Life hack

How to photograph photographs

This article was co-authored by Adam Kealing. Adam Kealing is a Professional Photographer based in Austin, Texas. He specializes in general wedding, destination wedding, and engagement photoshoots. Adam has over 11 years of photography experience. His work has been featured in Green Wedding Shoes, Style Me Pretty, Once Wed, and Snippet Ink. His work has won numerous awards with Fearless Photographers and Masters of Wedding Photography.

There are 9 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 92,337 times.

Do you have old photos at home that you would love to share with friends and family? Or are you looking for a way to declutter some of those boxes that are full of unorganized photos? Learning about the different ways you can photograph old photos will help you decide how to digitize those keepsakes so you can easily access them and share them with others!

  • The app will show a yellow box and all you need to do is line your document up within the yellow box. When it’s aligned, press the camera button to take a photo. The app will automatically correct for any tilting.
  • You can take multiple scans in a row. After you tap “Keep Scan,” it returns to the scanning page so you can keep working.
  • Tap “Save” once you are done to return to your main documents page.
  • You can edit photos from the app by clicking on the scanned image. You can crop and change color and orientation, and you can share the photo directly from the Notes app.
  • With the app open, point the camera at the photo you want to capture. The app will augment 4 dots over the image and will direct you to hold the camera over each dot for several moments. This won’t take more than 2 minutes, if that.
  • This app detects the edges of the photo for you automatically so you don’t have to worry about cropping.
  • The app will remove any glare for you automatically, so you can start taking photos without much prep work.
  • The app will combine the photos you took from each augmented circle and will create a single, glare-free image.
  • Some apps to check out are Photomyne, TurboScan or Shoebox. Some of these do cost money ($1.99 to $4.99), so check out their functions carefully to make sure they’ll meet your needs before committing to one.
  • Once you choose an app to use, download it from your phone’s app store and follow the guide it gives you when you first open it. Most apps give step-by-step instructions on how to capture and modify images.
  • If purchasing a tripod, look for one where the center column can be reversed. This is how you can get that upside-down camera angle. [5] X Research source
  • Set the tripod either on the ground or on a sturdy table. The goal is to minimize as much camera shake as possible. [6] X Research source
  • Flash photography will give you captured image a glare.
  • Turn on lamps or use natural light to brighten the room.
  • A lot of times your digital camera will automate these settings for you, but don’t be afraid to manually change them to see the different results. You may be surprised at the quality difference from one aperture size to another!
  • Try using a few different settings once you have your lighting set up. This way you can decide which ISO setting will be best for the quality you are looking for.
  • Once your scanner is turned on and connected to your computer, you can follow instructions and feed one photo after another into the scanner without pausing in between images.
  • If choosing this option, it helps to put your photos in order ahead of time. Images will be stored in the order they are scanned, so taking some time to arrange them ahead of time will save you more time once the scanning is done.
  • Lay up to 4 photos on the scanner glass at a time to scan.
  • Most scanners will have a button you can press to indicate the photos are ready to be scanned. Press this button and watch your images get uploaded to your computer!
  • DiJiFi, Legacybox, iMemories, or EverPresent are well-reviewed companies to check out.
  • When packing up your photos to mail, put them in plastic bags before putting them into a box. This will keep them dry if the box gets wet in transit. This can also help you organize the photos before sending them off. [18] X Research source
  • Use a sturdy box for shipping—you don’t want it to get crushed and leave you with bent or damaged photos!
  • The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) maintains a code of ethics and curriculum for Certified Professional Organizers (CPOs). Look for someone who is certified by the NAPO when deciding who to hire [20] X Research source

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About This Article

If you have old photographs you want to preserve, there are a few different ways you can make digital copies of them. One way is to lay the photos on a large white piece of paper one at a time and take a photo of them with your camera. Make sure you light the room well and turn off your camera’s flash for the best results. If you have a good quality camera on your phone, you can also use a photo scanning app like PhotoScan, Photomyne, or TurboScan. If you have an iPhone with IOS 11, use the note app’s “Scan documents” feature. Alternatively, scan your photos with a scanner or all-in-one printer. For an easy option, take your photos to a local photo shop so they can digitize them for you. For more tips, including how to set up your camera for the best quality photos, read on!

