View Full Version : Copying Old Photos

11-08-14, 15:28
I have on loan from my father, a large number of photos which his dad took from about 1905 to 1914 and I am trying to digitise them. They are mostly sepia with some blak and white. The problem is that if I try to scan tem in, as I do for most photos I have copied in the past, they are nearly all out of focus.
The only difference as far as I can see is that the failures are all set in albums, with a thin "thickness" of card between them and the glass of the scanner, but I wouldn't have thought that the scanner would have had such a narrow depth of focus as to make this the reason for focus failure, or am I wrong?
Helpful suggestions please - I'm certain that I can't be the first person to have this problem. :crying:


Elizabeth Herts
11-08-14, 15:31
Hi Chris,

With tricky photos and documents which don't scan well or don't fit my scanner, on my digital camera I take photos which I can then download to my computer. You can then crop them or edit them to your satisfaction.

11-08-14, 16:15
Hi Chris, have you tried scanning them at a higher resolution, don't scan at anything less than 300 dpi, if possible try higher. I had this trouble some years ago but did find that a higher resolution often works?

11-08-14, 18:15
1) Elizabeth - I'd thought about that, but I wasn't certain that I could achieve proper focussing; then I remembered that one of the reasons I bought the camera in the first place was so I could get as good results as my Grandpa did with his glass negs a hundred years ago! I'll give it a go!
2) Jen - I hadn't realised I could adjust its sensitivity. I'll try your answer as well.
Thank you both very much indeed,


12-08-14, 16:27
Lets go a bit deeper, Chris.

Check your scanner carefully. If you can scan at 600 dpi, do so. My scanners (same make) have a menu system that lets me preview what I am about to scan, and allows me to adjust the sensitivity in the same menu.

Elizabeth's idea is probably better for you. Now check your camera. If you can set it for macro or close-up (look for a stylized symbol of a tulip) use it. You can usually get very close indeed. The thickness of any card mount will not matter since you are focusing on the photo itself. Now use the zoom function if you have one so that you are real close and at the same time fill the frame with with the photo you want to copy. As an example: if your camera is 10 megapixel, you want as many of those pixels as possible filled with what you are copying. And just remember, with a digital camera, all you use is time; you can take 10 shots and throw 9 away if you have what you want - then you have the method to get the next ones right.

Just remember to save all your "keepers into a suitable set of file folders. You may want to do some processing on an old photo, and you will really want it on a computer and not in the camera.


12-08-14, 20:38
It may be you are trying to scan them at too high a resolution for your scanner.
If you scan at a higher resolution than the optical resolution of your scanner it will interpolate pixels.
This means it will add pixels to make up the required resolution by inserting pixels. These inserted pixels will be an average of those adjacent to them giving an out of focus image.

14-08-14, 23:10
Thanks everybody. I know where I'm going now. I've successfully scanned several by increasing the dots per square inch and I'm digging out the tripod to photograph those that just won't scan. Belt AND braces!


PS: I also changed the computer that I was using for scanning - the older one couldn't produce enough memory to scan more than 600 dotties.

11-09-14, 12:44
I have just tried the "photo rather than scan" approach
Using a 14megapixel Nikon compact (too much effort to get the DSLR out), the results are dramatically better.
It took a few experimental shots, but:
1 - You need to get the camera square to the photo,
2 - You need to use the macro setting (a stylised tulip symbol on most cameras)
3 - You need to zoom out a fair bit, or the contrast at the edges of the photo is not good.
4 - Flash helps.

Now I am going to try the same approach with one of the tiny compacts (with the same megapix as the Nikon I used first) and then with a DSLR (same megapix again) where I have several lenses to choose from.

Scanning is quick photo gives better results for me.


12-09-14, 18:11
So this is a followup to my last post.

I have tried using the same original photo but with a mini-compact (14 megapix) and the quick assessment is Don't Bother. Seriously, the lens on a mini-compact is not suitable.

Finally, I tried using a DSLR with the lens that I keep on it all the time (a 35-70 zoom with a macro setting). This gave results as good as the super-compact I used first. Either would enlarge up to fill A3 paper, and look as sharp as the original.

So, my suggestion is that if you just want to copy one print, a scanner will give you a quick copy. If you want to do a batch, then a good digital camera is going to be worth using - and may be quicker in the long run. For the technically minded, the cameras were:
Super-compact: Nikon Coolpix P7100. Mini-compact: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS16. DSLR Pentax K20D.
All have image stabilization and are all 14 megapixel.
The next thing is to try the photo-copying on a damaged print and see if it is easier to repair the improved image, rather than a scanned one. This is all good fun, and it does make a welcome relief from chasing distant family through successive census records.


30-10-14, 22:10
After having tried the "photo rather than scan" approach, I had a go repairing a photo-ed photo.
The repaired one has only had the lighting adjusted after removing the damage.
I believe that this is a photo of my half brother John Desmond (Hone) Orrin, taken in the early 1920s.
Comments appreciated.

http://i1194.photobucket.com/albums/aa380/DoctorJeff/DesX2.jpg (http://s1194.photobucket.com/user/DoctorJeff/media/DesX2.jpg.html)

31-10-14, 11:18
And a comment that I should have added to the previous post:
Whether you scan or photograph, an out of focus original will still be out of focus.

Professional photos would have been taken with professional equipment, home snapshots would have been taken with low-priced kit (often with "soft" lenses).


01-11-14, 18:34
Mine were taken using a quarter-plate camera and glass negs - of which unfortunately my dad and I disposed on 1962! The print quality is far better than the later plastic negs, but it's the transferring of these contact prints to modern material where I'm having problems.