One Heritage Photo Scanning Hack You Need to Know

Faster is not always better.  If you are using your phone to scan your family heritage photos, you will want to read this article.


You see, I’ve stumbled across something that I should have known but didn’t think about until I was trying to answer the increasing number of scanning questions sent my way. In fact I was very close in recommending one of these apps to a number of friends, but decided I had better do a bit of checking before I hit the Enter key. I was getting caught up in the tempting prospect of taking one photo of one photo album page and almost instantly receiving multiple single images —  all nicely cropped — all ready for me to simply save them and then upload them for use in my heritage project.

So you might ask, “How’s that working for you?” And I would have to say, not so good. The idea of quickly obtaining several pictures from one shot is something I’m familiar with and if you have ever done any scanning on a flatbed scanner, then you are familiar with it as well… BUT, there is an issue that we should consider. While we are trying to get a lot of “bang for our buck” when it comes to scanning an entire album page at one time with our smart phones and letting the app crop each photo, the more you try to get into your one photo of an entire album page, the less information, pixel-wise, is going to be available for each photo.


I’m really visual, so it’s easier if I just show you an example of what I mean:



The photo on the left came to me as a nicely cropped photo that looked good from far away but when I zoomed in, it really lacked a lot of detail. This particular photo came from one snapshot taken with the Photomyne app from my childhood photo album.  I took a picture of almost the entire album page and it gave me back 4 pictures, all nicely cropped and ready to be individually saved. (It’s a picture of my grandmother, Lura, holding me! Aww… I always was fascinated by how large her eyes looked in those glasses!)


The photo on the right side is taken close-up using Photomyne again but with only that single photo being shot. The details are a lot better but the lure of this app is to be able to take a quick snap of an album page and have all the photos cropped and ready to be saved — saving us time and encouraging us to get all our family albums digitized.


This isn’t something that is exclusive to Photomyne, because this will happen any time we take a photo of several items using our smart phone and then divide it in order to save out the individual pictures. I love the idea that Photomyne is trying to make the whole process easier but we need to take a quick step back and first decide what the end game is for the pictures we are taking. Where will these photos end up? For some, the ease of this app will far outweigh the drawbacks — meaning that if it isn’t taken and it isn’t quick, it won’t happen. I know… I used how many negatives in one sentence, but it is reality. In this instance, I think it would be better to get the shots than to not get them at all.


Thinking ahead will save time — it really will!

Here’s my own criteria for copying our family heritage photos: As a visual person, I know that I love to zoom in and really look at my family photos — trying to look for details or to see which facial nuances I can find that I see in my own children. This means that I need my copies to be as close to the real photo as possible.  I also love to share pictures with family and friends so a quick shot of an old photo to send off via text message or posted to FaceBook, will most likely find me using the fastest method possible that allows me to tweak the photo if needed. This might end up being straight from my camera or using an app like Google’s PhotoScan which integrates so nicely with Google Photos. But I’m also preparing our family’s LifeStory book so my photos that I’m going to use, and then pass on to future generations, should contain as much information or details as I can possibly get for them.


At the high end of this sprectrum of scanners are the flatbed scanners that have been workhorses for so many years, but I only have a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 available for use at the moment. It is a very fast way to scan loose documents but I’m not going to put my heritage photos through it, so my smart phone has now become my scanner of choice.  You can also use a DSLR camera attached to a tripod to take pictures of your photos, but even then, I find myself falling back onto my smart phone.


Love having Options

So, what are we left with? We have “options” as my husband puts it and that is a good thing. We just need to think ahead a bit to narrow down our choices to a couple of favorite ones and then become as familiar with them as we can! Your choice might be different than mine depending on your own use of the photos. In the end, my thought is that it is better to get all my family heritage photos digitized and uploaded into multiple storage places so that there is at least one copy available.


