How to Organize your Photos to get them Ready for Scanning

Pile of Pictures

Sorting through old pictures can be daunting

A lot of us have boxes and albums of old photos and documents. Often these photos are passed on from generation to generation to generation. So what do we do with them all? The task of organizing them can seem daunting.

Scanning the photos to digital format is the best option for long term storage. There are several reason for this.

  • First, once photos are scanned it is very easy to share with other family members. They can be shared via facebook or emailed.  Copies of your final DVD or flash drive can be made for family members.
  • Second, a copy can be made and stored in a safe place in case a disaster such as a fire or flood.
  • Third, imagine a box of photos turned into a clean DVD or flash drive. Think about the space you will save!
  • Fourth, you won’t give your kids or loved ones the burden of yet another generation feeling the guilt of not knowing what to do with boxes of old photos.

    So how do we start?

    Find a spot that will be undisturbed for a long time.  If it is the kitchen table, make sure it’s not the week before Easter!

    • Gather your photos.  This may sound easy, but there are photos everywhere! They can be found in photo albums, on the refrigerator, in picture frames, in boxes and in your wallet
    • Gather your supplies.  You will need post it notes, pen, a shoe box or box for your final scanning box, index cards, tape and dental floss.
      Supplies to sort photos

      Gather your supplies to start sorting


    • Take all photos out of photo albums.  This is where the dental floss comes in. Dental floss is great for releasing stubborn photos from the sticky back.  Simply slide the floss between the photo and the page and gently tug.  Do not try to release the old paper scrapbook pages (usually the black ones) that are glued on.  They will have to be scanned as one sheet and the photos divided up after.  Finally, take out photos from picture frames.

      Dental floss is great for trying to remove stuck on photos.


    • Decide how you are going to organize.  By event, date, family or person?  Or no rhyme or reason?  If organizing by date, I recommend sorting by decade first.  If you want to be more specific later, you can.  Place post it notes with decades or your sorting method on the table and start sorting.

      Sort photos by decade

      Sort photos by decade. You can also sort by event or person.

    • Now start sorting.
    • And sort
    • And sort
      sorting photos

      Sorting doesn’t have to be a chore. Put on some music, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the process.

      Sorting tips.  

      • Don’t be afraid to throw out bad photos.  If there are some photos that are blurry or are boring, toss them.  If there are photos that are three photos of the same thing, keep the best one.  For some reason, we find it difficult to throw away photos, even if they are bad.
      • If it is overwhelming, just do a bit at a time.  It took decades to take all these photos, it will take a while to sort through them.
      • Do not use post it notes directly on your photos.  Sometimes a sticky residual will stick to the photo.
      • If you have really small pictures, such as school pictures, it is best to attach it with tape to an index card.  It may get lost or out of order otherwise.Small Picture to be scanned
  • Once you sort your photos by decade or event, this is a great time to use an index card with a description.  You can scan the index card and just treat it as another photo.  Mark the card, for example, “1940’s Mary & Joe Smith” or “1950’s”  (We will talk in the next blog about how to have more detailed information for each picture At this point it is best to make a general label)  Be specific with names.  For example, don’t label something “Dad”.  The next generation may not know who’s Dad it is!  Use “Joseph Smith”.


Use index cards to divide up subjects or dates

Use index cards to separate subjects or dates

    •  Once you have your photos sorted, put your photos in a photo storage box.  Photos to be scanned first, go in the front.  Whether they are landscape or picture orientation, doesn’t matter.
      Photos organized

      Photos organized ready to scan


    • Congratulations, you have completed the massive step of organizing your photos to prepare for scanning.    Now comes the scanning.  You can either scan these yourself or you can have a scanning service do it for you.   Scan and Share Your Photos

Take 5 Productions scans boxes of old photos and documents.  We can be reached at Take 5 Productions- Onalaska WI

About take5productions

Linda O'Connell is the owner of Take 5 Productions in Onalaska, WI. Take 5 transfers home movies,slides and pictures to DVD and digital files, creates video slideshows and produces business videos. She can be reached at or
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2 Responses to How to Organize your Photos to get them Ready for Scanning

  1. Pingback: Fun with Photos | Take 5 Productions- Onalaska WI

  2. Joan Mitchell says:

    Thanks, LInda, for the tips. We are working through all of the photos. Question….can you scan the school photos and such that may have a copywrite? I like the tip of taping to an index card, too.

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