Have Old Photos? Here are some Scanning Basics

A great way to convert your archived photographs to digital

Cold boring days? A good time to do some scanning. Unusual weather we are having. It’s cold and snowing one day, then cold and raining another day and then the next day has a jump into the high forties or fifties. The weather might be unreliable, but that’s a perfect time to pull out the old box of photos, negatives and slides you have been planning to scan. Going over some basics on scanning may be of help to some. I use an Epson 750; however, the basics of scanning apply to most of the popular scanners.

Years ago, I used Nikon dedicated scanners.At the time they were the only option for quality copying of slides and negatives. But, in most cases, they were limited to 35mm for the amateur market. For professional photographers, art directors and advertising people, 35mm transparencies were almost always copied to 4×5 or 8×10 transparencies before we printed them. And they were most always Kodachrome. With Kodachome’s slow ASA (film speed) and more stringent processing controls, along with Kodachome’s higher resolution and more vibrant color, it was a better choice for professionals then Ektachrome slide film. Dedicated scanners are still made but the demand and high costs of these scanners make them an item for a more limited market.

Flatbed scanners have come a long way and for most purposes are a better choice. One of the first choices you must make is based on what you will be scanning. Will you just doing photos? Will you be doing anything larger than a five by seven or eight by ten print? Will you be doing negatives and slides? Slides and negatives adds another level to your choices and usually more expense. Not all scanners can scan negatives and slides. The scanners must have the ability to backlight the slides and negatives. Will you be having prints made? These days more people are just going digital and using the files to send jpegs to friends and relatives. If that is your situation, scanning at 300dpi resolution is fine, in most cases. Lower resolution means faster scanning times and smaller files.


I recommend scanning in color mode rather then black & white or grayscale even for old black and white photos. Color mode will contain more information. You can always convert to black and white at a later point in your process after all adjustments have been done.
In addition, cleaning the scanner glass is very important.

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I use an inexpensive anti-static cloth to wipe down the glass. No matter how much effort you put in, you will still have some transfer dust. For photos, I again use an anti-static cloth, though not the same one I used for the scanner glass. For slides and negatives a soft makeup brush works well.

Also, the Rocket air brushes do a good job.

As do the simple pump blowers. Some people use canned aerosol sprays; I personally don’t recommend them. While most claim they are moisture free, however, I don’t personally recommend them. I have yet to see one that doesn’t occasionally spit or “freeze” on a negative. That can attract and bind the dust to negatives or slides.

2-1/2 inch Antistatic Brush

NEW** 2.5″ ANTI-STATIC BRUSH comes in a plastic box. The brush is constructed with anti-static fibers to dissipate static electric charges. Neutralizing these static charges releases clinging specks for easy removal.


Scanner software programs usually contain something like Digital Ice which removes dust spots. This works well under most conditions. I prefer to work as carefully as possible with dust removal and then do manual removal in a graphics program. This procedure is slower, but it gives me more control. Keep in mind Digital Ice and similar types of dust removals do not work on black and white negatives.

Another important consideration when scanning is sharpening. Scanning software will include an option to sharpen. I never use this. Most of my work is with old, odd format  negatives and it is important to be able to control the sharpness. Letting the software make the decision can lead to problems such as over sharpening, which is recognizable by halos around the edges of the image. All images that have been scanned will likely need some sharpening, and for quality work it’s best to do this procedure in a graphics program.

Not all scanners are the same, but in the case of Epson’s 700 and 800 scanners they use a two lens system. This means placing a negative or slide on the surface glass does not yield the best sharpness. Most scanners come with plastic film and slide carriers. Even on less expensive scanners, placing the slides or negatives on the glass hurts sharpness and tends to lead to over sharpening The supplied negative carriers do make a difference. If you are
looking for extremely high quality, aftermarket companies make carriers that are adjustable and can be fine-tuned to the optimum height.


Original Image

116 negative scanned on glass

Slightly blurry when not using the scanners supplied carrier

116 negative scanned in negative carrier

Using the carrier provides a much sharper image

Photos don’t need carriers; however, if the photo does not lay flat you could end up with in and out of focus points in your scan. If that’s the case consider laying several layers of paper about the same size as the photo on the back of the print. With the lid closed this can help flatten the print. Only try this on flexible prints, however!


I recommend scanning as a tiff file. Jpeg’s are compressed files and already some data is lost. While tiff files are larger, modern computers can easily handle them. Save an original tiff file and convert to a jpeg to email or have a print made. A last step is to add meta data to the file. Metadata is information about the image.

In the comment section you can add lots of information such as the who, what and where of the photo. And this info will travel with the file. Send a jpeg to a relative or friend and they will have a better understanding of what’s in the image.

Scanning is time consuming. Especially slides and negatives! But the rewards
are great and lasting!

-Bob Walden

Done Scanning? Now What? Check out Vacation Slideshows in the modern age.

NEGATIVE PAGES for 3-Ring Binders. Polypropylene 4.0 gauge.

Side-loading. Holds 7 strips of 6 frames (35-mm film). Page: 10-1/4 x 12-1/8″. Pockets: 9-1/8 x 1-5/8″. Pages are made from crystal-clear polypropylene that have been P.A.T. tested as being safe for long-term safe storage of photos and film. These pages are best stored in binder AB3R1311.