I have recently came across the blog posts of Save Your Photos initiative. I feel touched by their drive and enthusiasm to preserve life’s irreplaceable photo and video collection, and started to think I should do the same to the many old photos passed down by my deceased parents. I felt urged to let my family’s memories continue, using the latest technology to digitally convert these photos.
However, I didn’t realize there are quite a few challenges until I started to turn the thoughts to action.
The primary challenge is that a lot of these old photos are more than sixty years old. The technologies of the camera lens, film development and photo printing of the time were still developing, and the photography skills were not as advanced as now. Most of the photos were either taken crooked or fuzzy and not to mention the biggest natural killers: humidity and temperatures. These old black-and-white photos have now faded to yellow, with each photo bearing the signs of their age.
To add insult to injury, roughly 10 years ago my parents wanted to be able to regularly reminisce about their old photos, so we bought a laminator and laminated most of their favorite photos so they could be conveniently placed on the wall. At the time, we tore the photos out of old albums and unfortunately many photos came out damaged. (In the years of our parents and grandparents, they used black self-adhesive albums with the back side of the photo glued on each page and the front covered by a clear plastic film; it will stick to the photo no matter how carefully you try to remove the photo.)
Fortunately, the lamination layers have not been split like some people described on the internet. In fact, compared to other non-laminated photos, these laminated photos seem to have been slightly preserved somehow in the condition when they got laminated.
I think there should be quite a few people wanting to preserve these precious family memories like me, so I will share my experience here. If you are interested in seeing the lives and scenery of Taipei in the 1950’s, you are also welcome to follow this blog.
In the beginning, I tried the free approach: use a phone to recreate them.
I tried using a mobile phone camera to directly remake my old photos. I also downloaded Google PhotoScan App to try retaking them. Whether the photos are laminated or not, it was extremely difficult to avoid the reflections. I spent quite a bit of time on the photo retaking with my smart phone. All I got were sore hands and images that were far from being satisfactory.
Later on, I innocently thought money might buy me success in digitizing and restoring these old photos, so I took a few of my family old photos to a local photography studio to have a try. The result was even more disappointing. The photography studio simply placed my photos on their flatbed scanner to scan into digital files, then saved them to a CD-disk to give to me. The age traces of my old photos were faithfully kept in the digital files they gave me. Reflection from laminated photos are all there. Some even had thick borders where my originals do not.
The photography studio personnel told me they don’t help people with editing their digital files. They told me it was all because my photo are extremely old, the dimensions and sizes vary and were also lamented… In short, I was told it was the photos’ fault so they turned out that way.
Do I have no option but to just let these family photos drown out in the years?
I told myself not to give up, and prayed Google search could give me a solution.
Sure enough, there are photo repair specialists, but the price is not cheap. Furthermore, my family’s old photos are not that old, where I would need to spend a large sum of money to find a professional to repair these photos.
“Heaven helps those who help themselves”. This saying is true! I continued to search and found this article: [Save Life Photos] Step 4: Retake or Scan Old Photos?
It’s a pity I didn’t find this article earlier. I would have taken the path of least resistance, and suffered less expenditures.
The Plustek ePhoto scanner came as quite a surprise. It is simple to use and scans fast. I simply place one photo through at a time and it will automatically scan. No need to press any button. Afterwards, the scanned photos will appear on my computer screen, allowing me to confirm if I am pleased with them. I can always delete the photo images and rescan if I don’t like them. I was able to very quickly scan the photos of my parents’ younger years. A good tool can do more with less, and a good scanner is for sure worth the investment.
Some of my family old photos are very small, 41x30mm, and the lamination is rather thick. I originally considered buying a flatbed scanner; I didn’t expect that Plustek ePhoto scanner would be just fine.
The scanner also has what the mobile phone reproduction and the photography studio do not have. The software can automatically edit the scanned images such as adjusting the brightness and contrast for optimal look, rotating the image to correct orientation, and cropping out the ugly borders.
The photo of my parent’s younger years are mostly crooked, yellowing, and some are slightly blurred. Both of the photo retake by phone camera and the photography studio approaches simply digitize and also reproduce the same flaws of their original counterparts, but the Plustek ePhoto automatically invigorates these beautiful photos.
The software also has a lot of adjustment features, but I think that the result of its automatic imaging optimization is good enough for my scans of old photos done so far. If later on when I move to scan other photos of less well-preserved condition and the automatic imaging optimization features can’t do well, I’ll then try the advanced features of manual controls in the Plustek ePhoto software.
There is too much to say. Let’s look at some pictures!
I chose one photo that was in a relatively well preserved condition to compare. This photo was taken in year 1957 in Taipei.
The following image is what I got by using Google PhotoScan to retake this old photo.
I had taken this picture with extreme care, but I was unable to avoid the glare on the left side due to the lamination. Should I praise Google PhotoScan app for its faithful recreation?
Below is the image that I scanned using the Plustek ePhoto scanner.
The scan was reproduced just like this. I haven’t needed to edit the photo at all.
I only needed to perform one minor adjustment. Beforehand, the photo had 4 thick white borders (as shown in the above image created from Google PhotoScan retaking), which I thought it would look better without, so I used one of the Plustek ePhoto software features to crop them out.
Which image do you like?
This is another photo that was created by the Google Photoscan App.
Underneath is the same image where I used the Plustek ePhoto scanner.
The original photo was taken a little blurry, so we cannot blame the Plustek ePhoto for capturing that.
Have you noticed that the photo has also slightly straightened and that you can’t notice the laminating film?
This style of image is extremely moving and warming. It looks better than the original photo, and more importantly, I don’t need to spend any time editing the picture. This gives me confidence that I can digitize the collection of many old photos of my parents and elders in the future.
In the next article I plan to preserve my parents engagement and marriage photos, and share with everybody what a 1950’s Taipei marriage was like.