Scanning and Archiving Old Photos

A few years ago I spent several months working on a project to digitise and archive hundreds of old family photos. These photos have been sitting around loose in boxes, stored in old photo albums, sat in houses with smokers and generally mistreated. My goal was to preserve these memories and make sure they do not fade away. He’s a few tips I picked up during this project.

Note that I am not a professional archivist or photo conservation expert. This is just a layperson’s experiences with his own project. Your results may vary


Before you start scanning you should sort through the photos and do a quick sort. I started by sorting the different sizes and styles of prints together, and trying to put them into sets.

Prints from the same camera will usually all be on the same size and type of paper, which can help identify sets of photos. Scanning sets together makes cataloguing them later much easier. Getting a rough idea of how many photos of various sizes you have makes it easier to purchase sleeves for them (more on that later).

Take a close look at the backs of the photos too. Sometimes there will be a stamp from the photo developing shop which can be used to match photos into sets. These stamps may even include a date if you are lucky.


I generally do this step as part of the scanning step below. If prints have been stored for a long time they may be dusty or dirty. I generally use a soft brush like a camera lens brush to remove any dust or fluff from prints. You can also use a soft dry cloth such as a microfiber cloth to remove finger prints, just make sure it’s clean and has no residues from cleaning chemicals on it.

I was lucky enough not to have any prints that were dirty or water damaged but I believe there are certain cleaning solutions that can be used for these prints. Just make sure you get the right type of solution for the print you have. Using the wrong type of chemical can irreparably damage prints.

Once you have the prints clean you want to keep them clean. I recommend scanning them as quickly as possible and putting them straight into an archival sleeve. Avoid handling the prints too much, hold them by the edges or use flat stamp tweezers or cotton cloves to move them around.


Just as important as keeping your prints clean is making sure the bed of your scanner is clean. Used a mild cleaning solution such as a LCD cleaner with a microfiber cloth (NOT the same one you use on the photos) or a lens brush to make sure you keep the dust and fingerprints out of your scans.

I recommend only using a flatbed scanner for old photos. Some photo shops have tray-feed style scanners which will probably mangle your prints. They’re probably fine for newer 6×4 prints but there is no way I’d use them for old precious photos. Same goes for multi-function printers with tray-feed style scanners and portable roller-type scanners. Flatbed is best.

I scanned all my photos on a Canon PIXMA MG6150, which has an optical resolution of 4800 x 4800 dpi. Its not the best scanner in the world; there are faster scanners with better resolution and built in image processing, but for my purposes it did the job. If you have a multifunction printer, then the scanner in it will probably do the trick. There’s no need to buy a new $1000 scanner for this (unless you really want to).

Your scanner may have different settings to mine, but I set mine up to scan in tiff format at 600ppi. This resolution gives a good balance between quality, scan time and file size. Saving in lossless tiff format avoids problems with jpg compression artifacts which can ruin small photos.

Scan your photos one at a time. It may be tempting to lay half a dozen small prints on the bed and scan them in one hit. I tried this and it ended up being more trouble than its worth. You waste a lot of time cropping these files into individual images, it’s easy to lose track of order and numbering. It can also be difficult to get multiple photos perfectly square on the bed, due to bent prints etc. This means you must straighten them in post-processing, and every time you rotate a digital image, you lose some quality. So, you are better off doing one print at a time and lining it up in the very corner of the bed to make sure it’s square.

Grandmas love writing on the backs of photographs (and sometimes the fronts!), so make sure you scan the backs of these photos as well. This will help with identifying dates, individuals, locations and events later. Some photo shops also used stamps on each print they processed, which can also be a clue as to date and location.


Once your photos are scanned you need to protect them. I used products from an Australian company called Albox who produces archival folders and polypropylene sleeves. You should be able to find these kinds of materials locally.

