Scanning in old photographs

If you’ve got a shoe box full of old photos or a bag full of negatives then you will need to digitise them before any restoration work or archiving can be done.

Getting a good scan is critical, since this is the raw material you’ll be working with and a poor scan will be harder to get good results from.

Buy the best scanner you can afford and a flatbed would be the best choice with a transparency hood for scanning slides and negatives.


Epson make some very good scanners and I personally opted for an Epson V750 PRO with Silverfast included.

epson v750 pro

Epson V750 PRO is excellent for scanning negatives, slides or prints and is the first flatbed scanner with 6400 dpi resolution and unique fluid mount capabilities for photo studio applications. Very good results for precision colour and detail. An enhanced optical system (High-Pass Optics) consisting of anti-reflective lens coatings and a high-reflection mirror provides the highest level of image quality which in turn helps you scan faster. The Dual Lens System optimises each scan, automatically selecting from two lenses for the desired scan resolution. These come in at about £600.

epson v600 photo

A cheaper option is the Epson Perfection V600 Photo delivers outstanding quality scans from photos, film, slides and everyday documents. With 6400 x 9600 dpi resolution, this high performance scanner ensures precision film scanning for sharp, vivid reproductions up to 17″ x 22.” Featuring DIGITAL ICE for both film and prints, one-touch colour restoration and Adobe Photoshop Elements, this scanner provides a complete photo restoration solution. I’ve seen these on the market at about £230.

Scanner software

Software will be supplied with your scanner which will do the job although they may be a bit too basic and lacking features. Two notable scanner software packages are Silverfast and Vuescan.

Silverfast is a powerful package which I use and I’ve not encountered anything lacking in terms of features. If you haven’t bought a scanner yet try to get Silverfast bundled in to your package.

Vuescan provide software and drivers for film scanners, document scanners and flatbed scanners, including HP, Canon, Epson, Nikon and Brother scanner drivers. I’ve encountered Vuescan when I’ve needed drivers for older scanners which are no longer supported by my operating system. Vuescan is much cheaper than Silverfast.

Scanner settings

  • Resolution I recommend usings dot per inch (dpi) resolution of at least 300-600 dpi for prints, and several times this resolution with film negatives. The chosen scanning resolution will depend on the sharpness and focus of the original images, but should ideally resolve the speckles of noise/grain in the print.
  • Precision Scan at the highest bit depth possible for your scanner: 16-bits per channel or 48-bits in total colour depth.
  • File types Save your scans with maximum detail preserved – tiff format is usually best but the filles will be larger than a high quality jpg. If your scanner and software support RAW files then this is even better, but again the file sizes are much bigger.
  • Colour or B&W It’s best to scan in colour to keep the richness of the photo, it also helps with the restoration of the photo to have more information in the scan.
  • Film negatives If you have the original negatives then use them if they are in good condition. Your prints would have been made from them so the negative are first generation straight from the camera.
  • Slides Often there are no prints of slides so scanning them in is a great way to bring them back to life.