This primer is for all of us regular people, who don't know Photoshop from beginning to end, and don't usually retouch our photos. While professional-level results shouldn't be expected, you may be surprised what you actually can do!
Many old photographs have suffered the same fate, and now have faded or distorted color, a lack of detail, and are covered with dust and scratches. Typically, these problems come from improper storage and/or being exposed to light and other environmental factors (even if framed or in an album). While restoring damaged photos has long been a costly endeavor, with a little know-how, you can make a huge improvement and save these stills for posterity.
Before your photos are damaged any more, you should save them in a digital format. This means scanning them in, saving and editing them on your computer, and then uploading them to a picture storage site or saving them to a backup device. (Note: Vintage/antique photos should be handled with extreme care. Some of the old printing techniques are light-sensitive, meaning that the light from your scanner may damage them. In such cases, take a no-flash photograph instead, or consult a professional.)
1: Before you begin, adjust your scanner settings to make sure you will have enough of the picture to work with. Scan in your photos at at least 300 dpi (dots per inch -- dpi refers to the amount of data stored in each linear inch of the image), and the smaller or more distorted the picture, the better it is to use a higher dpi (600 dpi and up), which will generate much larger files. Make sure your scanner's set to produce high-quality scans, and is not in fast or preview mode.
2: Clean your scanner glass as recommended by the manufacturer -- usually using a super soft cloth (such a camera-lens cleaning cloth) and no harsh chemical cleansers. Hold a flashlight to one side of the glass to help illuminate dust and streaks. Once you begin scanning photos, do your best not to touch the scanner glass. You might want to try wearing gloves -- which offer the added bonus of protecting your pictures from fingerprint oils, too.
3: Gently dust off each photo before you place it on the scanner bed. Close the scanner top slowly, so you don't disturb the photos below. (Many scanners come with software that will allow you to scan several photos at once, but will save each photo as a separate file.)
4: Save all of your original scans in a very high quality format (which will consume a lot of disk space). See below for some tips on choosing a file type.
There are lots of different ways to save your images. Here's a look at some of the most common.
After you have your original files saved, I suggest only editing copies of those images (either by copying the file before opening it, or opening an original file and immediately using "Save as" to give it a new name). Be sure to reference the above list of file formats you use while editing your pictures.
Since you're going to be removing all of these photographs from their current locations in order to scan them, be sure not to just put them back when you're done: put them in a safe place, using acid-free archival-quality materials to protect them for the future.
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