© 2011 photobookgirl

Q&A: My Photos Aren’t Digital – How Do I Make a Photo Book? Scan Your Photos!



Unsurprisingly, I am the family historian.  I have always been interested in our family’s history and starting putting together a family tree at age 10.  Three years back I sorted through and scanned hundreds of pre-digital era family photos, went through hours of old home movies and packaged it into an hour long video with titles, transitions and music using iMovie on my Mac.  I then invited the family over to watch a “movie” and to their surprise the stars of the film were us.  I then gave each family member his/her own DVD with a personalized DVD case as my holiday gift for that year.

The cool ticket stub I personalized for the screening of our family home movie. I made it here: http://www.says-it.com/concertticket/

Since starting this blog, my video-making has been shelved for the time-being while I focus on printed media, but I’ve been planning to make a photo book version to go along with the video at some point and it will be easy since the photos are already scanned!

Many of us have old photos sitting around in shoeboxes, strewn about in drawers, hiding in the back of closets – wouldn’t it be nice to gather them and display them proudly in a photo book?  Why should you get those old photos together now?

  • Preservation – we’ve all seen yellowing, curled up photos – printed photos age and discolor over time. They are irreplaceable and it would be a shame to lose them to fire, flood or pure passage of time;
  • Posterity – by creating a family genealogy book, or family photo book, you can share these precious photos with other family members.  Put the energy into making one beautiful book and order multiple copies, one for each family member.  This will be much more cherished than another sweater at Christmas and it makes holiday shopping a cinch!
  • Technology – scanners are cheap now so you can do it at home.  If you don’t have the time or energy to scan all your old photos, there are many, many companies offering the service.

There are three ways to take printed photos and get them “digitized” with pros and cons discussed below:

1) Scan your photos at home;

2) Scan your photos with an external service;

3) Take a photo of your photo



Most of us have scanners nowadays, either standalone models or as part of “all-in-one” combinations that come with a printer/copier/fax.  If your scanner can scan to at least 300 dpi and in color, you have all you need to scan your photos and save them as digital jpeg files.

Some scanners also come with software that recognizes when you’ve placed more than one photo onto the glass at one time.  So, it will save a bit of time by allowing you scan multiple photos in one pass.  The software will automatically detect that there are individual photos in the scan and create separate files for each photo.  Even if your scanner doesn’t come with this auto detect function, you can put multiple photos on the scanning plate, but you will have to crop each photo out separately and save them as a separate file later on.

I didn’t do extensive research, but I’ve seen a couple scanners that have feeders that may speed up the process, but you may not want to put an irreplaceable, older, or damaged photo into a feeder in the event it jams.  Laying it directly on the flatbed glass is best in those circumstances.


  • If you already have a scanner, it’s FREE!
  • You have control over your photos and can arrange how you scan and organize them


  • Depending on how many photos you have, it can be very time-consuming and boring (it’s best to break up the task in manageable stacks over a period of time)
  • Time is money;
  • Not a good solution if you’re working on a time-sensitive project


I’ve seen a lot of advertisements and even Groupons for services that will do the scanning for you.  You send your photos to the company and they return the originals to you along with a CD or DVD of your photos.  Some companies will even take whole albums or scrapbooks so you don’t have to remove your photos from their original packaging.  On average, it appears that it’s about $.20 to $.30 per photo (higher resolution scanning can cost more).

There are many companies out there, and I haven’t tried any of these myself, but here are a few I found:





I read this review of the services which offers cost comparisons for some scanning companies.  I can’t tell how long ago the article was written, so pricing information may have changed:

Comparing Pricing Among Online Photo Scanners from About.com

Here’s another comparison review from Macworld from October 2009


  • You don’t have to do the work yourself!
  • The company will more likely provide faster turnaround than doing them yourself;
  • The company can color correct for you;
  • Some companies offer photo restoration for damaged photos (extra cost);


  • It obviously costs a fee to have someone else do the work;
  • You may feel nervous about sending your precious photos out in the event that the package gets lost in transit (the likelihood of that is probably very remote with tracking etc… but it is a possibility) – but if you go to a local service where you can walk-in and the photos are kept in-store (like RitzPix for instance), that may be more reassuring.


