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scanning photosIf you’ve been turned onto sepia, black and white and the authentic effects of old cameras thanks to apps like Instagram, you might have considered heading for your parents’ old box of photographs to see what can be scanned and saved to your computer. Unfortunately, this is where the headache starts! You might find, for example, that the photos are dirty or dusty; that they’re creased or blemished; that there are too many for you to scan in one go.

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with all of these problems, and more. As long as you have a decent flatbed scanner, you should be able to get good results scanning photographs. Once digitized and saved to your hard disk drive, they will be ready to share with the world via email or social networks, or perhaps added to family tree software.

Scanning Old Photos? Prepare Your Scanner!

Before you start, you’ll need to make sure that your scanner is up to the task. It’s unlikely that you’ll need a high resolution unless you plan on doing something artistic with the photos once scanned, so a resolution of 300 dpi (dots per inch) should be fine. If you want to “blow up” the scanned image, 600 dpi will do.

scanning photos

With your resolution selected, you’ll need to use your scanner software (either through software such as Photoshop or using your computer’s native tools) to choose whether to scan in colour or black and white.

  • Black and white photos can be scanned in grayscale or colour; the latter option allows better image manipulation possibilities.
  • Sepia and colour photos should be scanned in colour.

One other thing while scanning is to remember to use the Preview function. This provides a quick scan of the photo, allowing you to make positioning adjustments if necessary before initiating the full scan.

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scanning vintage photos

A little bit of cleaning is required when scanning photos. To begin with, the platen (the glass pane in your scanner where the photos will sit) should be cleaned, which you can do with a clean, damp cloth. Watch out for cleaning products that leave streaks – you don’t want these to leave marks as wiping them off after an unsuccessful scan will take time.

Preparing Your Photos

You might be surprised to find that despite the power of digital technology to repair photos, it can be very difficult to restore any that are in pieces or heavily damaged. Tiny scratches and folds can usually be dealt with, however, so when selecting photos to scan, make this your “high watermark” for damage.

It’s advisable not to select too many photos to start off with, just while you’re getting to grips with the process. Two or three of different sizes (perhaps with individual faults that need attention) should be enough.

scanning vintage photos

Before scanning your photos, you should clean them, preferably with a light dusting brush, although any dust-attracting duster will suffice. Failing this, a slightly damp piece of kitchen paper should be used, one piece per photo; try and clean with a single wipe, and leave for a few minutes to dry before scanning.

Scanning a Vintage Photo

It might be tempting to drop the photo onto the platen, shut the lid and just click “scan” – however, you should avoid doing this as it will cause problems with alignment later on.

scanning vintage photos

Instead, use the arrow indicator in the corner of your scanner to position your photo neatly against the edge. Only then should you close the lid and begin your scan preview. The lid is important as it is white, which aids in balancing the contrast of the photo being scanned.

Use the Preview function to scan the photo in order to resize the scanning area (something which will speed up the process) and ensure that you’re capturing the full image. You can then begin your final scan

Once scanning is complete, you will need to save your image. This will usually be a choice of TIFF or JPG.

scanning vintage photos

Use the latter if you’re planning to email or share the photo online and the former if you want to manipulate the image. Note that TIFF images will scan as much larger files, making them unsuitable for emailing. Some scanners will allow you to scan a JPG photo directly to your email application, streamlining sharing.

Lots to Scan? Don’t Worry!

If you have a lot of photos you want to scan, there are various ways you can deal with this. The same goes for scanning photos that are larger than your scanner.

scanning vintage photographs

If your scanner doesn’t have an auto sheet feeder, placing several photos on the platen at once and scanning them in bulk is a good idea. You can then copy each photo from the group scan later on in an image editing photo. Some scanners even come with software that will automatically deal with batch processing, saving each photo individually.

Meanwhile if you have a large photo in your collection that you wish to save to your computer, you should scan it in portions. Once saved, you should be able to join each part together in an image editor.

Tidying Up Blemishes & Creases

There are many free or paid for applications available that can help you to deal with blemishes in your photos. These tools enable you to crop, resize, rotate and deal with faults in the image such as creases or other blemishes. You might also use auto-adjust tools to deal with issues of lighting and straightening.

scanning photos

If all of this sounds a bit labour intensive, there are ways to reduce the effort. Namely, ensure your photos are clean and dust-free before scanning. Note that the earlier suggestion for cleaning your scanner’s platen should be carried out regularly, not just for scanning photos. The fewer blemishes you scan, the easier it will be to tidy up the photo!

Conclusion: Get Scanning!

That box of old photos in your attic isn’t going to scan itself, and if you’ve got some deliciously atmospheric originals that can put the creations of your fellow Instagrammers to shame then it’s your duty to share them.

Probably the toughest step is getting to grips with your scanner. Once you’ve gained familiarity with the device and done a few test scans, you should find that you’re able to scan classic photos and repair them if necessary before sharing them with friends and family.

  1. Junil Maharjan
    December 20, 2012 at 5:21 am

    Great but you should also show a method of creating photos from negatives of old photos.

    • Christian Cawley
      December 20, 2012 at 8:17 am

      Nice idea Junil, I'll look into it.

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      December 21, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      You can do it? I want to look at the results without processing the negatives. Thanks!

  2. Anonymous
    December 20, 2012 at 1:45 am

    One thing to remember when scanning photos, is to use a resolution which matches your intended use. For archival permanence, use the maximum your scanner is capable of; but be ready for extremely large image files.

    However, if all you want to do is share them with friends or post them on a FB or web page, you will have to do a lot of work with photo manipulation software to get down to something acceptable--and depending on your software, you may lose some detail or definition. Scanning in at 300dpi or less is good for viewing on a screen, 600 for print jobs.

    I've scanned some old photos for archiving at over 1200, but getting them down to something useable took a lot of work.

  3. imgod
    December 20, 2012 at 12:39 am

    This article says nothing. Everyone knows if you want to archive your old photos digitally, you need to scan the photos. What an advice!

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      December 21, 2012 at 3:07 pm

      It provides some tips, though.

  4. Karl Couvillon
    December 20, 2012 at 12:36 am

    I've scanned slides, but not photos yet. I'm trying to digitize all of our family's photos for the last several generations. I use a PS9700(with 4GB) 3-in-1 Digital Photo/Negative Films/Slides Scanner, and it's not easy or the best product (overheats too quickly). Still nice to know I won't lose them all in a fire.

  5. Marie MacDonald
    December 20, 2012 at 12:16 am

    These are great tips. I scan lots of vintage photos - because I'm considered mid-century - and the advice here is good. I re-posted to facebook.

  6. Márcio Guerra
    December 19, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    I don't scan pics for a while, need to take a look at this workflow! Thank you!

    Cheers

    Márcio Guerra

  7. Scott Macmillan
    December 19, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    This is a very interesting method of achieving the same effect as Instagram.Thanks.

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