It wasn’t too long ago that digitizing your printed photos required a lot of technical knowledge and expensive equipment. That is no longer the case. Among the most accessible of new ways to digitize are apps for your smartphone or tablet that turn your built-in camera into a scanner. Google just announced their PhotoScan app, which has sparked a lot of questions from my clients to me asking if I would recommend it. Are photo scanning mobile apps are the best way to ensure your photos are around for generations?


My short answer is that these apps are certainly convenient! And they are WAY better than what most of us currently do when we want to share a printed photo digitally – just snap a picture of it with our camera, glare and all. But do mobile apps guarantee archival digital storage? No.


These are not necessarily the best way to ensure that your photos are around and accessible for generations to come because the technology and the companies are still so new. Yes, even Google. It’s hard to believe it because our lives are now so saturated with the name, but Google has not yet existed for 20 years. “When Tony Blair became prime minister, it wasn’t possible to Google him: the search engine had yet to be invented.” And Facebook is only 12!


One photo application that I really liked was Picturelife. It had some fun features at the time, but like many apps, the things that made it unique were adapted by other companies eventually causing its customers to drop off. It was around for 4 years then shut down abruptly. And, it took all of its users photos with it. During Picturelife’s run, 220,000 subscribers had stored 200 million photos and videos.


Though these companies may seem to be built on terra firma, we users don’t actually know what a company’s plans are long-term for the photos and other information we store there. Google has a history of discontinuing beloved products. And they’ve had several photo applications among those. As Google (and Facebook) move into new areas of technology like artificial intellegence as both companies have themselves declared, hanging on to these points of data for us may not be a priority for them. For us it’s a matter of our family memories making it to the future! For them, it’s business as usual.


Here are some key considerations before investing a lot of time digitizing your family photos via a mobile app.


    • Smartphone apps only get you as far as your phone or device. In other words, if you want to look at your photos beyond your phone screen, you may have a challenge. Where are your digitized photos stored after you scan them? In your Camera Roll? In another mobile app? Is it accessible via a website you can get to from your desktop? These are all key questions because digitizing the photos is only one step. If there are any challenges with retrieving them, saving them, or backing them up, then this is not a good option. Proprietary applications are not good for the accessibility of your photos.


    • You can only do one photo at a time. How many pictures are in your frames, albums, or boxes now? These apps promise convenience but if you want to digitize more than a handful of photos it could be incredibly time consuming.


    • Your photos will only be as good as your device’s camera. Though they have larger screens, tablets often have poor-quality cameras in comparison to our phones. Don’t use a tablet to scan!


    • You must have a steady hand and good light. Your digitized photo will only be as good as the photo you take.  This is an example from one of my clients. On the left is a photo she made with her cell phone, and on the right is my digital image from a scan. Which one do you want preserved for generations?



    • How are they backed up once the images are digitized? And what is your plan for the prints that you’ve had to remove from albums to create a digitized image?


    • Ask yourself why do you want to digitize the photos yourself. It may seem like a time- or money-saving project, but in my experience with my in-person clients, when they say they prefer to do the scanning themselves this usually becomes a barrier to getting it done. It can be a money saver, but scanning photos one-by-one on your phone will be incredibly time-consuming.


Remember, the goal of digitizing your photos isn’t to create more work for yourself, or opportunities for failure, it’s to ensure that your photos are safe from disaster and here for your family for generations! It doesn’t have to fall all on your shoulders.


So, if you want to do a handful of photos on your phone app, please do! And now that we’re in the holiday season, maybe this will be your chance to get a decent image of your favorite printed photo that your dad or grandma just won’t let out of the house.  More importantly, as soon as you digitize a few, you’ll get the urge to digitize more as you see the possibilities for sharing open up in front of you.