Scanning Old Memories A Shoe Box At A Time

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The Austin American-Statesman's Omar Gallaga's alternative for those who don't want to send their photographs to a scanning service: sheet-fed scanners. He says they can handle multiple documents at once, but are more expensive than flatbed scanners and not the best option for old photographs.

Gallaga also says it's best to back up those digital photographs because they can disappear in the event of a hard-drive crash. He says flash drives and offsite storage services are becoming increasingly popular.

How many pictures are in shoe boxes? Sam Allen, CEO of ScanCafe, commissioned a study to find out.

"In the U.S. right now, there are about 550 billion analog photographs," Allen says.

Allen says most people don't realize that they are taking a risk by letting their photographs sit around.

'Thousands Of Minutes Of Your Time'

"These images are dying every day, and they die a little bit more, and they fade away, and people don't understand that," he says.

Anyone can buy a scanner for less than $300, but scanning all those photos is time-consuming, Allen says.

"You're talking thousands of minutes of your time," he says.

That is where Allen saw a business opportunity.

When people send their photos to ScanCafe, the company will put them in digital form and use Photoshop to edit out the flaws. The company's Wade Lagrone holds up a photo of a customer's grandfather in Eastern Europe. Judging by his black hat and long side locks, he is Jewish, but it's hard to see the details of his features because of cracks and fading in the picture.

"Just a massive amount of dust and noise and tiny little scratches that make it look as if this photo were taken in a snowstorm," Lagrone says.

Lagrone then shows the same photo after the company's technicians processed it: It looks great.

One Box At A Time

But that wasn't on Chrissy Knudsen's mind last year when she realized that her family photos were at risk. Her mother was asked to evacuate her house during last year's fires in Southern California.

"I said, 'Mom, just please don't lose these pictures,' " Knudsen says.

Knudsen's mother put the pictures in storage.

"So they're just in these boxes and albums and loose. ... So ... I'm taking a box at a time every time I see her," she says.

Knudsen has been taking them, sorting them and sending them to ScanCafe. Each photo and color negative costs 29 cents — nearly half the price of the largest competitor, ScanDigital.

The catch: Knudsen has to send all her photos to the ScanCafe plant in Bangalore, India, and it can take as long as six weeks before she sees them again.

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