Scanning vs Photographing Genealogy Documents

Scanner vs Photographer about Genealogy Documents

When would photographing your genealogy documents serve you better than scanning them?

If you have inherited a mountain or room full of genealogy papers or you need to downsize your archive, you need to digitize the contents so others can access and use the data. The overwhelming task forces the challenge of quality vs efficiency to the forefront and you’re wondering if you should scan your documents or digitize them.

General Differences Between Scanning and Photographing Your Genealogy Documents

Scanning Documents

  • Scanned imagines have a better resolution
  • They have better color depth on a bits-per-pixel basis.
  • Lighting is uniform lighting.
  • You avoid optical distortion as you do not have to adjust the focus.
  • Best suited for flat objects.
  • Scans take more time than photographs.

Photographing Documents

  • It takes less time to photograph a document.
  • Reduces handling of fragile documents.
  • Reduces the appearance of dust particles.
  • Camera are more portable than scanners.

Advice For Deciding Between Scanning and Photographing Your Genealogy Documents

Some archivists suggest that you should scan contemporary documents and use a camera for items of archaeological significance.

In my experience, flip that advice around unless you have a set-up like the one in the video below.

Document capture kit

For modern documents, snap a picture… or better yet – receive ‘BORN DIGITAL’ version of the documents.

Let the size and flatness of the historical document be your guide along with the technology available to you or documents.

  • Use a photographic capture kit if you have the funds and space to set one up.
  • A scanner works best for most projects (just wipe the glass clean regularly).
  • Use a camera in a pinch.

For more tips for those facing family history downsizing challenges, order our book: Downsizing with Family History in Mind.

Should you be scanning or photographing your genealogy documents. 

Document scanner and photographer #genealogy
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

One thought on “Scanning vs Photographing Genealogy Documents”

  1. Whether we scan or photo, we still have the option of optimizing the image by changing the lighting or cropping after the fact! I often tinker a little, to make something more visible or in better contrast.

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