Every now and again, Damien is given old, fragile photographs to be painstakingly restored.

Generally he scans them (sometimes in a few different pieces) but sometimes they’re too big for the scanner, or are too fragile to be scanned. In those instances he needs me to photograph them for him instead, and he asked me to share some tips on how to do this.

My equipment setup comprises of:

  • Camera on a tripod (essential for this type of work)
  • Use of a camera release cable if you have one (if not, try hard to trip the shutter gently to avoid camera shake)
  • 50mm prime lens (to avoid any distortion, see below for more info)
  • Get the shot in focus using the middle autofocus point, and once you’ve done that set your lens to manual focus

In terms of lens choice, you’ll need to choose a focal length that will let you physically capture the entire historic photo (unless you plan to photograph it in sections and piece them together in Photoshop). Barrel distortion from using too wide a lens should be avoided as it’s very hard to correct later. Wherever possible, I use a 50mm prime lens, as when I combine it with my full frame sensor camera, it gives me the standard view of the human eye, with no perspective distortion at all.

Make sure your set up is in an area with no strong directional lighting that will cause a hotspot to appear on your image. This is particularly important if the photo is under glass, or has a reflective/glossy surface. Don’t be afraid to set up indoors; just make sure you choose a shutter speed that gives you correct exposure, which will be a fairly long one if the light level is low. I never worry about colour drift from a long exposure time. Most of the time the photograph is completely discoloured from age anyway! I let Damien handle colour correction later in Photoshop.

I place the image flat, usually on the ground, with the tripod over the top of it. This is the best option for a really fragile photo. Alternatively you can lean it as vertically as possible against a wall, which I generally do for really large photos. Occasionally I’ve used a blackboard easel as well. Make sure your camera lens is not tilted on an angle compared with the plane of the photograph. These are the camera settings I use:

  • ISO: lowest possible (usually 100)
  • Image mode: Raw
  • Camera Mode: Av and choose a small aperture – no larger than f/11
  • Avoid using any on-camera sharpening settings

If it’s a really long exposure, I either use a viewfinder cover, or hover my hand over the viewfinder (without touching the camera) to make sure I don’t get any light leak. Take a shot and check your histogram and make sure you haven’t got clipping at either end. If you do, consider bracketing a stop either side and check again.

Fill the frame as best you can. On the other hand, your viewfinder may not be 100% accurate to don’t cut it too fine, unless you don’t really need to capture the edges. Take a shot, check your results.

If you follow these guidelines, you can photograph your treasured old photos wherever you are in the world, keep the original in your possession and send the digital image file to be restored. The finished result can be sent back to you to be printed at your favourite lab.

If you have a question about this article, please feel free to post it in Ask Damien.

Many of us are unhappy to discover that our old family photos are deteriorating with age—especially color photos. The best way to preserve them may be to rephotograph these aging prints with our digital cameras in order to archive them permanently in stable, high-resolution form. I find that a basic tabletop copywork setup is a great way to digitize old photos, and it doesn’t take much to master. Done well, it’s even faster and more effective than digitizing with a flatbed scanner.

To start, clear a large work area such as a dining room table or even a clean spot on a hard-surface floor. A copy stand is ideal, as it easily positions the camera parallel to the surface of the floor or table. But a tripod works just as well as long as you set it up correctly. You’ll need to position the legs so that they won’t create shadows over the artwork you’re photographing. Beyond that, simply rotate the tripod head so that the camera is facing straight down, and use a simple bubble level across the lens in each axis to ensure it’s perfectly parallel to the floor.

