Scanning Tips: How to Scan Photographs Safely

by Sally J.

in * How to SHARE Your Photographs (and the stories behind them), Free Articles / Blog

As promised, here are some tips to keep your original photographs and documents safe while you scan them:

Absolutely no food or drinks on the work surface. If you need to have water handy, please please please keep it on the floor at your feet. One spill and your irreplaceable treasures can be ruined forever. There is no “undo” button for this kind of error.

Cover your work-in-progress. This is important if you are going to leave your project out on a table for any length of time. Use opened folders or a large piece of cardboard. It will prevent damage caused by knocking, blowing, and dropping of who-knows-what.

Wear gloves. It’s the simplest way to keep oils and salts from your fingers away from photographs. You might not see today’s fingerprints yet…but they will acidify over time and show up as a stain. If gloves are a problem, be sure to wash your hands before working, and skip the hand lotion. If you get up to answer the phone or any other task, remember to wash your hands again before you sit down to work.

Support fragile and large prints very carefully. That includes on the way to the scanner as well as while you are scanning. Use two hands to pick up and move items to prevent bending and possible breaking. If the item is truly oversized, enlist the help of a friend. Very fragile items and tightly bound volumes can be digitized using a digital camera rather than a scanner. Avoid squashing.

[I searched in vain for Do-It-Yourself instructions on how to create a preservation-friendly book cradle or support for oversize items. Can anyone out there help? Please email me or leave a comment below.]

Never use an automatic feeder for photographs. They are OK for research notes and other modern office papers, but dragging a print across glass is a sure-fire way to scratch the emulsion. And don’t even get me started on misfeeds and jams. Ouch! I feel slightly nauseous just thinking about an heirloom print getting caught in one of those.

Which brings up a subtle but important tip: If your preview scan shows that the image is crooked, be sure and pick up the photograph to reposition it. Scooching it over can drag the emulsion across the glass and scratch it.

Next up: Tips for naming your digital files so you can find your new digital photographs.

Sally J. July 5, 2007 at 6:04 pm

My friend Erin created her own copy stand using PVC pipes and small under-the-counter style lights. It comes apart easily so it’s also great for travel.

Erin uses it for research trips when she needs to copy folders and folders of manuscript material. (Note: Not all archives allow this kind of copying).

I’ll see if I can convince her to share her DIY secrets.

Otherwise, I’m not sure what to suggest. Strong, even lighting is key, as is a steady hand and decent macro lens.

Moultrie Creek July 2, 2007 at 2:50 pm

Great article! I have an oversized scrapbook from my g-grandfather that’s not only too big to scan, its falling apart. I’ve tried photographing the pages with mixed results using my tripod. Do you have any information on affordable camera stands that would be appropriate for this kind of work?

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