How to preserve your family photographs on your computer
Every family has at least a few: old prints made from photographic negatives. So before your photos are lost or damaged forever, you should save them for posterity in a digital format! This means scanning them* into your computer, saving and editing them, and then uploading them to a picture storage site or sending to a backup device. Here's how.
Step 1: Choose your photos
Choose the pictures you want to scan, and remove them from any album or scrapbook (if this can be done without damaging the photograph).
Step 2: Close any programs you don't need
Scanning images can take up a lot of your computer's resources, so close down any programs you don't need to have open while you work on your pictures. (You might even want to reboot your system before you begin.)
Step 3: Get the settings right
Adjust your scanner settings to make sure you will have enough of the picture to work with. Scan in your photos at least at 300 dpi (dots per inch -- dpi refers to the amount of data stored in each linear inch of the image), and the smaller or more distorted the picture, the better it is to use a higher dpi (600 dpi and up), although this will generate much larger files.
Make sure your scanner is set to produce high-quality color photo scans, and is not in fast or preview mode. Another setting to check: Auto-detect images. Many scanners come with handy software that will allow you to scan several photos at once, but will save each photo as a separate file.
Step 4: Clean the glass
Clean your scanner glass as recommended by the manufacturer -- usually using a super soft cloth (such a camera-lens cleaning cloth) and no harsh chemical cleansers. Hold a flashlight to one side of the glass to help illuminate dust and streaks.
Once you begin scanning photos, do your best not to touch the scanner glass. You might want to try wearing gloves -- which offer the added bonus of protecting your pictures from fingerprint oils, too.
Step 5: Prep your photos
Gently dust off each photograph before you place it on the scanner bed. Close the scanner top slowly, so you don't disturb the objects on the glass plate.
Step 6: Start the scan
Step 7: Save your images
You will most likely want to save all of your original scans in a very high quality format (which will consume a lot of disk space). Best formats to use are tif and bmp. See if your scanning software will allow you to customize the file names -- it can be handy to put "scans" or "archive" in the names. Repeat steps 5 through 7 as many times as you need to scan in your pictures.
Step 8: Sort and tag
Organize your pictures with a program that will let you to sort the photos into categories, and allow you to add "tags" -- essentially search keywords, to help you describe the image's content so you can find it again later. Most cameras come with such software, but you can also download a free program such as Picasa to do the job.
Step 9: Back 'em up
When you've gone to all the work of creating this archive, be sure to back up your pictures to DVD or CD, a backup drive, or upload to a photo storage site (such as Flickr, Photobucket or Picasa web albums). The websites also provide a handy way to share your pics with friends and family!
Step 10: Improve physical storage for your photos
Since you're going to be removing all of these photographs from their current locations in order to scan them, don't just put them back when you're done: Store them in a safe place, using acid-free archival-quality materials to protect them for the future. (Now would also be a great time to sort through the pictures a bit -- separating different sides of the family, by era, or whatever makes sense for your family.)
* Note: Vintage/antique photos should be handled with extreme care. Some of the old printing techniques are light-sensitive, meaning that the bright light from your scanner may damage them. In such cases, take a no-flash photograph instead, or consult a professional.
For more tips on saving and sharing your pictures, check this out:
How to create a digital photo book