Digitizing family photos can be a tedious task. One way to go about doing this is by scanning them with Adobe Photoshop Elements in order to make use of the automated "Divide Scanned Photos" feature.
Photos are one of a genealogist’s greatest treasures. They give us a glimpse of our ancestors in a way that straight facts like dates and names cannot. These photos will not last forever, though. As the years go by, they will gradually deteriorate and fade, especially if they are stored with newspapers, which leach acid into the photos. The best way to preserve these photos is to digitize them.
This is the second article in our series on digitizing photos. In the first article, we talked about using Adobe Photoshop CS3
for the “Crop and Straighten” tool. If you can’t afford the full version of Photoshop, as many people can’t, there is another option. Photoshop Elements 8 includes a “Divide Scanned Photos” feature which will do the same basic thing for you. Photoshop Elements is a small fraction of the cost of its full-featured brother, but for our purposes in this article, the necessary features are still available.
Photoshop Elements 8’s "Divide Scanned Photos” is found under the Image menu. The idea here is that you can place multiple photos on the scanner and scan them into the program. Once there, you can run this tool on the image containing your photos and Photoshop Elements will try to split them into individual images and rotate them so that they are straight. Here's how to do it:
Step 1 - Place Images on Scanner
Choose a few of your photos and place them face down on the glass of your scanner. Be sure to leave some room between each photo so that Photoshop Elements can find the borders of each one. I intentionally skewed one photo so we can test the functionality of the straightening ability of Photoshop Elements:
Step 2- Open the Scanning Software from the File Menu
Choose your scanner from the items under File-->Import. If your scanner does not show up, make sure it is turned on and connected to the computer. You might have to close and reopen Photoshop Elements in order for your scanner to be recognized if it was turned off or not connected when you started the program:
Step 3- Preview the Scanned Images
In the scanning screen, choose "preview", in order to help the scanner determine the area from which to scan. This will also help you see if any of the photos moved when you shut the lid, which can happen sometimes:
Step 4 - Check the Alignment of the Photos
If any photos are overlapping, reposition them:
Step 5 - Adjust DPI Settings
If you have an HP scanner, you can click the link which says "Adjust the quality of the scanned picture". This will allow you to change the DPI settings. If you scan several times, you can just click the "Custom Settings" radio button and the program will remember your DPI settings from last time. Most scanners will have this ability, so even if your screen looks different on these steps, you should be able to create the same settings for your scan. I use 600 DPI for important photos. It takes a little longer to scan, but once complete, you have a higher quality image:
Step 6 - Scan the Photos
Click OK on the DPI settings if it is open and then click "Scan". Now you wait:
Step 7 - Examine the Scanned Image
You should now see all of the photos you scanned in one image. I am betting that Photoshop Elements will have some trouble with the top, right photo. There isn't enough contrast as the image sort of fades into white, which is the color of the scanner's lid. To correct this, you could place a sheet of paper behind the photos that will provide more contrast. In this case, I could use a piece of black construction paper or another dark color. I will just stick with the white background however, so that I can show the results:
The top left photo is of my grandfather and older brother, Chris. The top right is an old photo of my father. Middle left is my childhood home. Middle right is my father and his brother, John in 1952. On the bottom is a photo of my mother and father.
Step 8 - Crop and Straighten Photos
Choose the "Divide Scanned Photos" item from the Image Menu.
Step 9 - Wait in Anticipation
Step 10 - Examine the Resulting Images
Your original scanned image will remain open, and copies of the individual images will appear. The individual images will open in windows in Photoshop Elements on the top left. They will be stacked up. I have moved them aside and placed them around the original image in this screen shot:
As anticipated, the picture of my father didn't turn out so well. Photoshop Elements became confused with the blending in it. That's OK. I'll just crop and rotate that photo manually. I still saved a good amount of time because I don't have to manually crop and straighten the others. The picture of my parents at the bottom that I placed on the scanner crooked was nicely straightened for me. Be sure to examine your images closely, as sometimes Photoshop Elements will crop out part of your photos, especially if one or more edges of a photo are a similar color as the background.
Step 11 - Manually Edit Photos in the Original Image if Photoshop Elements had a Hiccup
As I mentioned earlier, Photoshop Elements isn't perfect, and sometimes it doesn't process a photo properly. You can play around with the photos and background colors if it is way off on most of the photos, or you can just manually edit them. I am just going to crop the original scan down to the photo of my father and rotate it slightly, since that was the only mistake in this scan:
Step 12 - Save the Individual Photos
Here is the resulting image after the crop. Now we just save the images. Do yourself a favor and make the extra effort to give the saved photos meaningful file names. This will be a big gift to yourself, as you are already working with them anyway.
Step 13 - Repeat
The process is tedious, but once you get the hang of it, you can improve the speed at which you digitize the photos. With Photoshop Elements, I can process about 60 photos/hour. That's not too bad. I could go even faster if I used a lower DPI setting, like 300, but I figured that as long as I am scanning them, I might as well make them high resolution. Once you get used to it, this whole process only takes a couple of minutes per scan. I have set up 2 scanners and computers, so that while one computer is scanning, I can crop, straighten and save the images on the other.
So there you have it. Scanning multiple images simultaneously with Photoshop or Photoshop Elements is not that hard. If you want to digitize your photos and save some money, this is a good way to do it. Feel free to add any tips or techniques you have found useful in the comments.