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Guide to Scanning Old Family Photos

Guide to Scanning Old Family Photos

Family photos are arguably the most important source you can have of an ancestor. So preserving them digitally should be one of your highest priorities, and scanning them to the best possible standard is something that is often overlooked until it’s too late.

Most people use the default settings on their scanner which is usually preset to about 100DPI with the output set to JPEG, which is just not enough for photos. Ideally you want to be scanning at 600DPI and to the TIFF File format.

Files

JPEG Vs TIFF

Anyone that has used a computer will be aware of the JPEG File type. It is the most common and widely used picture file type and whilst it offers much smaller file sizes it uses lossy compression which causes data to be lost when the file is compressed.

TIFF files on the other hand are uncompressed and are typically used within the printing business for large scale scanned items. The downside of using the TIFF Format is that the files tend to be much larger than those of other popular formats. A decade or two ago this might not have been within most people’s grasp due to storage restrictions however, hard drive technology has come a long way since the early 2000’s and you can easily get a massive external drive for under £80 that can hold thousands of TIFF Files or you could use a cloud service such as Dropbox or OneDrive to store everything online. I use a combination of the two just in case one fails.

Program

Which Program To Use

It really doesn’t matter which program you use to scan photos be it paid or free, it’s all about preference. Personally I use Windows Fax and Scan as it comes free with every copy of Windows so I know that any windows computer I use is going to have it pre-installed which takes out the fuss of having to download an external program every time. It’s also really easy to use.

Step 1 – Clean Your Scanner! 

The very first thing you’ll want to do is clean your scanners glass surface with some glass or window cleaner and a dry cloth. This is because when you’re scanning at a large size even the dust, fingerprint smudges and tiny hairs on your scanners surface can show up in photos.



Step 2 –  Open Windows Fax and Scan

As pretty much every computer comes with Windows Fax and Scan you can simply search your PC for it (Just searching “fax” in your programs should bring it up).

If you don’t see it listed anywhere it might be turned of in Windows features. To fix this go Start > Control Panel > Programs > Turn Windows Features On or Off > Look for the Printing and Document Services then turn on Windows Fax and Scan.

Step 3 – Settings & Scan

Once you have Windows Fax and Scan open click on the “New Scan” button this will bring up a dialog box asking you how you would like your scan to be set up.

Windows Fax and Scan Settings

Under the profile dropdown menu there will be an option to “Create New Profile”. Select this and another popup window will appear. In this menu you can set the profile name and the quality and output of the scan. Type a name for the profile and choose the source of your particular scanner, mine is a flatbed scanner so I’ve chosen that. Then make sure you are scanning in colour even if it is a black and white photo as scanning in black ad white or greyscale can cause certain features to be lost. Under File Type choose “TIFF (TIFF Image)” then in the resolution choose 600DPI or 300DPI Depending on your storage and time constraints. If you have thousands of photos to scan 300DPI will do just fine but if you only have a few very special photos scan those at 600DPI (I scan all really old photos as 600DPI). Don’t touch the brightness or contrast, keep them at 0 and save the profile!

Scanning

Once you’ve changed the settings and created a profile for future scanning hit scan and wait for the resulting photo. If you compare it to a regular 100DPI JPEG Scan you might not see big differences straight away but if you zoom in and try to look at it in more detail i.e a face in a crowd, it will be much more pixelated and often completely blurry compared with a high resolution scan. In the Photo’s below they might look almost identical side by side but when you take a closer look at the faces they are completely different. Hopefully this will help you to choose which resolution is right for you.

Full Size 100 Jpg vs 600 Tiff
Full Size Photo Comparison
Full Size 100 Jpg vs 600 Tiff Zoom 1
Zoomed Comparison 1
Full Size 100 Jpg vs 600 Tiff Zoom 1
Zoomed Comparison 2
300 TIFF vs 600 TIFF
Zoomed Comparison of TIFF Format at 300/600 DPI

Other Considerations

The amount of time you have to scan and the storage you have available can be constraints on what resolution you will want to scan at too. Scanning times depend on the model you are using to scan photos but as a general rule it will tend to double exponentially the time taken to scan for every 100-150 DPI increase. So if your JPG takes 10 seconds at 100 DPI it might take around 40 seconds at 300 DPI and a couple of minutes at 600 DPI.

Also bare in mind storage limitations. The photo I scanned above has the following file sizes at different resolutions and formats:

  • 100DPI JPEG = 156kb
  • 200DPI JPEG = 566kb
  • 300DPI TIFF = 2.6mb
  • 600DPI TIFF = 10.2mb

So if you don’t have much storage 300DPI TIFF’s should be the way you want to scan.

Once you’ve scanned your photos you’ll need to store them. I’ve written another post on Storing and preserving Old Photos and Documents.

Figuring Out Who Is In Old Photo’s

Figuring Out Who Is In Old Photo’s

Sometimes you might inherit photographs from family members that have passed away and not know who they are. My father inherited a box of old photographs from his grandmother, the problem is he doesn’t know who most of the really old ones are. When I scanned them all on to my computer I started to wonder who they were. So I tried to find ways of figuring out who they were. I’ll start with this photo of a family.

Unknown Family Photo
Unknown Family photo

The first thing you need to do is dissect as much information from the photo as possible. Here’s what I got:

  • Postcard Format, years ago people would send photo postcards to loved ones that were done in a studio and mounted on to a postcard. This postcard was from “Bert & Mabel” indicating the two adults names.
  • Postcard reads “To Flo &  Bill” indicating a close relationship to a couple with these names.
  • Children are all of similar age groups so the family would have had: A boy followed by two girls around 1-2 years in age difference, then another boy and another girl. This gives us an indication as to the general family group we are looking for.
  • Style of clothes, in my opinion the style would broadly be between 1905 and 1920.
  • Photographers name, this photo doesn’t contain a photographers name or stamp but if one was present then the date could be further narrowed down based on when he worked or even the negative number of the photo if present.
  • It can be helpful to contact a local historian who if there are markings or a photographers name on the photo. If there are negative numbers on the photo anywhere it can massively help to narrow the possible date range.

Secondly you need to apply that information to a family tree.

  • I know that this photo came from either my great grandmother Gladys Alice Cane’s side of my great grandfather Harold Juden’s side so that’s where I’ll start looking. My photos are more likely to be from the Cane side.
  • If I look through my Cane side I find that Gladys’ parents are William Cane and Florence Kate Wood which matches up with Bill and Flo.
  • One step further I can look through all of the siblings of William and Florence for a Bert or Mabel. I find that William has a brother called Albert and Florence has three brothers called, Ernest Albert, Gilbert and Herbert, giving me four possible leads.
  • All three of Florence Kate Wood’s brothers never married or died young. Leaving only Williams brother Albert.
  • Albert Cane married Mabel Devenish in 1902 and had seven children: Albert 1903, Ellen Louise 1905, Ethel 1907, Richard 1910, Nora Beatrice 1912, Patricia 1915 and Vera Alberta 1921.
  • As there are only five children in this photo it stands to reason that the last two girls haven’t been born yet. This puts the photo at before 1915. The youngest in the photo appears to be around two years old putting the photo at around 1913.

Once you have a hunch or a few possibilities and if you have a photo of any of their family members, cross compare them.

William Cane and Albert Cane
Cane Brothers

The above photo on the left is of William cane, my 2x Great Grandfather and the suspected brother Albert Cane. It’s hard not to be bias when looking for similarities in photo’s so a second opinion should be obtained. To me, the two men look remarkably similar based on facial features and the expression on their faces.

The family group in the photo matches pretty much perfectly with the information in my tree and so proves with very little doubt that this is the family in question.