Alternative to Scanning Old Photos

scanning old photos
I stumbled upon an alternative to scanning old photos sometime ago when I found myself facing the boring task of scanning old photos to digitize them. Most people are not really familiar even with the simple procedures of how to scan old photos using our Epson copier-printer-fax. So, inasmuch as I’m available at the time, I got requested to do the honors of digitizing the photos for posterity.

The problem with our current setup is that it tends to stretch our patience to the limits. The simple procedure of scanning a single regular sized picture takes more time than our patience can hold. First, you need to place the pictures (4 at most) on the flatbed, then click the pre-scan button, which then with our old office computer takes forever to complete. Then once the pre-scanning is done, you click again on the scan button, which then either takes the same amount of time, or even longer to get done. Add to this the tendency of the old computer (running on XP) to ‘hang’ sometimes which really makes me want to blast it with the power of my ring (if I were a Green Lantern). πŸ™‚

Had we an automatic photo scanner with automatic feeder however, things might have been different.

The Alternative to scanning old photos

The alternative (besides hiring an external scanning service) to scanning old photos to digital is to use our DSLR camera (we have a Canon Rebel T3i / 600D at the office) to shoot the photos. Yes, I still had to do it one by one, but it is a lot faster and more enjoyable to do.

  1. I moved a small table near the window so that I could use the best natural lighting available.
  2. Since we have a tripod, I used it to mount the camera just a few inches above the table’s surface level. In the absence of a tripod, I could just use some books and a few other objects with which I could use to raise and lean the camera on.
  3. Had we a book rest, it would have come handy. But since I can’t get ahold of one, I had to make do with some old newspapers which I arranged so that I could lean a photograph in such a way that its surface is perpendicular to the camera lens’ line of sight. I had, of course, earlier set things up so that the available light does not reflect back to the camera.
  4. Then I started shooting each picture one by one. The minimum distance between the camera lens and the picture, by the way, depends on your lens. An EFS 18-200mm IS for instance can only go as near as 45 cm. I found I can still get even nearer though, but I had to use manual focusing because AF (auto focus) fails in this case. Also, the best way to reduce camera shake and thus avoid even the tiniest blur in the resulting picture is to use the camera’s built in shutter timer.
  5. After all the photos have been photographed, I uploaded them all to the computer and proceeded to crop the edges where necessary.

alternative to scanning old photos

There! I completed the whole task in just 14.372% of the time it would have taken had I proceeded with scanning them. Ok, ok, I made that figure up. Maybe, it’s actually 12% or 15%. The only downside to the whole task is that it requires a lot of bending, which, depending on your age, you may either consider as a good physical exercise or a punishment to your back.

If you have an automatic photo scanner (e.g. Kodak s1220) that can output faster than this alternative to scanning old photos , please let me know.


  1. I’ve used the camera, also a Canon, to shoot old photos and it does a really good job, as long as you can get the lighting right. I found the best place for taking photos was outside in the shade as it offered even lighting. Shooting in direct sun resulted in some glare.

    1. Exactly, Sire. Instead of scanning old photos, I save time by shooting them with my camera. This is also what I did when Canon asked that I send them a scanned copy of my receipt in order to activate the 3-year warranty. I just took a clear shot of the receipt and sent it to them.

  2. Your solution makes a lot of common sense. To be honest I have put off digitizing my old photos because I dreaded the idea of having to scan them all as you mentioned.

    I would have thought that the image quality of taking a picture of a picture would be really lousy. You have inspired me to at least test the theory.

    Do you think it really matters whether you use a newer high resolution camera with good optics? Or could you get away with using a four year old Kodak 6MP digital camera?

    1. I think your 6MP is more than good enough for this purpose. They say high megapixels are useful only if you intend to print very large billboards and posters.

      Thanks Ted for taking time to comment. πŸ™‚

  3. ah yeah… I am so lazy to go outside of my house and find a scanner service shop.. so I usually just take photos of documents and photos haha

    1. yup, you save time, save money, indulge in whatever you find enjoyable doing, and the quality of the copies are just as good, may be even better depending on you camera skills. πŸ™‚

  4. Hi. There is one point I’d like to make regarding the matter – a professional scanning bureau (such as the one I happen to work for) can convert your photos into digital a lot faster, usually at reasonable costs (remember – time is money – in this case, the time you’d spend taking photos of your old photos). A 100 photographs can easily be converted in under half an hour. If high resolutions are not needed the process is even faster.

    1. Good point there Ash. I usually leave things I have no idea about, or where I am just lazy to do, to experts or professionals. For those who have no aptitude for photography, or have no time to do it themselves, or just want things done better, a professional scanning service should be the best option. πŸ™‚

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