Remember when we got a rough count of what sizes of photos we have? Well now you can order your sleeves accordingly. Very small prints can be placed in collector card sleeves. Medium sized prints need to be placed in appropriate sized sleeves. Very large photos can by mounted on A4 card and placed in an A4 sleeve.

Often you will find that you cannot find sleeves that perfectly match the size of your prints. In these cases I used black, acid-free board, cut to the size of the sleeve, and used acid-free mounting corners to fix the photos to the card. Card goes into the sleeve, and your photo looks awesome.

A word on sleeve materials. There are four main materials that plastic sleeves can be made of, polyester (PET), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE) and polyvinyl chloride

  • PET – Also known as Mylar or Melinex, it is the most stable and inert plastic and should last hundreds of years. Very clear and the most expensive option
  • PP – Cheaper than PET, not as clear but still very inert. May not last as long as PET
  • PE – Cheaper again, thinner but still inert and long lasting. Ziploc bags are usually made of PE
  • PVC – AVOID – Stiffer, heavier, smelly and greasy feeling. These products are not archive safe and may damage your prints.

Make sure any backing paper or card you use is acid-free. Most scrapbook suppliers have acid-free paper and card. I started off buying mine from the archival materials supplier but then found the same stock at Officeworks much cheaper.

Self-adhesive dots, stickers, removeable tapes etc. are not recommended for holding prints onto backing cards. Even if they are labeled archival or acid-free, these adhesives may still leech onto your prints over time. Indirect mounting techniques are preferred, such as photo corners. With corners the adhesive touches the card only, and the print is held in place without ever touching adhesive.

Cataloguing and Restoring

Once you have your prints scanned and stored, it’s time to catalogue them and touch up and faded or damaged prints. I’m going to leave this for another post (or two) for the time being.

albox black 40mm archival plastic binder and cover
Albox 40mm archival plastic binder and cover
Photos in 6" by 4" polypropylene sleeves
6″ x 4″ Polypropylene sleeves
A4 Polypropylene Sleeve. With black acid-free backing card and acid-free photo corners (top left corner is slightly mis-placed)
A4 Polypropylene Sleeve
With black acid-free backing card and acid-free photo corners (top left corner is slightly mis-placed)
Various sized small prints in Polypropylene collector card sleeves. Custom cut acid-free backing card with photo corners.
Various sized small prints in Polypropylene collector card sleeves. Custom cut acid-free backing card with photo corners.

Some examples of restored images:

Torn edge and crease restoration
Dust, scratch and stain removal
Colour balance and contrast enhancement
Torn edge and crease restoration
Dust, scratch and stain removal
Colour balance and contrast enhancement
Torn edge and crease restoration
Dust, scratch and stain removal
Colour balance and contrast enhancement
Writing removal
Torn edge and crease restoration
Dust, scratch and stain removal
Colour balance and contrast enhancement
Writing removal
Torn edge restoration
Dust and scratch removal
Colour balance and contrast enhancement
Torn edge restoration
Dust and scratch removal
Colour balance and contrast enhancement

Hope somebody finds this information helpful.


  • Use a scanner, not a camera
  • Scan in lossless format – as high resolution as practical
  • Scan photos one at a time
  • Use only archival quality storage materials

Context is Key

A frame from the viral Haiti UFO video

One of the most important things to consider when evaluating the legitimacy of information found on the internet is context. The original context of a piece of information includes vital details about its creation or distribution, such as who created it, and why. It’s common for information on the internet to be distributed without its original context. This results in the information being misinterpreted and misattributed, as people try to fill in the gaps for themselves. This is often how urban legends get started. A story with a small grain of truth to it is distributed without context, new contexts are invented.

