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By Jim Heid | Thursday, December 12, 2013

Have a Holiday Photo-Scanning Party

Getting together with family over the holidays? Take advantage of all that togetherness by holding a scanning party, and scanning your vintage family photos, as Ben Long describes in this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer.

It was inspired by an experience I had recently. During a trip to my hometown in Pennsylvania, a couple of family members showed me some photo albums containing riches that I’d never seen before—and that I wanted copies of. It dawned on me that every member of my family probably has an album of photos they’ve curated from their unique perspectives. So while I was in town, I ordered a $49 flatbed scanner from Amazon.com and had it shipped to my mom’s house. Then I told my family members to bring those albums over, and we sat around the dining room table as I scanned and scanned and scanned.

Now we’ll all have copies of photos that many of us had never seen before. And it was fun to paw through the old photos together while scanning them. Everyone chimed in with comments about the people and places in the photos, often sharing stories that the rest of us hadn’t heard.

Here are some tips based on my experience. At the end of this article, you’ll find a link to a playlist containing numerous courses about scanning, restoring, and sharing vintage photos.

Gang them up. As Ben demonstrates, you can scan four to six prints at time. Many scanning programs can automatically detect and separate individual shots, but you can also use Adobe Photoshop for the task.

six-up scan

Scan at a high resolution. Because I was using a cheap scanner and wanted quick results, I didn’t sweat my scanner settings. I simply scanned at a fairly high resolution—600 dots per inch—so that I’d have scans that were big enough to print. That setting yielded roughly 5-megapixel images: more than enough for printing.

Keep the borders. A lot of old prints have deckled paper edges that just scream “vintage.” You could crop those out, but I like to keep them—they’re part of the charm of an old print. Besides, the borders in prints from this era often contain analog metadata: the month and year that the print was made.

deckled edge

Scan the backs. When a photo has notes scanned on the back, scan them, too—they’re precious metadata. Even if you don’t use these scans in a final project, you’ll have valuable details on the photos.

back of photo

Fix them up. After you’ve scanned and separated the shots, you can use Photoshop to fix flaws ranging from scratches to color casts. Our courses on photo restoration contain all the details.

Pass it on. I didn’t want to pack a cheap scanner in my suitcase for the flight home (I have a better scanner at home anyway), so I gave my bargain scanner to a family member before I left town.

Make something! When you’re done with your scanning and restoration project, share the photos with your family. Stash them on Dropbox or post them to a photo-sharing site like Flickr or an online photofinisher like Snapfish. Be sure to upload high-resolution versions so folks can order prints.

But don’t stop there. Take advantage of the publishing capabilities provided by today’s software tools. Create a calendar. Make a photo book—or an EPUB. You’ll find courses on these and related subjects in this playlist.

Final steps So before you pack your bags and your laptop computer for that holiday trip home, put the wheels in motion for a scanning party. Order a cheap scanner and have it shipped to your destination, or just plan to buy one at the local Officemania superstore when you’re there. Contact your family members and tell them to bring some photo albums. Then set aside an afternoon or evening, gather the clan around your mobile scanning station, and get to it. You’ll preserve some precious memories and probably make some new ones.

Adobe and Photoshop are registered trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries.

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