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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.