This method simply involves taking your digital camera and then taking a photo of the photo you wish to convert to digital.  My brother and I have done this when we’ve been on vacation and haven’t been able to get our hands on a scanner.  For example, our families’ homes in the old country have lots of old photographs hanging on the walls.  We obviously couldn’t take these down and get them scanned.  Photographing the photographs were the only option in this case.


  • Cheap – you don’t have to pay anyone to do this;
  • Quick;
  • Useful if your original is in a matted and archived frame and you can’t or don’t want to remove it;
  • Necessary if your original is in such a size that would make scanning it impractical or impossible.


  • It is not a good method for a high volume of photos;
  • The quality won’t be as good as if you scanned the photo.


So, the method that’s best for you will depend on your budget and time (as with most things).  So all you have to do is gather your photos and pick an option!  After you get your photos into digital form, you may need to post-process them (tweak them to adjust color, contrast etc.)  Check out my posts about editing your photos. The posts also contain links to free online editing software and to companies that offer free trials:

How to Make Your Photos Look Better – Edit Your Photos with iPhoto

Preparing to Make Your Photo Book – How To Edit Your Photos with Photoshop

By the way, this is the tenth article I’ve written for my ongoing series on how to make your own digital photo book.  Check out my step-by-step photo book guide here!  I’ll get more into the nuts and bolts of scanning in my next article in this series – how to incorporate non-photo elements into your photo book.

Have any tips or comments?  Please do so below!


The photo at the top is one I took of my Grandma in 2003.  One of my favorite photos of her.




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  1. FLH
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 5:51 pm | #

    There are also scanners available to scan film negatives! An affordable one is the Canon CanoScan 9000F Color Image Scanner. Directions are here: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-to-scan-film-to-create-a-digital-image.pageCd-storyboard,pageNum-1.html

  2. Robin
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 6:45 am | #

    So I scanned a bunch of 3.5×5 and 4×6 photos at 300 dpi. When I dropped them into my photobook software, they show up on the page much smaller – 2 in x 3 in or so. I’m worried that if I simply enlarge the photo on the book it’s going to look pixelated. Do you have any experience with this phenomenon, photobookgirl? Everything I can find on the web says scanning at 300dpi should be sufficient. Love your series on photobooks! Thank you so much!

    • photobookgirl
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 11:38 pm | #

      This hasn’t happened to me before. What photobook software are you using?

  3. Lisa
    Posted July 12, 2011 at 9:51 am | #

    Wondering if you can point me to the article that you referred to as the “nuts and bolts” of scanning. I can’t seem to locate it. Thanks for all the great information.

  4. Posted August 31, 2011 at 4:33 am | #

    Great post, and great question of “Why should you get those old photos together now?”. Getting your photos digitized is a cheap insurance in case of a fire, flood etc. Thousands of priceless family photos have been destroyed in recent years floods, it’s such a shame!

    If you have a scanner that’s great, but if you haven’t I would actually recommend to go with an online scanning service(I like ScanCafe the most). If you have more than an album of photos to scan, you’ll save many hours of your time by letting someone else scan them for you, and speaking for myself that time is more worth than the money it costs to have them scan my photos.

    Taking a photo of the photo is actually often used professionally, especially when it comes to slides and negatives. Of course they have a proper setup with lighting, background etc. but the quality can easily surpass that of a scanner.

  5. Joanna
    Posted June 25, 2017 at 8:08 pm | #

    I have old photos that I don’t want to get digitized. I want to have them professionally mounted in a photo album, like we used to do with wedding albums. Are there companies that still do this?

    • photobookgirl
      Posted August 21, 2017 at 8:45 pm | #

      Sorry, not that I know of. My site is focused on digital so I’m not too sure. Maybe Michaels? I would encourage you to scan the photos before you mount them so you have a digital copy in case the originals should ever be harmed or deteriorate.

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