View Full Version : Article: A Guide to Scanning and Digitizing Your Old Photos

03-20-2005, 06:25 AM
Here is an article I published on my website about scanning your old photos. I hope it'll be useful to some of you in this forum.

A Guide to Scanning and Digitizing Your Old Photos
by Gary Hendricks

If youíve taken a lot of photos with a traditional film camera, you probably have a truckload of analog photos which are best converted into digital format. The reason for this, of course, is that analog photos will wear out with time, while digital photos can last forever.

To be frank, scanning old photos is a tedious task. I took four months to scan my old photo collection into the computer. So, before embarking on this project, make sure you have the time and resources to do the scanning. This article will show you how to convert your old analog photos into digital format with as little hassle as possible.

Step 1: Choose a Good Scanner
Before you embark on scanning your photos, it is wise to do some research and select a quality scanner. There are two types of scanners out there Ė flatbed scanners and film scanners. Flatbed scanners are great for general usage, that is, for scanning printed photos and text documents. Film scanners are more costly and allow you to scan photo slides and negatives. Decide which type is more suitable for your scanning needs.

Personally, I like to use the Canon Canoscan 8400F which is sort of a cross between a flatbed and film scanner. This scanner is great - it can do both photos as well as slides and negatives.

Step 2: Check Your Photos
Ok, once youíve purchased your trusty scanner, check the photos you wish to scan. If you find any dirt or smudges, use a lint-free photowipe to remove them. Remember not to touch the photos, especially if you have them on slides. The purpose of doing this, of course, is to ensure that youíre scanning the best possible photo right at the start. Removing dirt now will save you from any image editing work later.

Step 3: Check Your Scanner
Besides checking the photos to be scanned, make sure that the scanner glass is also clean and free from smudges or fingerprints. Never try to clean the scanner glass with your fingers. If you need to clean the glass, you should use some lint-free wipes to do it.

Step 4: Specify the Scan Parameters
The next step is to specify what kind of scanning you wish to do. Most of the scanners in the market allow you (through the use of some software) to specify what image resolution you want to capture. I try to choose 300 dpi as a minimum for my photos, but usually use 600 dpi. Of course, scanning at a higher resolution means a slower scan speed, but remember Ė a high quality scan will help to preserve your photos so that they are as close to the original as possible.

Step 5: Start Scanning
Next step is to place the photo face-down on the scanner glass and start scanning. When placing the photo, itís sometimes quite tough to get the alignment right. I usually place the photo first, then do a preview of the scan. If itís out of alignment, you can then slowly adjust it until itís ok. When doing the preview, itís also helpful to check that no part of the photo has been cut off and that it is free from specks or dirt.

Step 6: Repair and Restore Your Photos
Right, assume youíve finished scanning and obtained your picture files. You can do an optional step Ė that is, to repair and restore the photo. If a scanned picture looks bad, I will try to use a photo editor to clean it up. Most photo editing programs will filters to remove noise, dust and speckles from images. For example, in Paint Shop Pro, you can use the Despeckle Filter. Other tasks to be performed include the adjustment of color and contrast, removal of red eye and image sharpening. You can also check out my guide on touching up photos.

I hope Iíve given you some idea of how to scan and digitize your old photo collection. Scanning your old photos is time consuming, but it is very rewarding. Itís great to have the feeling that your old photos are forever preserved in digital format and insusceptible to wear and tear. So, the next time you want to scan photos, do remember the above tips and your job will be a lot easier.

03-20-2005, 09:47 AM

Wow, that was really helpful! :D I've really enjoyed your "series" of enlightning photographic tips. They are really helful to me, and I'm sure to others also. Thanks!

Andrew S.

Geoff Chandler
03-24-2005, 05:19 PM
I would also add that where possible, if available still - better results can often be obtained from the negatives - which, of course, take even longer to scan but are well worth it. The ratio of difference between complete black and complete white is much wider, like slides. Therefore some of the lost shadow detail that wasn't visible on the print will be retained from the neg. One extra little minor confusion though - if you scan from a neg you need a higher resolution or dots per inch - where you used 300 - 600 DPI for a print of say 6x4 you'll need a minimum of 1200 dpi preferably more to get similar sized images. I find a 1200 DPI renders an image similar to a 2mp digital in size from a negative - so I generally go for 1600 dpi except for very good pictures where I take it up to 3200 - which is mega slow! (and often not really neccesary.)
Just my 2 penny worth
Thanks Gary for all these helpfull tips