birthdays, all images that future generations will want see.
How fascinating it would be to see photographs of the Egyptians, early settlers, or the real Mona Lisa instead of only portraits and sketches.
In our time we have made history by recording it, not only for the benefit of our family, but also for the benefit of humankind. Yet, the vast majority of this history will be lost.
The main reasons are procrastination, lack of experience or lack of appreciation for the value of this treasure.
So, by taking a sincere interest in preserving the photographic record of your lifetime, you can become a rare part of the historical record of humankind.
In this toolkit we will provide a strategy and process to help preserve your photo memories in such a way that they survive the ravages of time so they can inform and inspire generations to come.
The techniques taught here are intended for basic photo preservation. In the Resource section at the bottom of this tutorial we have listed links for more serious archiving and restoration information.
Since the emergence of widespread digital photography in 2001, photos have been taken in digital format. But, photos taken earlier were recorded on paper and in negatives, and will eventually fade away.
Ultimately, these photos need to be converted to digital format if they are to survive. We’ll show you how to accomplish this with the least investment of time and money. GETTING PHOTOS ORGANIZED
The average household contains about 3,000 pictures that are stored in albums or loosely in shoeboxes. No matter how fascinating one’s life has been, it is unlikely descendants will want to view all 3,000 images.
Do you really need to save every one of them? Not really if you think about it. So, let’s cull through the pile and find the ones we really want to keep.
Here is the best way to do that:
Create three areas on a long table. We’ll name them the “A List, B List, and C List”.
This may seem a bit overwhelming at first but it really is liberating once you get going.
A List- These are photographs of special people and events that should be significant enough to be included in family history. They must include images of ancestors and notable people and/or represent milestone events, defining moments, etc.
Remember, the main reason for preserving your photo memories is for future generations. They will survive in their current state until you pass away. So, this process is not about you, rather your legacy and the family legacy.
So, now is the time to choose photos that you believe your grandchildren’s grandchildren will be fascinated by and enriched, all provided by a special ancestor, you!!
Examples may be a photo of you on your grandmother’s lap as a baby, your first newborn, a graduation, birthday or wedding.
These all go into you’re a List pile.
B List: While selecting photos for your A List there were probably numerous photos taken at a single event like a wedding, birthday, or vacation. Within the set there were probably pictures of people that were only important to you at the time but perhaps not as important when it comes to relevant family history, such as friends of friends.
These are pictures you are confident may not be a priority interest to future generations but are still memories you want to keep for personal reminiscing.
As we age we often want to downsize our living space. Closet space becomes a premium. It is shocking how many vintage family photos are thrown way just to make space.
By selecting A, B & C Lists it will be much easier to know what to save and what to discard.
C List: This pile should contain pictures of no real significance. For example, you went on vacation and took a photo of the Statue of Liberty. Nobody is in the picture. You were just in awe at the time and shot the image.
The picture does remind you of your trip and somehow validates that you were there but unless there is a compelling story when the photo was taken, you can probably find hundreds of pictures of the Statue of Liberty online. So, there is really no reason to keep the photo.
If you have a fond memory of that particular shot but it has no real place in family history, move it to the B pile, so it’s there for personal reminiscing.
ALBUMS AND SHOEBOXES
If most of your photos are kept loosely in shoeboxes it will be quick and easy to organize them into the three piles. But, if they are in photo albums you may need to deal with cellophane sheets sticking to photos that have been in there for a while.
If the photos cannot be removed from the albums without being damaged, only remove the B & C list photos from the albums, leaving the A list photos alone.
Move the album with the remaining A list photos over to the A pile and distribute the rest to either the B or C piles accordingly.
PHOTO DIGITIZING STRATEGY AND BUDGETING
You’ve taken a huge step forward in the process of prioritizing photos by priority. It will be much easier to decide which pictures you want to spend the time and/or money to digitize.
