I have been doing some office cleaning, and I ran across some negatives and some old photos that I have not seen for many years. How do you preserve family photos for future generations? The negatives are hard to view. I would like to digitize them so I can see what they look like, and then I could use the digital files to create a photo history. Those of you into genealogy would find this option very appealing. Wouldn’t it be nice if our ancestors had photo books of their life?

Prints are the easiest to transfer to the digital world. Here are the options:

Option 1 is to scan them. Not all scanners are up to the task, but you can give it a try. If your scanner is part of your printer, take one of the photos and scan it. Don’t use the self-feed feature if it has this. Change the settings to scan in color at the best quality. If the photo is in black & white, use the color settings anyway. Some scanners have a sharpness better than “best” if that makes sense. You will want to create a jpeg file and not a PDF. If you can adjust the pixels, make sure to set to at least 300 pixels per inch. If you have a desktop scanner such as a ScanSnap by Fujitsu, then be careful that the photo is not bent too much during the scan, which could crack the surface of the picture. The newer ScanSnap scanner ix1500 has a straight path that does not damage the photo as it passes through the scanner.

Option 2 is to use your camera to take a picture of the picture. You will need some special equipment for this. The photo must be on a level surface such as a desk or even the floor. The light on the picture must be without any shadows falling across the image. I use window lighting during certain times of the day with excellent results. Otherwise, I use two floodlights placed about 45 degrees on opposite sides of the photo and feathered, so there are no hot spots. Do not use your flash. You will usually need a tripod for your camera (or smartphone). I have used my iPhone for this, but I like the result from my DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) better. My preferred lens is a zoom lens with mild telephoto and macro capability (This means it can be focused closer than about 3 feet). A DSLR camera allows you to make some exposure adjustments. I usually use manual settings or aperture priority. My favorite lens opening is f/8, and then let the camera select the exposure. I set the ISO (sensor sensitivity setting similar to film ASA) to 100, which delivers the sharpest image. Bracket the exposure (shoot one f-stop over, and one f-stop under the camera suggested exposure) just to be sure you have the correct exposure for the photo.

Option 3 is to carefully pack your prints into a box and send them off to a company that specializes in digital archiving. This option is the most expensive. I do recommend this option for old family movies that you have. They can also digitize negatives and slides.

What about the negatives and slides? These two formats are more challenging to digitize than pictures. First of all, they are much smaller, and secondly, you have to shine light through the negative or slide to see what is on them. They scratch easily and seem to attract dust. If you want to digitalize them yourself, then you have two options.

Option 1: Use a flatbed scanner capable of handling slides or negatives. Because the images are so small, you may want to increase the pixels per inch the highest number your scanner can deliver. Your scanner will take much longer to scan at this precision. Do not use a self-feeding scanner for this because the negatives are likely to be scratched by the scanner. Scanning negatives will require a negative holder to allow the light to go through the negative.

Option 2: Use a camera to take a picture of the slide or negative by using a lightbox. Think of how doctors used to look at x-rays, and you will understand what a lightbox is. You can purchase a lightbox at most major camera stores or Amazon for around $30 or more. Slides just need to be put on the lightbox and set your camera above the box to photograph the image. Negatives need to be flat before copying. A curled negative requires flattening with a scanning frame, or you could perhaps use masking tape. Be careful not to cover the image with the tape.

Your camera can be a smartphone or a DSLR. Again, a tripod will be necessary for the best results.

Negatives will require you to reverse the image once you photograph it. Many stand-alone photo editing programs will be able to do this reversal. Sometimes the software controlling the scanner has this capability. If you want professional results and want to spend some money, then use Lightroom with a plug-in called Negative Lab Pro.

Have fun bringing the old photos to life and share your history with your friends and relatives!

Scott Cody is a registered pharmacist and a computer consultant in pharmacy electronic medical records. Reach him at 507-456-7843 or scottcody@ToxicInAmerica.com.

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