Don’t Organize Before Scanning Family Photos

Many photo scanning projects never start despite our best intentions. Why? Because we believe we must go through photos prior to scanning. Instead, the best advice is to sort and go through the images after they are scanned.

Most people want to digitize family photographs to keep the photos accessible on digital devices. We already access information, including photographs and books electronically.

Madison Photo Scan The trend to access photos in digital format on devices will accelerate in the lives of our children. If photos are not accessible it is unlikely to be relevant to their lives. For them we need our photos to be searchable and online. Yet, we delay digitizing for no reason.

There are a variety of Myths why people think they must go through their photos before scanning. Some common ones are:

  • Reviewing and removing unwanted photos is necessary before scanning
  • Removing duplicates will reduce scanning cost
  • We must scan photos in an ordered sequence
  • Grouping photos or using stickies on pictures helps scanning
  • Albums helps scanning and finding pictures

Let us examine if these help us scan efficiently.

Scan Pictures Service

Myth 1: Reviewing and removing unwanted photos is necessary before scanning:

Not all photographs are a work of art. Some need to be removed. But physical attributes are not a good reason to remove otherwise precious nuggets like the one below. This was not a very good physical photo, but once digitized and restored, it was worth passing on.

Clarity and composition are not reasons to include family photos for scanning. We want to save photos that tell us something about the family members and their lives.

Before After

Before and After Restoration

Family pictures accumulated over decades may exceed tens of thousands of photos. Sifting through those may take days or even weeks. Comparing a picture in your hand with another that you saw 3 days ago, is impossible. Or we trace our steps and try to find the comparable picture we think we saw. Either way task becomes too difficult to finish and the scanning project never takes off.

How would you know how many photos you have of your grandmother? Easy! By adding metadata, information about the photographs or keywords directly to the scanned image. Once digitized photos are named, using keywords, a computer can search thousands and find grandma’s photos in seconds. If you have only 3, you’d probably save all 3. In case you find 300 similar or not good quality, you would pick the best images. Once scanned, digitized photos with metadata allows us options to view the whole collection, select any group of photos to compare which is not possible with physical photos.

Old Wedding Photo

Spending time to enter identifiable and searchable keywords AFTER scanning (NOT going through before) makes a collection relevant to future generations. They would know who is in the photos and what the occasion is, because you can make this information part of the image. It is time well spent.

Most scanning services, including Foto2Digital, Inc., know that some pictures are better off deleted. Therefore, we let our customers discard some unwanted photographs at no cost.

Since we can remove unwanted scanned photos at no cost, why not scan before going through the photos?

Just the process of entering data to the scanned photos provides you a fun way to review EVERY picture and discard the ones you do not want without having to spend extra time.

We can save time just by scanning and use the digital photographs which will help you sort, identify and discard any unwanted photos at the same time more efficiently.

Most scanning services including Foto2Digital, Inc know that some pictures are better off deleted. Therefore, we let our customer discard up to 10% of unwanted photographs at no cost. Since we can remove unwanted scanned photographs and it does not cost anything extra, why not scan first and avoid wasting time?​

Myth 2: Removing duplicates will reduce scanning cost:

Computer programs, like Duplicate Photo Cleaner, scan thousands of pictures and remove duplicates in seconds. If we sift through family photos by hand it is cumbersome and likely to stall the project.

The time consumed to complete the task is unnecessary, because most scanning services, including Foto2digital, Inc. will scan for duplicates and discard them before billing customers.

Since duplicates will be eliminated from the final count and will not cost anything, why spend time before scanning by manually removing the duplicates?

Myth 3: We must scan photos in an ordered sequence, so that we can find them:

In everyday life, we love to be organized. We like to know where things are. This leads many people to think that they need to collect all family photographs and arrange them so they can be scanned and found in the same sequence.

Some large projects never start because collecting photos dispersed among siblings and parents is difficult. When all photos are collected, we think that we must organize these photos before scanning. This is not true. Once scanned, the digital pictures can store searchable information on the scanned image, that offers flexibility to organize photos as we chose. We do not need to waste time organizing physical photos, it only delays the scanning project from ever starting.

Some fear that they may never see the photos again because they won’t be able to find it on the computer. This is because they don’t know how easy it is to find it the photo, once they add keywords to the images.