When it comes to lens selection, choose the longest lens you can conveniently work with in order to minimize optical distortion. A wide-angle lens will bow the edges of the frame, whereas a short telephoto will help to keep them straight. A macro lens (preferably in the range of 100mm) is ideal for close focusing on even small prints, but a normal zoom or short telephoto without macro capabilities should work fine. Position a picture directly under the camera as you’re setting up in order to help determine the most appropriate focal length and position.

With the picture in place and the camera position established, set the focus to manual mode and dial in precise focus. This is made easier with a tethered camera or a camera controlled by a smartphone. In any case, ensure you’re not using autofocus to capture this inanimate object as that’s sure to lead to missed focus more often than locked in manual focus will. Choose a sharp aperture (such as ƒ/8 or ƒ/11) and build your exposure from there.

Now it’s time to light. The right lighting is another key to the success of this system. You may be tempted to use a diffused soft light (such as a softbox or an umbrella), but these are actually less effective than a simple hot light or strobe in a parabolic dish reflector. (A hot light works fine, just be sure to turn off the overheads and take care to minimize camera shake. I prefer to work with strobes so that I don’t have to worry about interference from ambient light and so I know I won’t have to worry about blur.) The softbox and umbrella spread light across a greater area and increase the opportunity for reflected light coming from the ceiling or other unwanted angles—and this is a surefire way to create reflections on the image. (See the example here for how an unwanted reflection can obscure the image and make it useless as a copy.)

You want to use two lights—no less, and no more—placed on opposite sides of the frame. These lights should be beyond 45 degrees from the lens plane in order to minimize the chances for glare. That doesn’t mean, though, that you should move the lights parallel to the work surface, as this will start to amplify any texture in the photos and can even create shadows from things like matting and framing. (Speaking of which, remove photos from frames if at all possible.) Close to, but just beyond, 45 degrees from the lens axis is just right.

Next, instead of pointing the heart of each light directly at the center of the photo, aim each light just above and beyond the picture to be copied. This will help make the light more even and minimize the chance of hotspots. This, too, is why you use two lights rather than one. With a single light from one side, the illumination will naturally fall off across the scene. Positioning the lights farther from the subject mitigates such falloff, but it’s still easy to see without the use of a second light. For a setup in which the subjects are approximately 8×10 inches or less, I like to have my lights a good 4 feet or more from the image.

If you’d like to check for evenness of illumination, use a handheld light meter to check the light reading at each corner of the composition as well in the center. Anything within one-fifth of a stop (say, ƒ/8 to ƒ/8.2) shouldn’t be an issue. But any difference of one-third of a stop or more may be visible to the naked eye.

With the camera positioned correctly and the lights in place, you’re almost ready to shoot. The last step is to be sure the color is accurate—even if the original image has faded. Capture RAW image files and shoot a neutral gray card positioned within the scene to ensure you can dial in precisely the right white balance every time. With accuracy on the lighting and color during digitization, you eliminate more variables that would need to be corrected in post. Then you’re free to preserve an image as-is or consider retouching to repair the color fading that often occurs with aging. More on that next week.

As artists, we spend a ton of time perfecting our craft.

And then, after hours of working on a painting, exhausted and up against a deadline, we often neglect the most important part of the process: photographing the work. Too many of us are a little lost when it comes to the specifics and settle for a few sloppy shots before shipping the artwork out.

Since artists are required to submit work digitally for exhibitions, grants, talks and your public profile page, good photography offers the first impression of your art and your professionalism.

We frequently see artists with incredible artwork, but have images that are shot in dimly lit, sloppy environments that distort the original artwork.

Knowing how to properly photograph your work can mean the difference between being accepted to a show, or winning the favors of an important client or gallery director.

We put together a few guidelines to photographing your artwork so you can begin to photograph your artwork like a pro.

Howard Sherman shows how he documents his work on his Instagram account. On the right "Edgy Community of Unconventional Types."