With a sense of urgency, we recommend the obvious; digitize the A Pile as soon as possible. If you are truly downsizing and need every bit of space you can find, there is nothing more efficient than converting bulky photos and albums into digital files where thousands can be stored on one DVD or USB thumb drive.
You must decide if you want to keep all the photos. The DVD will certainly have enough space. You can easily create digital folders to place you’re A, B and C Pile photos separately. It comes down to time and money.
DO-IT-YOURSELF- Small Projects
If you have the photo scanning equipment and the available time there will be hardly any cost other than the storage media such as a DVD or USB thumb drive.
If there are less than a few hundred photos to be scanned you can probably do most of the job with the photo scanner already attached to your computer.
However, the typical photo scanner will only accept loose photos. So, what do you do with the pictures that are stuck in the cellophane sheet in the albums?
Fortunately, there is a new and relatively inexpensive solution to this called theFlip Pal portable scanner. We were amazed at what this 1 pound wonder could do for scanning.
You can remove the cover, turn the scanner on its face and scan photos in albums directly without removing the cellophane. The scanner removes the yellowing of the cellophane sheet resulting in a clear, in-focus digital photos.
The scanner also allows you to “stitch” large photos together with multiple small scans, put together like a puzzle in one easy move. It’s pretty impressive. Details of the Flip-Pal scanner are found in the Resources section of this tutorial.
There are several portable scanners on the market but this one we have found to be the best by far at this time. Look for more details in the Resources section at the bottom of this tutorial.
DO-IT-YOURSELF- Larger Projects
When you have more than a few hundred photographs the job of scanning one by one becomes almost too laborious. Of course, if you have the time and patience there would be no limits.
But, for large-scale do-it-yourself photo scanning projects we you may want to consider purchasing or renting a high speed photo scanner. Kodak makes a fantastic high-speed scanner that does an amazing job.
With higher quantities of photos there comes a point where it is more economical to buy or rent a photo scanner than to pay for the service.
We have located a Kodak retailer who will rent a high-speed scanner for a few days at a time or by the week or month.
The program comes with training on the scanner and excellent support.
Some families have elected to purchase the scanner outright and have all family members bring their photos to one location to be scanned. When the total photos gets to 2,000, 3,000 5,000 or more the savings can pay for the scanner itself.
Once the job is completed you can sell the scanner or, in the case of many people, become a photo-scanning specialist and offer the service professionally.
Look for more details in the Resources section at the bottom of this tutorial.
PHOTO SCANNING SERVICES
If you don’t want to do the photo scanning yourself, then depending on your budget, you may want to digitize only Pile A.
There are a number of photo scanning services to choose from. However, it may surprise you that many of the big box stores offer cheap rates because they send your pictures to Pakistan or China to be scanned.
For the most part they are reliable but, when it comes to the recoded history of your very existence, it would be an awful day to have Murphy’s Law come in to play.
You should be able to find a local photo scanning service in your area. The best way to find a service that appreciates photo memories from a legacy perspective is to search the LegacyStories.org Expert Directory.
You’ve selected you’re A list photos. The images show ancestors, special people in your life that have touched you or you have touched. Because of digital technology, now it is possible for you to continue touching loved ones for generations.
But, there’s just one problem. Many of the people in your vintage photos may as well be strangers to your grandchildren. Unless you identify them, your A-list photos may as well be placed in your B pile, just for personal reminiscing.
Before scanning your photos, write the identifying notes on the back, then scan both sides of the picture. A soft #1 pencil is the safest way to mark on the back of photos.
Once scanned, be sure to rename the files the same name but add a number or letter to indicate front or back side, like “Dad-1.jpg” and Dad-2.jpg”.
Who is who in the photo, and what relationship are they to you? Where was the picture taken and what was the occasion? Day, month and year is always a good thing if you can remember.
Even though you should digitize your photos we highly recommend keeping you’re original A list photos if possible and store them in your physical legacy portfolio along with important documents and other items that should be passed down to the next generation.