With digital images we don’t have to worry about limited footage, whether we’re loading the film correctly, or what’s coming back from the pharmacy. The cloud holds everything, ready to share on a screen near you. For older people, memories are often attached to aging pictures, chemically fixed on paper and neatly put into frames or plastic pockets. Unearthing favorites and digitizing them makes them available for sharing on screens, through messages or on social media. It can unlock forgotten days for anyone who was there and bring moments to life for those who weren’t.
I recently scanned a selection of old photos, many of which lay forgotten in an old shoebox, and spent a few happy hours reliving special days with my wife while our children looked on in disbelief. “Is it really you? Mom looks so beautiful. You were such an emo dad.” (For the record: Yes, it still is, and I was very much into grunge). Stirring long-dead relatives, old friends, and younger versions of ourselves into the digital photo frame mix is an exercise I recommend. It’s also easy and only requires your smartphone or a scanner and a free afternoon.
By far the easiest way to digitize old photos is to use your phone. You can just take a picture of your old photos, but you can get better results with a photo scanning app. I tested three popular photo scanning apps on a Pixel 6 (9/10, WIRED recommends) against an affordable photo scanner and compared the results to several old photos. Judging photos is always subjective, so I got a blind second opinion from senior WIRED writer and reviewer Scott Gilbertson.
You can also use photo digitizing services, but they are expensive and require you to send your photos off, so we won’t cover them here. But I’ve included tips on how to prepare your images for best results and what to do with them after scanning.
The first app I tested is a natural choice for anyone using Google Photos because it automatically backs up scans to your Photos library. The app is free and easy to use, but scanning images is time-consuming because you have to scan them individually. The process requires you to take multiple photos, which are then stitched together to produce the best image quality. When you press the scan button, you will see four circles (one in each corner) and you hold the phone over each one until it charges to take the picture.