Scanning Old Photos

by JL Beeken on 11-07-2008

I love scanning old photos. I think.

Every once in awhile I get into a photo-starvation state. So many ancestors, so relatively few photos and when I ask, this is what I get: “There are no more family photographs, you have them all.” Then, when I get really busy with something else someone finds another batch and sends them off to me for scanning.

This is sheer laziness on the part of other family members. They could just as easily learn to do it themselves. But this is how it goes: Someone finds some pictures, someone else is visiting and they say, “Oh, I found these old pictures the other day, know anyone who might want them?” And the other person says, “Send them to JL. JL likes old photos.”

After scanning and editing thousands of pictures I’m not so sure that JL still likes old photos. If I’d had any idea how many old family photos there actually are I don’t know if I would have ever liked old photos. I do like the really old ones, though. The studio shots where you can crawl inside someone’s soul. Anything from about 1960 onward I could fore-go. A really bad combination of cheap cameras, color film and too many group shots with people about the size of alfalfa sprouts. Or maybe that was only my relatives.

So, assuming I can psych myself up for another solitary scanning blitz, here’s the plan.

Go into Adobe Photoshop Elements and click on File/Import/[scanner name]. Or ACDSee Pro Photo Manager, that’s even better.

Before I get into the scanning, I sort the pictures into general groups. Then I wipe them with 99% isopropyl alcohol on a soft cloth if I can. This only works on the shiny ones and sometimes it doesn’t work at all. According to Murphy’s Law most photos will have black splotches, irremovable rust stains and what looks like dog-pee across noses, chins and teeth.

Set up the scanning for larger than screen size, 300 or 400 or 600 dpi depending on the size of the original and whether they’re something I’ll want to print (in which case make them larger.) Lay a photo on the scanner, preview, draw the cursor around, scan, repeat. After about a few dozen I straighten and crop them and save them all as uncompressed TIFFs.

At this point it gets a little tricky because these pictures probably need to fit into existing folders. Having dual monitors I can open a folder on one and use the other for renaming my new pictures to fit my system. This is not as easy as it sounds since I use a file-naming convention of year-family name-#. ACDSee Pro has a great batch-mode for renaming files so I just fake it for now and fix it all later.

This would also be the time to add the IPTC info. Captions from the backs of the photos, all the people’s names, source indicating where the photos came from.

After this is all complete, I make copies for editing. Color correction, then the clone tool and healing brush in Adobe Photoshop Elements for cleaning up the marks and scratches, the rust, the dog-pee. This part can go on for weeks and generally gets me wondering why I’m spending my life this way.

I make smaller copies of some and link them into Legacy Family Tree. I put some into zip folders and send them off to interested parties by Hightail. I put others on CD, buy brown padded envelopes and trudge to the post office for stamps. If it’s close to Christmas (yippee! it is, except I’m starting the present batch 6 months too late to be finished in time) I make them look like Christmas presents. Then I pack up the originals and send those out according to the instructions also received. I try to do this on the same trip as the CDs to save on trudging time.

To go through this time after time you’ve really gotta love scanning old photos.

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