Tributes & Video Biographies
Sharing Life Stories, Connecting Generations, Preserving Legacies

Archival Photo and Slide Scanning Services

Flickr photo: catcetera

In January of 2008, Money Magazine wrote an article comparing 6 of the most popular scanning services. They sent 40 prints to the six different companies and rated them on cost, turnaround time and scan quality.

The top rated company was ScanCafe. ScanCafe operates out of Bangalore India so when you send photos to them, they are shipped over to India to be scanned. The images are then posted online and you are allowed to reject up to 50% of your order. After you have chosen the images you want to keep, they create a CD or DVD and mail that back to you with your original photos. They will scan photos, negatives and slides. All the companies reviewed had a minimum order and the price range was between .29¢ to .75¢ per photo.

I did a bit of research online and found several articles and blog posts discussing the use of ScanCafe’s services. One man said his photos took one month to arrive in India. He ended up rejecting several of the scans for being poor quality images and had no idea how long his photos would take to get back to him.

There’s an old adage in the design business that goes, “high quality, fast turnaround, low price; pick two of the three.” I think this adage certainly applies when it comes to the topic of scanning and archiving your family photos. You just can’t have all three so you are going to have to choose which is most important to you.

In a recent blog article I recounted meeting a man who didn’t feel comfortable handing his family videos over to me to convert to DVD. Now I live and work in the same city as he does and have a local reputation that has been forged over several years. Imagine him sending his photos overseas to a startup company employing low wage workers! These objects truly are priceless and irreplaceable. I’m not opposed to outsourcing work but you can definitely see that the primary objective of sending your photos to a company such as ScanCafe would be to get the lowest cost per scan.

We do a lot of archival photo scanning. Often our clients come in with boxes full of photos or boxes full of albums that need to be scanned so that they can be preserved and shared with other family members. When we do large jobs like these, we spend some initial time creating a project architecture that includes appropriately named folders and naming conventions for each folder so that the client can quickly locate the image they need. If a photo has a caption written on the page, we will scan the caption as part of the photo so that the specific caption/inscription isn’t lost. If the photo has information on the back, we will scan the back and create a separate but related file so that it’s obvious an image has a back and front.

We think it’s so important to keep all identifying information about that photo together with the photo in the person’s hand that wrote the comments. We’re currently working on an album done by our client’s mother in the 1930’s. It was her honeymoon album and she did some very creative things. For instance, she hole-punched a series of photographs and strung then together with red ribbon over a list of the photo captions done in a silver pen on black album paper. In order to scan these photos, the ribbon had to be cut and then re-tied to put them back in the condition we received them. Sometimes photo corner mounts pop off when we are removing photos from an album. These then have to be glued back in or replaced with new ones. As you can see, a lot of time and care goes into doing a job like this.

When you opt to go with one of these bulk scanning services, sure the cost may be low but you will pay for it somewhere else. You will have to remove the photos and put them back in the albums. You may need to re-organize all the scans; renaming the images and sorting them into appropriately named folders. It all depends on what is important to you and how much time and organizational abilities you have. Of course we can’t compete with the prices of these scanning services but they certainly can’t compete with the care and customer service we provide.

Stefani Twyford is a personal historian and video biographer sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.

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