How I Digitised My Old Images

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For so long I put off digitising photographs because I’m no technical expert but I sorted a system that worked for me and accepted that it might not be a perfect job but imperfect was better than nothing done at all.  Now I’ve printed several photo books that I’m happy with. 

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(More on the printing of Photo-Books in future posts).

Digitising my photograph archive

Re-Photographing

Important considerations:

  • The most important factor is good, natural lighting with no shadows, reflections or colour casts from surrounding objects or walls. My best spot in the house was in the bathroom under a skylight, surrounded by white tiles!
  • Using a white vertical surface on which to stick each old photograph means the camera can be angled directly at the old photograph to avoid perspective distortions of  the digital images.
  • Alternatively the photographs can be placed on white card on a table/floor and photograph from above. (But shadows can be problematic with this method).
  • This is a time consuming process but at least curating my collection of old images ahead of time made this stage much easier to manage.

Equipment:

  • A DSLR camera with tripod and, ideally, a 50mm lens. This focal length is the most true to life (wider angles create distortions on the edges of the image)
  • Manual settings give more consistent results
  • Shoot RAW if possible otherwise the largest JPEG your camera can manage
  • White balance on daylight ‘warms’ the image up a bit

Sometimes circumstances are such that we can’t have ideal. I had to use a hand held cell phone (on auto setting) to digitise someone else’s old photographs for a funeral print sheet. Because I paid attention to good lighting and did what I could to avoid perspective distortions, the results were actually much better than I’d expected.

Scanning

  • Use as clean an image as possible – blow off dust and fluff
  • Clean glass plate on scanner
  • Set scanner for the highest resolution possible – certainly above 300dpi
  • Save the images as a TIFF (if you have the ability to) otherwise JPEG at the highest quality

Alternative Methods

I have a friend who used his cell phone to scan his Mother’s box of old photographs using Photomyne. Apparently it was an easy process and the digital images came out really well – perspectives automatically corrected, consistently framed and easily labelled. I’m waiting now to hear about their quality when printed into a photo book.

Useful Links 

If you are serious about preserving family history I found this amazing site (only after struggling through and nutting out my own process … the irony!)

Restoring a heavily damaged image in Photoshop

 

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