Reality is that fires do happen and as the handler for so many of my family’s treasured photos, I am aware that if I lose them, there are some pictures that won’t be able to be replaced. Now, I don’t want to be a debbie-downer (no offense to any Debbie’s out there!) but this thought is one of the reasons that I want to get my project finished — I have a ton of research that needs to be brought out from within those thick research binders and find their way into the hands of my family! The thought of losing any of that research or more importantly, the photos, just sends shudders down me. (Don’t forget to capture your current albums as well if they were made with paper products!)


This all just re-emphasizes that we need to think about how we really want to use the photo before we start snapping away. Then add in a bit of reality to the mix. If buying a dedicated scanner or using a really good digital camera with a special tripod will be a deterrent to getting the scanning done, then let’s think about how best to use what we have with us all the time — our smart phones.


Getting that Photo

If you are at a family member’s home and have an opportunity to get a photo copy of a family heritage photo, don’t hesitate to snap it with your phone. Just get your phone as physically close as possible to fill the screen with the photo and make sure that it is focused. If there is a caption near the photo, get that in as well, but maybe as a 2nd photo. Who cares, right? We can delete it later since it is digital. It’s really important to get that name and story to go along with the photo. If you are taking pictures of individual photos from within an album, then I would even suggest taking a quick picture that shows all of the entire album page. Then, capture each photo one by one. That way, you will have a picture of the album itself, which might be just as interesting to future generations as the photos!


I know… there is so much to think about, but do it once and you can go forward with confidence and no regrets!


My Grandma Burch was a treasure to me. This picture is especially important to me because it was the last picture taken with my grandparents together with me and my brother.


I have completely fallen in love with several designers at The LilyPad and the kit I used for this page is from Etc. by Danyale. I also used a frame from One Little Bird from the “In the Loop 2” collection. I’m not sure I can call myself a minimalist, but I do love the simplicity of these single photo pages. My LifeStory book is really starting to take shape!


(I talked about zooming in and when I did with this picture, I noticed my brother was wearing some interesting gloves. I’m not sure but I think that they are Roy Rogers cowboy gloves. I found a pair on Etsy but I can’t tell for sure. The funny thing is that we never had that much access to horses as children but my brother’s children all have horses now as adults. Life has funny twists to it, doesn’t it? Oh, if he would have only kept those gloves!)


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  • Kay July 21, 2017   Reply →

    Hi Michelle,
    I love the simplicity of your layout. Good tip about scanning. I figured this out some time ago, too. Lots of old photos aren’t all that good to begin with, so I opt for scanning the individual image. I have a Flip-Pal scanner that I use for individual photos and absolutely love it. I’ve taken it with me to genealogy libraries and it is so helpful there because—as you mention—you can also quickly scan text descriptions or info to go with the photo. And if you have the sketch accessory, you can even “write” on the photo or add your own wording to a second shot of it.

    • Michele Kerr July 22, 2017   Reply →

      Kay, thank you for the compliment on the layout. I certainly never started out with a minimalist mind-frame when I work on my day-to-day layouts, but I’m finding that working with my heritage layouts, certain photos really just need that space to be able to add the story behind them. I hope to have a section done soon that will show one generation along with the facts, photos and stories so I can start to fine-tune the layout for the whole book. I wish I had a grand-scheme planned out for the book, but I haven’t seen anything like what I would like the book to look like, so I’m just kind of “winging it” until I get something that really breaks out that big smile!

      I have a flip-pal also and I loved it as well… until I started using my phone. I seem to always have my phone and even use the TurboScan app to scan reference materials at libraries and my work as the genealogist for The Society of Indiana Pioneers! I scan the top page of a book and all the pages I want copied and then just email the PDF to my email. It has been the single most important tool that I use outside of my computer for my genealogy research.

      I love the Sketch kit idea that they sell as an accessory to the Flip-pal. I have used an app called Supermatic that allows me to place a picture into a blank template and then write a short story, add names and dates, etc. I like using it but I think it might be a good thing to simply write down the info on small sheets of paper and take that 2nd photo for reference! My mother went through and wrote all the names and info. she could collect in an album many years ago, so I simply take a photo that captures her writing as my reference. Thanks for bringing that Sketch kit to my attention!