1. Hang your artwork on the wall

We regularly see artwork photographed leaned up against a wall and shot from a downward angle. Find a neutral colored wall (white, black, gray) and hang your work at a height where the middle of your piece will be parallel to where your camera will be —either on a tripod or resting sturdily on a table or other surface.

2. Light your work properly

If you are shooting your work indoors, do so in a room with plenty of windows and natural light. Some artists also enjoy photographing their work outdoors when it is cloudy or overcast, as indirect sunlight provides the best lighting. Natural light can be a beautiful way to photograph your work as long as it is indirect.

If the weather isn’t cooperating, or if you are up against a late-night deadline, you will need to set up a lighting kit. The good news is, you don’t have to spend a ton for a professional setting if you aren’t ready to invest in one.

All you will need is two lights at a minimum for 2-dimensional work. We have used lighting stands that you often see in dorm rooms (the ones with three adjustable bulbs) or clamp lights. Place the lights halfway between the camera and the canvas at a 45-degree angle pointing toward the wall (this will help eliminate shadows and “hot spots” on the painting). If you have umbrellas for your lights, attach them now.

Arthur Brouthers shows how he uses white panels to reflect light and a finished piece "Slipping II" on his Instagram.

LIGHT HACK: If you don’t have professional grade lighting kit, you can easily hack diffusing the light with a white sheet or white plastic between the lights and your work. This helps to evenly distribute the light. Alternatively, a few sheets of white foam core can be set up to simulate a “raking light” effect where the lights are pointed at the foam core and the whiteboard reflects the light back at the piece.

3. Adjust your camera and settings

Once your artwork is secured to the wall, double check that the camera is set to the lens lines up with the middle of the painting. You want to position your camera so that the frame is filled with most of the painting, with a bit of background that you can crop out later. It is important for many juries to see the edges of the paintings to get a sense of scale.

The ISO and aperture of your camera are very important to get clear, crisp and bright images of your artwork. ISO references what film speed used to measure. The higher the number, the more sensitive the film was to light and the coarser the image. In this case, since we want very crisp images, we want a low ISO. Studio shots will generally be shot at ISO 100.

The f-stop of the aperture of your camera adjusts how much light is let through the lens by making the opening bigger or smaller. The higher the number, the less light is being passed through. With a DSLR the ideal range for shooting artworks is between f-8 and f-11.

TIP: Set your camera’s timer to four or five seconds so that pressing the shutter button doesn’t create a shake in your image.

4. Edit your photos to perfection

There are plenty of free or inexpensive photo editing software alternatives out there that will help minimize any inconsistencies. While Photoshop still reigns king, Photoshop Elements or Gimp allow basic functions such as color correction, cropping, and other minor adjustments. Lightroom also offers a subscription-based editing program that professional photographers swear by.

There are, of course, many additional nuances and tricks that could be added to this initial guide. However, if you are looking to improve your photographs and represent yourself professionally on your public profile page, this is a great starting place.

You can also select your interests for free access to our premium training:

The biggest question for new photographers is ‘how to take good pictures?’ If you were to attempt to learn how to use everything on your camera in one sitting, you’d end up completely lost.

Cameras are complicated and take time to fully understand and get to grips with. Take my advice and start with these 10 easy steps. You’ll soon pick up the rest along the way. Start taking better photos today.

[ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here .]

10. Learn Manual Mode

Like most people, I struggled to see the point in this when I bought my first digital camera. Why couldn’t I just leave it on priority mode?

Manual mode is much like using an old film SLR from the 1960s, when they didn’t have buttons like aperture priority and other modes that do it all for you.

Being the only option, photographers were forced to learn to use their cameras in manual. In doing so, they fully learned how their cameras worked.

Once you know how to properly use your camera, it becomes much easier to spot where you’re going wrong and to fix it.

Priority modes are good for some situations. But once you know how to properly shoot on manual, you’ll find there’s no need for them and you’ll get better photos on your own.

