How to Build a Photo Scanning and Digitizing Side Gig
As simple as it sounds — and actually is — most people are overwhelmed by the thought of taking hundreds or even thousands of photos and organizing them into searchable, digital files.
Then there are the videos filmed on various versions of clunky cameras over the decades.
Perhaps the most daunting version of unorganized photographic memories are slides. Once the butt of so many jokes about boring dinner parties, now they are covered in dust with no hope of ever seeing the light of a projector again.
Well, anyone armed with a $229 scanner and a computer can make searchable digital files of photos and slides. To turn videos into digital files, it takes the original camera they were filmed with or a VCR, an $87 adapter and a computer.
Here’s how to make photo scanning and digitizing your new side hustle.
Five years ago, professional photo curator Sabrina Hughes decided she could make a business out of helping people organize their photos, videos and slides. Her company, PhotoXO, has a compelling slogan: “Show your photos the love they deserve.”
Her years as a photographer, plus a graduate degree in art history and experience as a curatorial assistant at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Fla., combine to make her an astute photo archivist. But all of this expertise and experience is not required.
“There’s a certain point when I’m not doing anything you can’t figure out on your own,” she said. “A college student or really anyone could do this to make extra money.”
Hughes offers a self-paced online class called Disaster to Done for $297, which includes lifetime access to course materials. But she’s also sharing her tips with Codetic.
Get the Right Equipment
- Scanner. There are hundreds of scanners out there, but she prefers the Epson v600, which sells for $229.
- Video adapter. Hughes uses the Elgato Video Capture for digitizing VHS tapes. It can be bought online for $87.
- Storage. “When I first started out, I was giving everything back on hard drives,” Hughes said. “I was trying to get away from DVDs, since most computers don’t even play those anymore.” She then offered flash drives filled with the photos. Though they are also becoming less common, this is still probably the best tool for beginners. Hughes now uploads everything to her website, which offers permanent storage.
- Software. Hughes uses Adobe Lightroom ($119), which enables her to label photos so they can be searched and has photo editing functions. Software isn’t required to organize unlabeled photos into folders, however.
Develop and Perfect Your Process
The first step to starting your photo scanning business is setting aside a space in your home. It can be as small as a corner of your bedroom or a desktop if an actual office or spare room isn’t possible.
Next, create a storage system for clients’ photos and video tapes while your work is in progress. Of course clear boxes that stack are great, but they come with a cost. Cardboard shipping boxes work just as well. Place white adhesive labels on the ends with the name of the client and the date the work started. You can place new labels over these when one project is done and the next client’s photos go into the boxes.
To digitize photos and slides, scan each one with the scanner to upload it to your computer. Make files for certain years or topics such as “1970s beach trips” or “kids’ birthday parties.” Drag and drop the photos into the appropriate file.
A college student or really anyone could do this to make extra money.
For videos, they have to be played the whole way through on the camera that originally filmed them and the adapter will transport the movies to a computer. If you don’t have the camera, you can play them on a VCR connected to the computer with the adapter.
Warn your clients that digitized videos won’t look so great on a TV, especially if it’s high definition, because the videos were filmed with lower resolution. They look best viewed on a phone or a computer screen.
You may have to limit the number of photos to digitize if the client wants to save on time and your fee. If the photos are organized in albums, ask the client to mark which ones to exclude with sticky-notes. If they are loose in boxes, suggest you select which ones to use.
“Sometimes it’s easier for a third party to make the decisions in narrowing things down,” Hughes said. You can pick what you think is the best of the three or four repetitive photos.
To organize and select from loose photos overflowing shoe boxes or laundry baskets, Hughes hand sorts them into piles based on the clothes people are wearing, the backgrounds and the time of year.
You can offer photo editing if it’s something you can handle. Hughes uses a very simple process in Adobe Photoshop. “You can also do it as you are scanning them,” she said. Adding, that many scanners have color correction options.
Deciding What to Charge
It’s smart to charge by the hour when you start out, and give an estimate of how long the project will take.
Determine ahead of time how many photos you can scan in an hour. If you are sorting and scanning, that may be harder to estimate, but it probably adds another 30 minutes onto each hour of scanning. Say you can scan 40 photos an hour, then it would take you five hours to digitize 200 photos that don’t require sorting.
A high schooler or college student might charge $30 to $50 an hour, or approximately $150 to $250 for 200 photos. Allow an extra hour for computer glitches, labeling files and calling the client with questions.
Hughes started out charging by the hour, but found clients were spending so much time “pre-organizing” their photos themselves to save money, it would take them six months or more before they were finally ready for her to start archiving. So she switched to a flat fee of $2,222 for unlimited archiving of slides, photos or videos. To do all three formats, she charges $7,777. She also offers small projects a-la-carte based on the amount of work.
How to Attract Clients
You might have to offer to digitize photos for one or two friends at no cost first to get an idea of how long the process takes and what you will charge.
Then spread the word on social media. Give an estimated price of how many photos you can do for a certain price. Ask your early clients to share something about how wonderful it feels to finally have photos organized and saved forever.
Digitized photos make a great Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Christmas gift. Promote your business online and in emails during these times and throughout the year.