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Scanning Heritage Photos

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  • Scanning Heritage Photos

    I will be scanning in a bunch of heritage photos. In most cases these are the only copies and the original negatives are long gone. Some of them are in pretty bad condition. Some are very faded.

    I will be working on the photos in Photoshop, but what I would like at this time is some advice on how to scan them in.

    I am using a Canon scanner that can scan up to 1200 dpi. Is it worth going up that high? I'd like to do this once or at least not do it again for the next 5 years. In some cases this will be the second round of scans because the first round was not done on a flat bed scanner. That scanner had a "missing pixel" which left a line down every scan.

    There are some settings available in the scanner itself. How much playing around with them would you suggest a beginner do?

    Thank you for your help.

  • #2
    It's worth scanning as whatever your scanner's max resolution is - but be careful you're talking about real resolution. Some scanners claim to scan up to 1200 but when you look at the small print they only really scan up to 300 and interpolate from there to get the higher resolutions, and in that case you're better off scanning at the real maximum resolution of 300 and resizing yourself later.


    • #3
      Welcome aboard Stella. Lea's right about the resolution. If your scanner lists resolution, such as 600 X 1200, the optical resolution is the lower number. Scanning more than that only adds to file size without adding information. A good site for scanning information is . Check it out.



      • #4
        If you scanner allows, scan at 16 bit which will bring out more detail in the shadows and the overall color balance will be more accurate if high quality is needed. Just convert to 8 bit in PS to access all the tools and filters. This technique may improve your scans more than scanning at a high resolution (1200).

        You might try a 16 bit at 400-600 DPI setting.



        • #5
          If you have the access, I would try a very high resolution digital camera, especially if the orginals have any silvering on them.


          • #6
            What wonderful suggestions.

            I come and look at this thread regularly and have found one great idea after another. I want to thank all of you for taking the time to answer my question.


            • #7
              Scanning at 16bit is an excellent idea, but you're not going to get any more detail past 600ppi.
              Learn by teaching
              Take responsibility for learning


              • #8

                I'm working on a major historical project for a college and have been playing around with many methods of getting their older photos into a computer for mastering. This is the process I have come to for getting silvered photos ready to restore:

                1. Scan the photo (sometimes that actually works, it depends on the grain of the silvering.)
                2. If that doesn't work look at it on a copy stand and see how much reflection there is a lot of reflection. If not push the button.
                3. Even is there is not a lot of glare I usually do this next step too. I use a product called extender. It is a combined cleaning agent and oil based conditioner for the photo, it usually takes about 20-30 years of visible damage off the photo.
                4. Try scanning the cleaned photo (this again, sometimes works)
                5. Take a photo of that picture as well.
                Note: I use regular film, mainly because I have a dark room and need to make new copies for their archives anyway. Then I take them down to the darkroom, make a new copy, and scan that. I have not tried it with a high res digital camera.
                6. Go to town in Photoshop.

                The extender is the real key. You need a really good lint-free cotton cloth to apply it and it takes 2-3 minutes to clean a 4x6 photo. It by no means makes it perfect, but it can really give you the leg up.

                I'm including a before and after example of an original scan and the resulting image that (obviously) needed to go the whole way through the darkroom process.


                PS. if you need extender, any photographic supply store that carries darkroom materials should have it, I use one made by Marshals.
                Attached Files


                • #9
                  Hi Michael,

                  Thanks for bringing new life to an old thread, and welcome to RP. Do you know who manufacturers extender? It sounds very interesting. I'm wondering what a conservator would think about using it on different types of photos.



                  • #10
                    Marshalls extender is listed as a product that "lightens hand coloring oils without thinning them".

                    So it must be oil based. I have done some hand coloring many years ago, and I always used new prints, we never put anything on a old print.

                    I do not think that I would be wiping down any kind of historical print till I found out a lot more about what that stuff would do to the print, both in the near and far time.



                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Mike
                      I do not think that I would be wiping down any kind of historical print till I found out a lot more about what that stuff would do to the print, both in the near and far time.