A silhouette of a dog on the beach – how to take good pictures

9. Learn Basic Composition Techniques… and Then Forget Them

This one might seem a little funny but let me explain…

Once you’ve learnt basic composition techniques, such as the rule of thirds and the use of leading lines, you start to look at everything differently. You’ll start seeing and thinking about how you might frame a photo, even when you haven’t got a camera on you.

This knowledge sticks with you and subtly helps your photos improve from good pictures to great pictures.

Well then, why forget them?

Simple. As a photographer, this becomes too obvious to be interesting and you’ll become bored of your photos.

One of the main challenges of photography is to keep your photos fresh and interesting. You can do this by pushing the boundaries of the ‘rules’ of photography.

8. No On Camera Flash!

I can’t stress this enough so please pay attention. On camera flash (pop-up especially) is incredibly unflattering to your subject and really flattens your image. It could be from your DSLR camera or iPhone.

When the light comes from the same angle as the lens, you’re left without any of the scene’s natural shadows. Photos with on-camera flash may as well have been taken on your phone.

When I first started out, I hated the pop-up flash so much so that I didn’t consider myself a ‘flash’ person. This lasted until a friend talked me into buying an external flash unit.

I finally saw what I was missing – buy one now! Natural light as your only light source can only get you so far in the search for better pictures.

7. Find a Fresh Perspective

As a tall person, I always find myself adjusting my height when taking photos of people so that I’m not looking down on them.

I try to take this a little further where possible and find new ways of looking at photos. If you follow professional photographers on social media, you might find that they always present new ways in capturing professional shots.

Instead of mounting the camera on a tripod, why not use the floor or through a crowd? Keeping a fresh perspective maintains fresh photos!

6. Zoom With Your Feet and Get Closer

I am my own telephoto lens and you are too!

Instead of zooming in, get involved in the photo. Look at things from a different angle – this allows for a different perspective.

Search for the finer details that would usually be overlooked in a scene and make these the subject if you really want the best photos.

Think before you shoot or you’ll forget to think at all.

5. Clean Up Your Background

The background is as much a part of your photo as the subject so make sure it’s not cluttered and messy. Moving your camera just a few degrees to the side may make all the difference when it comes to cleaning up your shot.

Think about what’s in your viewfinder or on your screen. Ask yourself if each individual element adds something to make it a great photo. If the answer is “no”, it’s taking away from the photos.

Branches, sky and other people are just a few things to look out for. The branch in the shot below really bugs me. You can use photo editing software, such as Photoshop or a camera app.

4. Frame Your Subject

Look for a way to put a frame within a frame, like a doorway or window. In the photo below I used a bluebell flower.

Framing can add context to your photos, telling the viewer a little more about what’s going on and where the photo was taken.

Not only does this add a sense of depth but also another element of interest that the photo didn’t have before. Try a close-up shot for a tighter frame.

3. Get Your White Balance Right!

This is so vitally important if you want good photos that I’ve written an entire post on it here. I strongly suggest you read it.

The WB is all about the color cast of your photos.

Shooting indoors without a flash often results in the people in your photos appearing to have nasty orange-colored skin.

Mastering WB really sets you apart from other people, most of whom aren’t even aware of the problem. It will dramatically improve your end results.

2. Use the Histogram

LCD displays on digital cameras are getting better these days but are still subject to the environment you’re in.

If you’re out and about on a really sunny day, you’ll find that shading the display with your hand doesn’t do the job when it comes to looking at photos.

The histogram is a mathematical representation of how well exposed an image is. It’s a great basis for improving your photography (don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds).

It’s no use waiting until you get home to find out that your photos are no good! Read more about it here.

1. Practice Practice Practice!

Rome wasn’t built in a day; if you want to get good at anything in life, you have to work hard at it – these things don’t come for free.

The fortunate thing about photography is that it’s a lot of fun to play around with. Even though you’ll still think you suck from time to time, with just a little practice, you will always begin to see results in your photos.

Take the steps listed above and read some of the tutorials on this website – you’ll be an expert in no time. Ready to post the best social media images to boost your business.