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 The Penny Hoarder.

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.
A stack of old black and white photographs sits on a person's desk.

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.

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