Scanning photos to create digital files

Getting photos into the computer

There are different processes for scanning negatives and 35mm slides. I have no experience with negatives or slides, but there seems to be a lot of good advice availableon the internet for working with these types of materials.

scannerMy photo collection consists of new images, which were taken with smartphones and digital cameras, and scans of old family photos and documents. My scanner and the scanner software are part of my all-in-one printer. The scanner part is a flatbed scanner which is in the top part of the printer.

The process I follow:

  1. Clean off the scanner bed:
    1. Blow dust off or wipe with a microfiber cloth
    2. If there are smudges on the glass, you can dampen the microfiber with just a little water. Some sources say you can use rubbing alcohol, but that seemed to damage my microfiber.
    3. Make sure the scanner bed is dry before you use it, or the moisture might damage the photos.
  2. Make sure your own hands are clean and dry.
  3. Blow or gently brush dust off the photo to be scanned.
  4. Lay the photo or a group of photos on the glass bed, face down.
  5. In my case, I click the Scan button in the scanner program on my PC. This generates a preview on my PC monitor. I can see if the photo or photos need adjusting on the glass bed of the scanner. Often, the image is crooked or may even fall outside the bounds of the scan area.
  6. Select an image resolution.
    1. 600dpi is a good general purpose size.
    2. The higher the number, the bigger the resulting digital file will be. But, it’s also true that a higher resolution might allow you to see details in the photo that you may have missed, since you will be able to zoom in more.
    3. Experiment with this number until you arrive at a compromize between desired detail and file size.
  7. Select an image format if the scanner allows it.
    1. If you have plenty of storage place, you might want to choose to save as a .tif file. The TIFF (wikipedia) format is “lossless” and it also allows some metadata (such as title, subject, and tags, for example) to be written right to the windows file. However, .tif files are larger than jpg files.
    2. If the scanner you’re using only outputs to JPG (wikipedia), you can make a copy after the scan and save that copy as tif.
  8. My preferred settings are 600dpi, tif.
  9. Select a destination folder (Windows), name the file, and click Scan.
    1. I save these scans to a folder called “Original Scans” because usually these are not the final copies I want to use for digital video, or for sharing.
    2. Most of the time I am bulk-scanning, with several photos on the scanner glass at a time. I want to cut those apart and save them as individual photos, so at this stage, I don’t bother to rename the original scan.

Scanner software settings dialog

Generally, I try to scan as .tif, to “Original Scans.” Then I open each scan file and cut it up into individual photo files. Each of those gets saved as a jpg. As I save the jpg files they get renamed, sorted into my photo organization scheme, and maybe manipulated and edited a little bit. They get tags assigned also. After that, I open the jpg in Microsoft Paint and save as .tif to a backup folder. All the tags and file names get saved right along with the tif (so both the tif and the jpg have the metadata I’ve created.)