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Most of your photos, whether old or new, should be able to be scanned safely using a flatbed scanner. There are, however, a few exceptions you'll want to keep in mind. Determine the general condition of older photos. If they seem to be in fairly good condition lying flat, not flaking or losing pieces, they should be fine to scan on the flatbed. If the photos are torn in several pieces, rather than trying to fit the pieces together before scanning, put them face down in general order with spaces between them, to make it easier to put them back together when you go into Photoshop.
Do not under any circumstance; you use tape to piece them together. When removing photos from albums, keep a few things in mind. Very old album pages were highly acidic. If the photo has been in them for years, the acid is most likely eating its way through the image. The photo needs to be removed. There are a few challenges such as pictures that have been glued to the pages of those old albums. Rubber cement either breaks down over time, allowing you to remove the photo easily, or it literally sticks like glue.
If the photo doesn't remove easily, take the whole page out of the album and tear or peel off as much as you can from the back of the photo. If you can't get it off the back, it's better to leave it than to rip your photo. Another worst offender is the mainstay of the 70s, magnetic album pages; bad enough on their own, it only gets worse if they were stored in sweltering garages or attics for years. Even in the best case scenario, the photo should be removed with extreme care.
Slide your fingernail under the corner of the photo to gently test just how stuck the photo is. There is a wonderful little inexpensive tool called a microspatula that will be well worth a few dollars it cost, even if you only have a few photos to pry loose from a magnetic page. Slide the microspatula under the photo, and work it gently. Continue only if it comes up easily. If it sticks at all, don't force it. If you have very damaged framed or extremely delicate photos or documents, you may have to take a picture of them with your digital camera.
It doesn't matter if you're not a professional photographer. You can just use a little point and shoot camera like this. When you have no other alternatives, it's a great way to digitize heirlooms that may not be around much longer. In the case of delicate unframed photos and documents, try to get a photo of them laying flat. If you're capturing the photo, you can't take off the wall, take a lot of shots from different angles, so you have options. Adjust the lights, and try to cover windows, so no glare shows up on your image.
If the photo is flaking, losing pieces, or turning to dust, it might not be a good idea to put it on the scanner. In fact, you might want to put it in a plastic sleeve, and keep it there. If an old unframed photo isn't completely flat, either because of age or design such as a convex silver portrait, don't try to scan it. Use your camera to capture your image. Even though, you'll be able to safely scan most of your photos on your flatbed scanner with little fear, it's still a good idea to check their condition before you start.
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