Scanning Old Photos


I spent much time last night on the phone talking to far-flung members of my extended family. All part of my current project, scanning old family photos and posting them on my photo site. Many of these pictures were from when dad and the aunts and uncles were kids and I wanted to let the family know the photos were up and could be viewed now.

Most of these photos have been in an old, crumbling album that was in the family for who-knows how long… After both mom and dad passed away it fell into my hands. A couple years ago I was concerned about the safety of these old pics so I transferred them all into a new album with acid-free paper and so on. Not an easy task, as somewhere along the line someone had either taped or glued many of the photos onto the pages. How does one recover from that? I looked everywhere on the net for some advice but found nothing directly related to what I was going through, so I opted to leave well enough alone and simple cut each pic from it’s mount and slipped them into the new sleeves.

Over the fourth of July weekend, with the bad air (I live in California and the forest fires rage nearby) and the heat (we’re looking at 100’s!) I opted to stay in and start this project. I probably got about a quarter of the way through the black and white photos, scanning each at 300 dpi. I probably could have gone higher on the resolution, but I don’t think it would make much difference. After that step, I opened each in Photoshop and started a restoration process: Duplicate the image onto a new layer for spotting and cleanup, then duplicate that onto another layer for levels adjustment and any burn and dodge to even out the photo. I saved that and then exported the photo to a jpg for posting on the net. This step showed me that the brightness of each photo was exporting too dark, so I added an additional step of adding a brightness adjustment layer in PS to compensate. I’m assuming that exporting from the original file in 16 bit gray level to jpg in 8 bits was the culprit here. No problem, adjusting the brightness by 10 or 15% lighter seems to work and saves the original at the best quality for the time being.

Almost every photo showed signs of wear and time. Many had scratches and spots, wrinkles or cracks and the evidence of fingerprints and the aforementioned tape. I chose to deal with these in Photoshop by using the spot-healing tool on the spots in the open areas and the stamp tool in the tight spots. I tried to be very careful not to change the the feel or look of the original image. My levels and burn/dodge were done to even out the faded places and the poor printing of the original.

All in all, I’m happy with the results so far. The scans look good, the old photos are safe, the family are getting to them and we may even figure out the who/what/when/where of a few of them. I’ll be adding more photos to this gallery as I get them scanned and cleaned up…