                      Thanks Mike. That's exactly what was in my head, but you put it in words. It is often very difficult to predict what will happen to a print in the future. Even fumes from painted walls can have devistating effects in the long run. We might not be aware of the fumes, but they're there. If I remember correctly, you shouldn't put prints on a wall for three or four years that has oil based paint applied to them. It's been a while since I dug out my books, but I'm sure long term effects are something to be concerned with.



                      • #12
                        More on extender

                        A few things to note about my post...

                        Marshalls Extender is listed as: "A colorless product of the same consistency and general properties as Marshall Oils. Makes color paler without thinning it. Excellent for cleaning small areas." It is a transparent oil paint specifically designed for use on photographs.

                        Thanks to Ed for pointing out some additional information on this. This is not a product that should be used in the conservation of old photographs. It is a useful trick when working in image recovery and restoration, but it must be noted that it can cause long term yellowing on most mediums.

                        That being said I should also point out that you should ALWAYS attempt to scan the photo or copy it without applying anything. And it is rarely needed. The photos I use it on are like the one on my original post, so badly damaged that there is very little of the original visible to the naked eye, let alone a scanner or camera.

                        I'm not saying that you should use it on every project, or that it is God's gift to photography. I'm just saying it is another tool that can be used. Weigh the pros and cons carefully before attempting to use this product.

                        Take care,

                        Last edited by MBChamberlain; 12-04-2004, 09:56 AM.


                        • #13
                          Digital vs Scanq

                          Mike wrote:
                          "If you have the access, I would try a very high resolution digital camera, especially if the orginals have any silvering on them.

                          This is what I was wondering.... I have a CanoScan Scanner (1200 x 1400 dpi - 42 bit) that is a couple of years old. When researching scanners awhile back, I read it wasn't one they recommeded for photo scanning... (although I have used it a bunch for that purpose) So, I have old family photos and was wondering if it would be better to scan or just take a digital pic. I have a Nikon Coolpix 8700 (8mgpixel). I am not a professional photographer so if pics are better, then I would appreciate some information on how to get the best picture to work with. I am much better at working with the pictures on the computer than taking them. (PSE3) Pretty sorry, huh?! But I am enjoying learning about the whole process and seeing the resulting smiles I get from others!

                          Thanks for the comments. I sincerely appreciate your input and advice.



                          • #14

                            The basic idea of copying with a camera is to:

                            Keep the camera at right angles to the print.

                            Light the print evenly and start with the lights at 45 degrees to the print, one light on each side of the print.

                            For silvered prints, place a polorizing filter over each light, and over the lens of the camera. Make sure the plane of the filters on the lights are the same, and rotate the filter on the camera till the silvering disappears.

                            Filters large enough to cover the lights can be found at camera stores (usually expensive) or at stores that sell theatrical supplies (sometimes cheaper, as they usually sell in large sheets which you can cut up).

                            They make a device called a copy stand that helps one to do this easily, but if you do not have one or have the need to buy a piece of special equipment like this, one can use a tripod. Its easier to have the camera look down on the print than to try to place the print on some kind of vertical surface.

                            Your camera should be a SLR type.

                            In my case, I can and do shoot tethered to a computer when I do this. It makes it a lot easier to check the image on a computor screen rather than the LCD screen on the back of the camera. I shoot all orginals in RGB so that I can check the various channels to see which is the best to use when I get it into PS.

                            It all sounds kind of complicated, but once you have done it a few times, it isn't. And the quaility of the output is really great, without having to work for hours in PS trying to get rid of the silvering. Lets face it, to get a high quaility copy of a silvered print, you are going to have to put some time into it, either setting up a copy station or scanning and sitting at the computer.

                            Good luck and hope this helps



                            • #15
                              Thanks Mike, for your great advice. Many of us who have old photos to digitize will benefit from your help.

                              Along these lines I have a further question. Many old photos are no longer perfectly flat, not necessarily bent but slightly curled. How do you handle this situation so that the photo is lit equally?



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