Information distributed without context is prone to misinterpretation

Continue reading “Context is Key”

The End is not Nigh

The End is Nigh, at least if you believe Harold Camping. Camping, a former engineer and Christian broadcaster, used numerological principles to calculate the date of the Rapture , in which “the Elect” are taking up to heaven, and non-believers are left behind. The date that Camping chose for the rapture was May 21st, 2011, based on various calculations taken from the Bible. On this date all of the true followers of Christ (about 3% of the population) would be called into Heaven. Everyone who have ever died will be raised from their graves, those who died as saved Christians will be taken up to heaven, the unsaved will have their lifeless bodies scattered across the earth. A series of massive earthquakes would occur around the globe, at 6pm local time. Exactly 5 months later, on October 21st, 2011, the world will be completely destroyed.

Naturally, May 21st came and went, and nothing happened. In a statement made by Camping on May 22nd, he was “flabbergasted” that the Rapture did not occur, and was seeking answers as to why. On May 23rd, he made a statement on his Open Forum radio program, saying that May 21st was actually an “invisible” judgement day, in which all humanity was judged spiritually. The “true” date of the rapture is October 21st, today.
Continue reading “The End is not Nigh”

Lies, Damn Lies and Photoshop – Update

Occupy Wall Street Crowd 2011 Shankbone

I decided to post a follow up to my previous post on the Occupy Wall Street photoshopped image, to clarify a couple of details and dispel some of the rumours going around.

Firstly, the origins of the image itself. The original photoshopped image was produced by digital artist Scott Lickstein, who intended it to represent a “virtual 99% turnout”, ie what the OWS protests would look like if all of the people supporting the movement online could turn up at the protests in person (thanks Terrance for the info). Whilst Lickstein’s other work certainly has a political bent to it, this piece was never intended to mislead people into believing it to be a real image. I mention this because it appears that Lickstein has had accusations levelled at him of deliberately faking the image to misinform the public and/or discredit the movement. To the best of my knowledge this is not the case.

Continue reading “Lies, Damn Lies and Photoshop – Update”

Lies, Damn Lies and Photoshop

I’ve posted a follow-up post to this article to clarify a few details and put to rest a few rumours.

A fellow skeptic (President of the Granite State Skeptics Travis Roy) recently posted a request on the Skeptoid mailing list regarding an image that has been making the rounds on Facebook. The image is an aerial shot of a supposedly huge turnout for the Occupy Wall St protest against corruption and greed. What appears to be thousands of protesters clog the streets of New York near the City Hall, with a caption stating:

Occupy Wall Street Turnout: My TV says nothing. The only thing I hear is its [sic] a small 100 person turn out. Turn off your TV. Ask your friends. Dont [sic] trust the media they lie!

After a request from Wettstein (and a warning from my hosting provider) I have removed his plagiarised propaganda image from my site. However the original can be found on Google Image Search.

My skeptical colleague saw this image and immediately smelled something fishy. Travis noticed that the image was an aerial photo of New York City Hall, whereas the protests were happening several blocks away at Liberty Square. He sent the image to the mailing list for other opinions. To my eyes the mass of protesters looked out of place, the crowd looked too uniform and dense to be real. I took the image into Photoshop to see if I could pick up any pattern to the image. My original thought was that they had used the clone tool to make a smaller group of people look much larger. Not being able to find anything obvious, I started to wonder where the background plate may have come from. Immediately Google Maps came to mind. I looked up the location featured in the image, and then I saw it: Continue reading “Lies, Damn Lies and Photoshop”

Answering The 15 “Unanswerable” Questions for Evolutionists

Charles DarwinAfter my post a couple of weeks ago about Not Being a Dick, I got into a spirited debate with a colleague on Facebook with regards to skepticism and evolution. He challenged me to answer these 15 “unanswerable” questions for evolutionists which were devised by the Creation Ministries International website. I was unable to devote the time to properly answer the questions at the time and so I have decided to post my response in the form of a separate article. I’ll admit some of the questions I was unable to answer, partly because currently science does not have the answers, and partly because they are beyond my own personal knowledge. But here goes.

