How to Scan Old Family Photos

How to Scan Old Family Photos

Scanning your family photos has many advantages: since the originals may fade or become damaged over time, digitizing helps preserve them. It also makes it easy to share and organize them. When you upload them to MyHeritage and tag your family members, you add color and character to your family tree. And, of course, you get the added bonus of being able to use MyHeritage In Color™, our colorization tool for black and white photos.

In this article, we’ll share some tips and best practices for scanning old family photos.

Scanner options

High-quality flatbed scanners are the gold standard for photo digitization. These are the flat scanners that look a bit like copy machines: you place your photos on a clear scanning surface, lower the lid, and use scanning software on the machine or a connected computer to execute the scan and upload the image.

These types of scanners create optimal conditions for a good scan while protecting your photos from damage. However, there are a few disadvantages:

  • They can be expensive. Some printers come with built-in scanners, but the quality may vary.
  • Scanning photos with a flatbed scanner can be time-consuming, especially when you’re scanning large batches of photos. Depending on the software, it may take time to upload the images to your computer, edit them, and then upload them to MyHeritage.

Another option is the sheet-fed scanner: a scanner that pulls a document through a feed and scans it as the image passes through. We do not recommend this type of scanner for old photographs, as they may be damaged as they’re pulled through the feed. The scans produced by this type of scanner tend to be lower-quality anyway.

The cheapest and simplest option is to use a scanner app on your smartphone. Conveniently, the MyHeritage app has a built-in scanner that scans your photos and saves them directly to your MyHeritage library, where you can tag them, edit details, and, of course, colorize them. This is the fastest and easiest way to get your old black and white photos scanned and colorized.

Smartphone scanner apps do more than simply take a picture of your photo. The MyHeritage app has a cropping and perspective-fixing tool that allows you to avoid glare and shadows and fix distortion. With a good smartphone camera, your scan can come out just as good as one produced by a high-quality flatbed scanner.

Accessing the MyHeritage photo scanner

If you haven’t downloaded the MyHeritage app already, search for it on the App Store or Google Play and download it. When you open it, you’ll be prompted to sign in.

Once signed in, tap the Photos icon on the bottom of the home screen. Then tap the “+” button on the bottom right of the screen and select “Scan photos & docs.”

The next screen will open the camera. You may see an orange overlay that indicates where the app detects a photograph or document.

Getting the perfect shot

Protecting your photos

If your photos are covered by protective clear plastic, you may achieve better results by removing them, but only do so if you’re confident that it won’t damage them. If you’re not sure, just leave them in the plastic and use the techniques mentioned below to avoid glare and reflections.

Be sure to place your photos on a clean, dry surface so they don’t get stained or water-damaged.

Lighting conditions

In addition to being clean and dry, make sure the surface you’re placing your photos on is flat and well-lit. The best results will be achieved using indirect natural sunlight from a nearby window, but you can also use artificial light sources.

Avoid using the flash when scanning photos or laminated documents, as this will create a glare effect. The MyHeritage app allows you to toggle the flash using this icon:

 

By default, it will be set to go off automatically when needed. If it does go off automatically, that’s a good sign that you need more light — but you can always turn off the flash by tapping the icon until it looks like this:

 

Glare, reflections, and shadows

The MyHeritage photo scanner has a cropping tool that corrects the proportions when a photo is scanned from an angle rather than from directly above. This is important, because when you scan a photo from directly above, you may encounter glare, reflections, or shadows from nearby light sources and objects.

If your shadow is falling over the photo or you’re noticing some glare or reflections, play with the angles and tilt the camera in different directions until you’re able to capture the image without them. You can experiment with moving the photo around, too, as the angle at which the light hits it may also make a difference. Don’t worry if the perspective doesn’t look quite right now — that will be fixed when you crop the photo.

Focus

Make sure the camera is focused on the photo to obtain a sharp, clear image. Sometimes tapping the screen on the spot where you’d like it to focus will help. Otherwise, move the camera a little closer or further and wait until the image on your screen appears sharp and in focus. Note that the camera will automatically adjust the focus when you hit the “Capture” button, so try to hold the phone as still as possible while the image is being captured.

If you’re not happy with the image you’ve captured, you can always try again by tapping the “back” arrow.

Cropping and touching up your photo

On the cropping screen, you’ll see an orange overlay indicating the area where the app detects a photo or document. You can adjust it by dragging the borders closer to the photo with your finger, or touching and dragging the corners of the overlay, using the crosshairs that appear to mark the exact corner of the photo.

Once the orange overlay fits perfectly over your photo, tap “Next.”

On the next page, your photo will appear cropped, with the perspective fixed. If it’s sideways or upside-down, tap the rotate button on the top of the screen until it’s right-side-up.

You can also add a filter by tapping the filter icon at the top of the screen and selecting the filter you want. The MyHeritage app offers two filters: “Document” for black and white documents and “Vivid” for making the colors brighter. If your photo is black and white and you’re planning to colorize it, we recommend leaving it as is.

When you’re done, tap the orange check mark on the upper right corner of the screen. This will save the scanned photo to your MyHeritage photo library.

Colorizing and editing details

Tap the photo in your library to open the image. At the top of the screen, you’ll see the rainbow-colored “Colorize” icon. Simply tap it to colorize a black-and-white photo.

It’s a good idea to tag the people in the photos and associate them with people in your tree. To tag an individual, tap the “Tag” icon — it will turn orange to indicate that you’re in tagging mode. Tap the face of the person you wish to tag. In the dialogue box that pops up, begin typing the name of the individual, and select the correct name when it appears in the list. When you’re done tagging, tap the “Tag” icon again (it will turn white again).

It’s also a good idea to add as many details as you can about the photo, such as where and when it was taken. To do so, tap the three dots at the upper right corner of the screen to open a menu, and tap “Edit photo info.” On the next screen, you can enter a title, date, place, and description for the photo. When you’re done, tap the orange check mark.

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