Techniques for scanning old damaged prints. : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I have tried to scan some old B&W prints from the family assets. Some are in poor condition and I see that every scratch and blemish are magnified so heavily that it is almost impossible to have a good scan. Have some of you used tricks that help getting acceptable results? Is some sort of wet scanning a possibility for prints as it is for slides? I am not familiar with anything else than RC papers, but would washing and hot pressing the old prints mend all the tiny scratches? Another possibility I have thought of would be to reproduce the prints on film or with a digital camera, making sure all reflections that emphasize the scratches are absent from the print. Any experience?

-- Paul Schilliger (, February 01, 2002


I would scan them and just do the retouching work in Photoshop. If you want, send me a copy and I'll do a quick job to show what you can do.

-- Scott Walton (, February 01, 2002.

That's what I would suggest as for the prints themselves, just leave them alone...don't rewash them or reprocess or anything...that's a bad move with old prints...If they're curled up, or it seems like you have to force them flat to scan them, proceed carefully...if you have to force them flat, you may risk cracking the emulsion. We use both a flatbed scnner and a digital camera on a copystnd for this type of thing...although these are for down & dirty access prints---we're still film based. If the prints are silvered out or heavily textured (like a tweed type pattern, or pebble sheen etc.), cross polarization is handy to knock out the reflections and cut back on flare, surface patterns etc. In this case, a film camera will be better because of the hefty exposure increase associated with placing polarizing screens on both the lights and the lens....figure about adding 4-5 stops to the exposure....strobes are good for this, over tungsten on the copystand. Uhm, if you use a copystand, whether for digital or film, make sure you flag off the camera itself with a suitable sized piece of black paper/foamcore you don't see the reflection of the camera...the ceiling & walls around you, and yourself in the actual print...shoot onto a black surface--no flare etc...

When we scan or shoot film or anything, we place a Kodak color bar alongside the original to give it scale, and a standard to either correct the film/print against, or in the case of scanners, if you use the grayscale portion of the ruler, you can set your white and black points off this as a reference. In the end, just crop it out.

But don't rewet them, immerse them in a liquid, or do anything like that to them...old prints change as they'll probably ruin them if you actually try to "restore" them. Another thing to maybe worry about, would be if they were extremely brittle or fragile...flatbed scanners are like copy machines--they can put out _alot_ of light and heat....and the pressure of closing the lid on them as well can be bad's for this reason why archives etc. use digital cameras on copystands for this type of work...hope this helps...p.s. there are tons of books out there on doing this in p-shop etc...alot of genealogy groups offer workshops as well, if you're doing geneaology you might want to check with the public libraries (if they have a geneaology wing) or local historical societies in your town to see if they offer any...

-- DK Thompson (, February 01, 2002.

Here's a sample link to a geneology type p-shop page...

we don't actually do this type of thing's a link to our digitization project....there are alot of links inside here to technical papers on scanning, workflow etc. I'll bet your state has a similar program as well...just about all of them do now.

-- DK Thompson (, February 01, 2002.

Thank you for the advice! Maybe I should have mentioned that the problematic images are so damaged that even Photoshop can do little to restore them. The difficulty is when large dark areas that have many surface scratches. When scanned, they appear like a web of clear lines all over, making it impossible to use the cloning tool. Using the density tools to darken the lines works but denaturate the gradation of tones. I will stick with Mr Thompson advice and photograph them instead of scanning. It is then easier to avoid the reflections and obtain plain blacks. Thanks also for warning me against washing old prints.

-- Paul Schilliger (, February 01, 2002.

I am working on scanning hundreds of glass slides and negs taken by my great, great grandfather. The condition of the originals varies from pristine to horribly bad. I scan each in "as is", do my retouching in Photoshop and archive both the original scan and retouched version to CD. If you're interested in looking as some for examples, you can find them here. Warning: Although some of the images have historical value, most are family photos and will probably bore you to death. :-)

-- Scott Bacon (, February 01, 2002.

Wow, Scott! Seeing these pictures really makes me think that we have lost lost something with the advent of SLR and the 1 hour labs. Who would hire a professional photographer for some family shots in our days? And the kids would probably have to get their GameBoys to stay quiet...

-- Paul Schilliger (, February 01, 2002.

Scott, nice site...hey, at least your family gives you glass plates- my relatives just unload all their nitrate negs and aging acetate on's very hard to escape the genealogists in your family once they find out you do it for a living.....I wouldn't downplay the importance of family photos though....depending on your community, even the most mundane photo may have some's nice when they're in great shape, or have some redeeming compositional value to them, but I'd say over half the stuff I copy for work is in bad shape, or would be just a "snapshot"....and you should see some of the stuff I've seen .... the worst thing I think I've seen was an 8x10 neg that looked like it was solarized during development, and then not washed long enough... the studio kept it anyways, and it turns up in deep storage about 90 yrs. later...only now it's part of a collection so you can't get rid of it...can't use it either...oh, and then there's the time recently when someone wanted us to copy a single frame off a yellowed 35mm contact sheet....negs were long gone, and all that was left was this lousy contact...we didn't do it, but I have copied alot of very small, poor quality images that were 35mm frame sized (828 film, I think)...and had to make 16x20s etc. off them....I could tell you horror stories all day about lousy prints and deteriorated negs is very rare to actually get a "good" print or neg or plate, if they're old.....

my opinions as always.

-- DK Thompson (, February 01, 2002.

Paul and DK....beforme my mother passed away she asked me to digitize the roughly 1000 images of our family album. While doing this for roughly the better part of a year, I became in awe of the craftsmanship by professional photographers who did these family photos that in some cases were close to 100 hundred years old.

I'm going to send you both j-pegs of some of this craftsmanship, which I'll have on my website. I know you'll enjoy them

-- Jonathan Brewer (, February 01, 2002.

Here's one that may be fun to look at, from a 5x7 glass neg:

-- David Stein (, February 02, 2002.

Thanks! Looks as it's great fun to revive those old pictures, especially when family is concerned. Well, when I'm done with the heap of prints and negatives, I'll tackle the Super8 to DVD transfer. Maybe I should consider an early retirement ;-)

-- Paul Schilliger (, February 02, 2002.

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