      • Kay July 23, 2017   Reply →

        Hi again.
        I am curious about The Society of Indiana Pioneers. My roots are in Indiana/Illinois (I was born in Terre Haute), as were my mother’s. I’ve been researching for a while, but I’ve not run across this organization. I’ll check it out. Who knows–we could be relatives!

        • Michele Kerr July 24, 2017   Reply →

          Haha! You just never know — especially as you go farther back. We lived in Terre Haute quite a few years ago for about 6 years and loved it. Our children went to Dixie Bee elementary and we were very sad to leave!

          Please do look at the website and click on the tab for ancestors, where you can plug in your Surname to see if they have been approved. I’ve been the genealogist for the group for the past 17 years and thoroughly enjoyed the recent Bicentennial celebration for the State which was also our group’s Centennial year. It was quite a good reason to have a wonderful Gala at Conner Prairie. We have close to 9,000 ancestors that have been approved over the past 100 years and continue to add new ancestors as well as new members!

          [If you do find your ancestor listed, go ahead and send an email to our office and the manager will forward it to me. Include your line back to the pioneer ancestor and I will gladly share anything we have that applies to your line through that ancestor!]

          I’ve come to realize that lineage societies are also a wonderful place to save your research for posterity. Good hunting!

          • Kay July 24, 2017  

            Hi Michelle,
            I did plug in Wilson, my maternal. grandmother’s ancestors. There is a long list of them, and I’ll have to dig into my notes to see if any match. Thanks for the tip! I went to school in TH through 4th grade, and then we moved to N. TH. I’ve found in my research that my great-great-grandparents lived in almost the same place–near Otter Creek!–in 1850. I’m not sure what qualifies as a pioneer, but some ancestors were there by 1840 or sooner. I imagine the Bicentennial was fun!

          • Michele Kerr July 25, 2017  

            What fun to find that you were living close to where your ancestors lived! You know… I hear that quite a bit from members. They love it and it is amazing how connected it makes them feel after they find that information! I always wish that everyone did their family research because it gives you a connection to your family but also to the places where they lived.

            The cutoff date for our lineage society is 1840 so if they were living in the State by December 31st of 1840, they would qualify! Let me know if you find any ancestors that match up!

  • Liz Riekena July 22, 2017   Reply →

    Hi Michelle… Read this one with great interest… I have been using Photomyne for awhile now, and actually like it.. Quickly realized like you, it needs to be one at a time… My issue with it is that it does NOT crop the photos straight and does not include the white border, even when scanned against a dark table.. I am a part of their FB page and have asked there, and everyone says, to scan one at a time as close as possible.. all of that said, it is far faster than using the flat bed scanner,.. I can scan a hundred photos with the app in an hour, taking them out of the pocket pages, if that is where they are at… and they get saved to the APP also.. So it does not sound to me as if you have had any issues with crooked cropping??? I have done the whole page thing also, but I quickly decided it was useless, because of the inaccuracy of the scans… My favorite part is how nicely it enhances the photos… Please give me some feedback… would actually like to be able to talk to you somehow…share info and learning processes…. feel free to email me privately.

    • Michele Kerr July 22, 2017   Reply →

      Hello Liz! I sure do have that same cropping issue, but I think that I have found another equally fun app that helps with just that problem — It is the VSCO app. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember how much it costs, if anything, but it does have a straightening function as well as a way to handle distortion–if you don’t “scan” the photo with the exact proportions. I have to thank you because this will be the perfect follow-up article to the one above!

      It is almost comical how hard it is to get the pictures lined up when “scanning” them, but I’m sticking with my philosophy that if this is the way we will get the photos copied and kept safely for future generations, then I’m all in. We just have to figure out ways to work with these great tools that are springing up everywhere!

      I do have a FaceBook Group at It started out mainly focused on genealogy but I’ve been adding a bit more on scrapbooking since I have had the privilege of working with Scrapaneers! Gosh, I’ve been scrapbooking digitally for a long time but it wasn’t until I started taking the courses offered at Scrapaneers that I really began to fall back in love with process!

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