Digitizing family photos can be a tedious task. One way to go about doing this is by scanning them using Adobe Photoshop, in order to make use of the automated "Crop and Straighten Photos" feature.
Most of us have thousands of old family pictures just sitting, collecting dust, and slowly degrading with the years. The best way to save these family treasures is to digitize them. This is the process of putting the pictures into electronic format, so they can be stored on our computer or online with one of the many file hosting services available. Digitizing photos is a major undertaking. There are companies that will scan your old photos for you, and their prices are reasonable, but if like me, you have mountains of old photos, the cost can become prohibitive.
This will leave some of us with 2 other options. Scan them with a flatbed scanner, or use a digital camera to convert them to digital files. If you choose to scan them, there are many free software tools that you can use to crop, straighten, and touch-up the photos. Some of these great free tools are Paint.Net
, and GIMP
While these tools are great for working with photos on a budget, if you can spring for Adobe Photoshop Elements (available for around $80 at the time of this writing) or the full version of Photoshop (around $700 at this time), you can make your life much easier. I have created an article describing this process in Photoshop Elements 8
. The amount of time necessary to scan, crop, straighten, and save thousands of old family photos is enough to turn many people off to the idea. Fortunately, in Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, there is a convenient tool that can save some time with this process.
Photoshop has a feature called "Crop and Straighten Photos". This is found under the File-->Automate 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 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 can find the borders of each one. I intentionally skewed one photo so we can test the functionality of the straightening ability of Photoshop:
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 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 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 "Crop and Straighten Photos" item from the File-->Automate Menu. I added a custom shortcut (F1) in my version of Photoshop. Your version will not have a shortcut by default.
You can add keyboard shortcuts from the Window-->Workspace 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 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 became confused with the blending in it. That's OK. I'll just crop 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 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 had a Hiccup
As I mentioned earlier, Photoshop 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, 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
Well, I've scanned 5 photos. It isn't much, but it is a start. Now I only have 10,000 more to go. The process can be expedited even more by setting up keyboard shortcuts. I've set up shortcuts for just about everything in this process. The only things I haven't made into shortcuts are those actions that require the mouse. Using shortcuts, I can scan about 80 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. 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.