Ask the Archivist: The photos scanned by my cousin look terrible! Is there anything I can do?

by Sally J.


Genealogists and family historians have swapped ancestor photos for as long as photography has been around.

These days, it’s easier than ever to scan and share photos.

But what can you do if your cousin sends you scans that look terrible?

Becca has that problem, and she turned to The Practical Archivist for help.

Hi Sally,

I have a question that no one seems to know the answer to, and I thought maybe you can help.

My cousin scanned about 100 or so pictures into a zipfile and put them on the family website about 2 years ago. I happened to save those pictures on a cd as well as on my computer. I recently rediscovered them. The problem is most of them are coming up in a very small format, like thumbnail size and when i go to zoom in I lose the definition, does that make sense?

Is there anyway to get the pictures to a ‘normal’ size so I can actually see the faces that are in the pictures? If you have any ideas, they would surely help. I emailed my cousin, but he thinks that they are on a different server locked away in a basement somewhere…grrr.

Thank you so much!

Becca Denos


There are two reasons why Becca’s digital ancestors are so tiny:

1. The original photos were scanned at both high and low resolutions, and somehow Becca is stuck with the smaller thumbnails only.

The obvious solution is to ask her cousin for the larger files. Unfortunately, Becca already tried this solution and it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.

2. The original photos were scanned at low resolution, and there aren’t any high resolution scans available.

Until this week, my only advice was to ask the cousin to re-scan the originals, which is not always possible….

Then I learned about Vector Magic from Photojojo’s awesome newsletter. More details on this intriguing web-based free application tomorrow.

Now it’s your turn: Do you have digital photos that are tiny and/or pixelated? Do you know why they are so small? Share your story in the comments section.
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