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Whether you’re a lifelong shutterbug or just inherited a relative’s collection, you probably have boxes, bags and drawers full of old photos. Pictures you never look at because it’s too hard to find anything, so they just sit tucked away.
Instead of letting those memories molder, this spring it’s time to break them out, scan them in and make them available for the entire family to enjoy, either online or in person. Scroll for some of our favorite tools for digitizing your collection, as well as storing the hardcopies for years to come.
You’ve probably meant to scan in your photos for years, but have been put off by the sheer scale of it. So. Many. Photos! And having to use a flatbed device, like the one built in to your printer, would take forever.
Instead, invest in Epson’s FastFoto scanner. You literally drop a stack of photos into the feeder and watch the machine go: It'll scan at the rate of one photo per second, making short work of decades of family memories.
My mother was able to do hers over a weekend! And thanks to Epson’s software, organizing your shots is super easy as well — the device will scan both sides, capturing any notes that might be written on the back, and letting you automatically upload to your storage service of choice, even Facebook.
The software can batch tag sets of photos so you don’t need to do one individually, and you can even have it fix common problems like washed out colors and red eye automatically. It’s a huge time saver, one that the entire family can share — once you’re done putting your own photos in order, share this genius scanner with a friend or relative so they can do the same.
I personally swear by these low-cost storage boxes — I use them to stash old documents, ticket stubs, playbills and postcards. The smaller 6 quart models are perfectly sized for your standard 4x6 photos, while the 15 quart units are ideal for larger items. (I even have one filled with VHS tapes!).
They’re so cheap you can buy them in bulk, and you’ll fill them in no time — you’ll probably end up ordering more the same day if you’re anything like me. Make sure you stick with the same brand, so they’re easy to stack. And note the genius latches — the last thing you need is a box popping open and spilling its contents onto the floor.
As you scan and sort all your physical photos, there are probably a few you wouldn’t mind keeping around to look at, but you only have so much wall space for frames. In the olden days you would buy photo albums and keep them on the coffee table…and you still can!
Instead of getting one of those books with film sheets that eventually stop being sticky, upgrade to a tougher and more flexible solution: a three-ring binder. We recommend Avery Heavy Duty Binders because they’re cheap, sturdy and come in pretty colors.
Fill with plastic sheet protectors, which will keep your photos safe from the ravages of time and sticky fingers. They’re also way easier to rearrange; you can take photos out any time you want, move pages around and add new pages as needed.
Once you’ve scanned in all your photos, or if you only had digital photos in the first place, you’ll want to archive them somewhere easily accessible, especially by phone. Both Google and Apple offer automatic uploads to their cloud services, with free storage up to 15 GB on Google and 5 GB free on iCloud.
If you’re a huge shutterbug, or just store a lot of other files along with your precious photographic memories, you’ll probably want to upgrade to a paid plan. iCloud offers 50 GB, 200 GB and 2 TB plans for the respective costs of $0.99, $2.99 or $9.99 per month. Google One is roughly the same, with 100 GB, 200 GB and 2 TB plans that will cost $1.99, $2.99 or $9.99 a month, or you can pay upfront for a better deal: $19.99 for an entire year of 100 GB storage and $29.99 for 200 GB. (I personally use the yearly 100 GB plan.)
Which service you use really depends on what kind of phone and PC you have. If your house is filled with Apple products, backing everything up to iCloud makes the most sense, while Android and Windows users would probably be better off sticking with Google. This is also the best option for mixed device households; you can use the web interfaces to transfer your photos onto Macs as well as Windows 10 computers.
At this point you really don’t have to organize it further; thanks to artificial intelligence, both Google Photos and Apple Photos can search your photos for a particular subject, like all pictures of “dogs” or “water.” They can even identify individuals, to a frighteningly accurate degree: Google correctly matches photos of my 21 year old cousin to her baby pics.
The services will auto sort your photos so you don’t have to create albums yourself. You can make albums based on location or subject, and share those with friends and family who also have accounts.
Albums can also be shared to a smart display. Android users have their pick of smart displays, but the best one to get right now is the Google Nest Hub. Its display is sharp and colorful, and it doubles as a clock, smart speaker and easy way to watch YouTube in the kitchen. You can even set up shared folders with your kids or siblings so they can beam you the latest photos of your grandchildren or nieces and nephews.
Sorry, Apple users: The company doesn’t yet have its own connected display, but you can put up slideshows on your Apple TV (or use Chromecast).
If you're heavily invested in the Amazon ecosystem and already have a few of its smart speakers around the house, you might be better off grabbing an Echo Show 5, which integrates with Amazon Photos. Bonus: It's on sale right now.
It can access Prime Video and Amazon Music if you have a large library of shows and audio there, and even serve as an alarm clock. It can also do video calls, though you might want to invest in one of the larger eight or 10-inch models if that's why you really want a smart display.
Flickr and Photobucket
If you don’t feel comfortable sending all your photos to Apple or Google, there are plenty of web-based photo storage solutions to try out. (Both have mobile apps, but they’re not great.)
Flickr uses artificial intelligence to automatically sort your pictures, while Photobucket is ideal for linking to your photos from anywhere. Both of these services offer monthly plans, with the cheapest Photobucket plan storing 25 GB worth of photos for $6 a month. Flickr charges $6.99 a month for unlimited storage — cheaper if you pay for a year upfront at $69.99. This is the best option for heavy and professional photographers, allowing you to store photos at their original size.
Another great cross-platform solution for storing and sharing photos is Dropbox, which can sync your pictures across all your phones and computers. An individual plan is $9.99 a month, but the best deal is the family plan that offers access to six users for only $16.99 monthly, which includes a special “Family Room” where you can throw files for everyone to share. Note: Dropbox is more about sharing files and not photos, so its display options aren’t ideal and it’s not as accessible to people without accounts.
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