They think that if photos are scanned in the same order as physical pictures, they would be stored in the same sequence on the computer. This is a misconception of how photos are found on the computer. We find photos using keywords search, not by sequence they were scanned.

We love order but it isn't needed when scanning photos The sequence is not important just like everyday filing in manila folders. We can add new files as they become available among the previously arranged order. Scanned photos are no different. We can scan the photos we have today knowing that if we find more of the same type of picture, we can insert those where they belong.

Finding digital photos is a lot easier and quicker. Children born in this century are accustomed to electronically finding information already. Unlike our parents who had to walk 5 miles uphill both ways to get to the library, children today, can easily look up anything, including the library.

Scanned photos are no different. We can scan the photos we have today knowing that if we find more of the same type of picture, we can insert those in the right order, irrespective of the sequence the photos are first scanned.

If anything is located on a computer, we simply ask the computer (type in search) and it brings you the desired information. Any physical pre-organization is not needed. All we need is metadata: information about the picture, on the picture.


Since we can instantly find and arrange photos why should we wait to collect all the photos before starting to scan?

If we can instantly find and arrange photos, irrespective of when and in what sequence the photos were scanned, why should we wait to collect all the photos before starting to scan?

Myth 4: Grouping photos or using stickies on pictures helps scanning:

Sometimes names of people or events need to stay with the pictures. Affixing stickies is NOT the way to do it. You wouldn’t want your digitized image to have a sticky blocking the center of the picture, right? If we want to keep the information with the picture, we need to remove stickies, scan the picture, then add metadata to the scanned image, before proceeding to the next picture. A person must manually repeat the same for each photo which slows down scanning by ten to twenty-fold, thus increasing the cost.

Instead, if we write this information on the back of the photo, we can zip it though scanner at 60 scans per minute while capturing both sides of the picture. Once all photos are scanned, we can add metadata (keywords) to the picture from the information on the back, making the picture searchable. On the average, we can add searchable keywords to thousands of digital photos in 8 hours. Because of the obvious benefit of having metadata to search, this is time well spent.

Similarly, bagging or rubber-banding photos slows down scanning unnecessarily and wastes your time. These would have to be scanned manually slowing down the process and increasing the cost. Even if such grouping or naming may help, one can do the same, more quickly with digitized photos. Digital photos store information with the image. This information can be added to groups of photos with similar attributes and takes less time.

Why use stickies or rubber bands and waste time grouping photos before scanning, when you can identify and group photos by keywords quickly after scanning?

Myth 5: Albums will help scanning and finding pictures:

Albums will help scanning and finding pictures While some old and fragile family albums need to be scanned in-situ, the rest do not. Removing pictures that can be zipped through the auto-feeder is cost-effective and yields better quality images. Putting together albums for scanning only slows scanning and increases cost.

Each page of the album is scanned manually. Each photo on that scanned page is excised individually in a separate file. Even at brisk pace, scanning each page of an album costs 10 times more than scanning loose photos. If we keep photos in the album the cost of scanning skyrockets.

Searching and finding scanned photos does not require album-type of organization. We can search and find any photograph or group of photographs using keyword combinations.

If keeping photos in albums does not help in finding or scanning the photos and it escalates cost, why would we waste resources?


The reason why people think they need to go through photos before scanning is rooted in a misconception of how photos are scanned and accessed, once digitized. They underestimate the capacity of photo-organization software, the benefit of adding searchable information on the photos and ease of rearranging and isolating any photo/s among thousands. For more information please refer to: “How to organize digital photos”.

I understand the feeling that we must organize is etched in our psyche and we value organizing in our world, knowing that it would make our life better. This belief holds true in the physical world but not the virtual world, which offers alternate ways to organize information. It is more effective in the virtual world why not take advantage of it?

Physical organization of photographs is costly, time consuming and needless. Pre-organization has no benefit to any digital scanning project. You can randomly choose the boxes of photos to scan and add searchable keywords to identify photos after they are scanned. Any scanning sequence is just as good as another.​

Do it Your-Selfer:

If your scanning project is hampered by delays in collecting and organizing print photos, please talk to us and let us help you complete it and make the process enjoyable.

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