Continue reading “Answering The 15 “Unanswerable” Questions for Evolutionists”

In the News

A selection of stories on medicine, skepticism and religion in the media from the last couple of weeks.

Alternative medicines in Australia not receiving proper testing and approval by TGA – “A report released last week by the Australian National Audit Office found that up to 90 per cent of alternate medicines on sale in this country failed to comply with health and safety rules.”

Comment: This is hardly surprising. Its been well known for years that so called “alternative medicines” are not subject to the same rigorous standards as conventional medicine. The mere fact that treatments like homeopathy are still stocked in many pharmacies is evidence that the industry monitoring is pitiful.

Tribunal bans ‘smash’ doctor – “A Bankstown GP who called himself the “Spinalmigrainologist” has been banned from practising medicine after using a dangerous “smash through” technique to try to heal patients…Among the grievances were that Dr Gorman forcefully adjusted the back of a five-year-old boy and supplied drugs to a morphine addict.”

Comment: This sounds like chiropractic on steroids. Not only are his treatments based on no scientific evidence but his actions are clearly unethical (supplying opiates to an addict? – nice job)

Vatican admits ‘grave failures’ in Ireland abuse scandal – “The Vatican today acknowledged “grave failures” over the handling of a child sex abuse scandal involving priests in southern Ireland.”

Comment: I’d say that’s an understatement. The mere fact that the Vatican has a document which issues orders of secrecy when it comes to sex abuse accusations indicates that these “failures” are in fact deliberate and institutionalised.

Is awe still possible in a secular age ? – “In a Nietzschean world without God or gods, is enchantment still an option? In a world bereft of the Platonic forms of beauty and goodness, in a world where we “know” that love and wonder boil down to brain chemistry and synaptic firings, is it pure superstition to hold on to a sense of transcendence? In other words, can a secular world be re-enchanted?”

Comment: An interesting discussion on the idea of awe and non-belief. I completely agree with the author’s opinion. Awe and wonder are certainly possible in a secular world; the existence or non-existence of God doesn’t detract from the beauty of a sunset, the delicate dance of the planets, and infinite depths of the cosmos, or the intricacies of the processes of life.

The Muppets and Mental Illness

Jim  Henson’s famous creations The Muppets have been entertaining children for decades. The Muppets are an internationally recognised troupe of puppet characters that Henson created in the 1960’s, which became an integral part of the children’s television show Sesame Street in 1969. Since that time the loveable characters have appeared on their own TV show, feature films, cartoons, TV talk shows and endless streams of merchandising products.

What is less well known about Jim Henson’s characters is the fact that nearly all of the seemingly innocent, loveable characters hide a darker, more serious aspect. They all suffer from some form of mental illness or personality disorder.

Continue reading “The Muppets and Mental Illness”

The Gay Marriage Debate

The issue of gay marriage,  or marriage equality in Australia has become a hot topic in recent months. Prominent politicians have made statements about their personal opinions, the community has been polled for their perspectives, bills have been put forth to the Senate to try and amend the Marriage Act, there have been protests and demonstrations and a lot of vitriolic discussion on the Internet about this controversial issue.

I’d like to lay out some of the main arguments that have been put forth by opponents of gay marriage, and explain why I believe every one of these arguments is flawed and without merit.

Continue reading “The Gay Marriage Debate”

Try not to be a dick

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Phil Plait – Don’t Be A Dick on Vimeo

Phil Plait gave this talk at The Amazing Meeting 8 in Las Vegas on July 8th, 2010. The talk attracted a lot of criticism from members of the skeptical community. Some ironically called it a dick-​​move on Phil’s part, due mostly to the fact that he did not provide specific examples of dickish behaviour, despite his claim that it’s becoming common amongst the community. Many renowned and highly respected skeptics are known for being overly terse and a little bit dickish when it comes to debating their opponents, and it seems that it is becoming fashionable to follow in their prodigious footsteps. Continue reading “Try not to be a dick”