Sharing Photos: Scanning & Box Online File Sharing

It’s been a good week for web-related activities. I made contact with a long-lost first cousin of my father. Turns out she’s also the keeper of long-lost photographs she’s willing to share.

Sharing photos across physical distance can be a challenge. Not everyone is an amateur genealogist and unabashed photo hound and they won’t necessarily feel comfortable about rooting around in their basement for you. And even if they are, printing copies of the oldies can be expensive.

On a few occasions people have loaned photos to me by mail. I’ve scanned them and had them back at the post office within 24 hours in an attempt to preserve a reputation for being responsible, should I need it at some other point. Still, I think it’s a gutsy move to be putting old photos in the mail. They only have to get lost once to ruin your day and make your relative not want to speak to you ever again, even though it wouldn’t be technically your fault.

I wish I had a foolproof method but, alas, I just have ideas. If you don’t feel like driving all the way across the country and you can talk your relative on the other side into scanning the photos you want and they’ve got a scanner, you’re almost there. Although it might be “older” generations who are holding the older photos, and maybe they’re not the most tech-savvy people on the planet, so this can take some patience.

Scanning Tips

First, scanning instructions for said relative: Scan the photos large (more on this in a minute) and save in a format that will allow you to edit and save repeatedly without losing photo quality, i.e. TIFF. I’ve worked on some of my old photos across several days, turning my computer off in between. I’ve tried this with JPGs and the repeated saving has disintegrated the photos into a blur.

If you’ve already scanned a lot of pictures, you’ve already got your system down. I vary the size depending what the picture is. If it’s my great-great grandmother I go “gigantic.” If it’s the 300-thousandth picture of my goofy nephew in 1975 it’s not likely I’ll ever want to print it and computer-screen-size is fine. If you have pictures about 1″ square, crank up the resolution. You’ll be amazed what you can see that you thought you couldn’t.

You have some similar options on your own scanner, as below, although the exact placement may be different.

The dimensions circled below on the right show the dimensions of the scan. You can see what your picture will be in pixels compared to your screen. Pixels and inches are not the same thing. I pulled the dotted lines up around the photo (so it doesn’t scan all the white space) and the enclosed space is actually the size next to the pixel dimensions (i.e. 4.77 in. x 5.96 in. not 8 x 10 as it says in the ‘Target Size’ box.) Adobe Elements tells me it will only print the photo at 3 x 5 inches (the actual size) in reasonable clarity. Not very big.

Epson Scanner
If I only want this for viewing on my screen it only needs to be slightly larger than my screen-size which, of course, depends on the size of my screen, or rather what my screen size might be in the future.  Your guess is as good as mine. And 300 dpi is overkill for your screen because screens can only see 96 but, still, I typically scan at 300 dpi anyway.

If I want to print it to paper, that’s something else. To make a 5 x 7 or 8 x 10 it would have to be scanned much larger to make up for the fact that it’s only 3 x 5 to begin with. Usually what I do is turn the dpi up to about 1200 for scanning, and then trade it off in the editor by turning it down to 300 dpi and turning the picture dimensions up in the Image Size box. I don’t know if this is the “right” way to do it. I just see it as basic arithmetic. The higher resolution (more overall dots per inch) the more printing inches I can get out of it.

Image Size, Adobe Photoshop Elements

I think if you want to be more technical, the dpi capacity of your printer will have something to do with this too. 300 dpi is generally considered desirable for printing but if your printer only does 200 dpi then you’re in another overkill situation. Small point, really.

It can be tough to direct a distant relative in scanner finesse so just tell them something large and standard which you can adjust later when you have the copies yourself. Too big is always better than too small. This is a no-brainer if your relative is familiar with their scanner. If they’re not it’s still pretty simple to set a standard and get their scanner doing what you want. This is assuming your relative is willing to listen to you. My cousin Sam could not figure it out, no way, not even with me pleading at the other end of the line, but I must say Sam is an extreme case.

Some people might wonder why bother scanning pictures so large? It’s my opinion, that’s all. I have an idea to hang portraits of some of my favorites in gallery fashion and I want them large enough to print. Maybe I’ll wallpaper my kitchen with my favorite grandmother someday. Who knows what I might dream up. The thing is if you scan them large you’ve got options. If you don’t, you don’t. So what’s a few extra megabytes between friends? Go for it.

After scanning, the photos can be burned to a CD and tossed in the mail to you. This requires knowing how to burn a CD. Don’t laugh, some people don’t. Well, Sam doesn’t.

Sharing Photos With Box

Here’s another option: Suggest your relative head over to Box and sign up for their 1GB free account. This is very simple. They’ll need to give an email address and a password and they’re in. One GB is just a teaser to show you all the things you can do with file storage and sharing. But for free, the maximum file size they can send across is 10 MB which won’t put them any further ahead than regular email.

However, if it would suit you to have unlimited transfer for 1 month it will only cost $7.95. About the same as a handful of CDs and postage. You’re not signing up for life, just long enough to get the job done. Then they can send files up to 1GB in size up to any amount in total across the month as long as there’s not more than 5 GB in their box at any point in time. This is plenty for pictures and you have the advantage of immediacy and being able to communicate by email as you go along. Instead of, say, receiving the whole batch on a CD, and finding it’s not done the way you’d like.

Once they’re signed in, they make a new folder.

After scanning the photos, per your instructions, they then upload them. “Add files” opens a window to browse their hard-drive and choose the photos. Then they click the upload button and wait for the blue progress bar to finish. Uploading takes longer than downloading but that’s OK. While they’re waiting they can throw in a load of laundry, make some soup or run around the block.

When they right-click on the folder and choose “Get Public Link” it will give them a URL. “Public” means public to whoever they send the URL to, which means you.

This is the address to the folder of pictures. They send you the URL by email. You click on it, which takes you to where you’ll find a Download option. You click on that and violà, the pictures are on their way to your computer.

Of course, this works both ways around. You can also have a Box account and send files too.

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