Scanning Photographs and Slides

Welcome to the second post in the Making a Family Album on Shutterfly series. (You can view the first post HERE.)

Last week I encouraged you to organize your photographs. Mine go back 100 years to my mother and father’s parents. And of course, this does not include the hundreds of digital photographs I have of my immediate family. In the  interest of full disclosure, my daughter made this beautiful family album of her childhood years for a family Christmas present last year. Now I just have to organize my childhood and my parents!

If all of your pictures are already high quality digital, you can skip this post completely and make the Best Christmas Fruit Cake Ever from my recipe instead! Then come back next week for the introduction to the Shutterfly program.

If you are not sure of the quality of your images, read on.

If you are using old photographs and slides, read the section on resolution and the scanner section below.



captureTo check the file size of your photographs, open your file explorer, or however you usually find your photo images, hover the cursor over the image and look for the pixel size.  The largest size my little Nikon Coolpix camera takes is 4608 x 3456 pixels , but my digital SLR takes larger files.

(More pixels = more visual information= more details)

By opening the menu on the camera I can set it to take photos as small as 640 x 480 pixels, a size I would use in these blog posts. You only need 72 ppi (pixels per inch)  for an image to look good on a computer screen, but you need 300 ppi for the same image to look as good when printed.

So, just because it looks good on the computer does not mean a picture will look as good when printed at the same relative size as what you see on the screen.

That said, you cannot add information to an image. If it was shot at 640 x 480 pixels, making it three times larger will not show up any new details, it will just make it blurrier.

For print, you want to shoot the largest size, most pixels possible.

At 300 pixels per inch, (the resolution necessary to print), assuming your original photo is in focus,

4608 x 3456 pixels will make a clear photograph 15″ x 11.5″

(4608 ÷ 300 = 15.35,   3456 ÷ 300 = 11.52)

640 x 480 pixels will make a clear photograph 2.1″ x 1/6″

So, divide the number of pixels of your image files by 300 to see what potential size of prints your digital photographs are. And I’d recommend changing your camera to take the largest pictures possible if you think might want to print them later, for example on a trip. Yes, it takes more room on the memory card, but you can always make an image smaller (we’ll go into that another week) but you can’t make it bigger without losing clarity.


You can take photographs and slides in to most places with a good photo department, here in BC I’d say many small  photo stores or London Drugs, and Costco, and have them scan all of your prints and slides onto a DVD or thumb drive. But that can be very pricey, especially for slides, so you’ll want to carefully select the pictures you actually want in the book before you have them scanned. Also, I have had bad luck with scanned slides before so if you decide to go this route, have a small sample scanned first.

For prints, you might be able to use your current printer scanner, if it’s a good one. My daughter used the scanner at work to scan many of the photos she used in our first family album. I have a HP Office Pro 8600 plus that’s a few years old, and it will scan prints to a resolution of 4800 dpi (dots per inch.) You only need to scan it at 300 ppi to reproduce a photograph at the same size. However, a very crisp  image, and some of the very old, very small black and white images I have of my parent’s honeymoon are incredibly crisp, can be scanned at 600 ppi and successfully printed at twice the original size.

A 4 x 6 print scanned at 100 ppi, it will look as crisp as the original printed at 1.3″ x 2″

at 300 ppi it will look as crisp as the original printed at  4″ x 6″

I repeat –

you can not add information to an image,

a blurry or mediocre image at 4 x 6 will still look blurry

if scanned at a higher resolution and printed to a larger size.

Scanning at a higher resolution takes longer and is not always worth the trouble if there is not enough detail captured in the original print. For the most part, I’d suggest scanning old family snapshots at 300 ppi or slightly higher and planning to make them no larger than the original size in the album.


Because I have a lot of my own and my father’s slides, I bought a dedicated scanner, an Epsonperfection scanner that scans prints and slides and even film. It cost about $200 a couple of years ago and I  have been very happy with it. It’s a flatbed scanner, versus a drum scanner which would only be necessary if you were planning to print very large, say greater than 11″ x 14″.

There are advantages to using a dedicated (no printer attached) scanner for prints. Often, you can lay out many small prints at once and set it the software to separate the prints into separate files before you hit scan, rather than you having to scan them one by one or cut them up with photo software later.

You can also do some corrections right in the scanner software, taking out color casts that cloud old photographs, cropping, brightening etc, before you scan.


If you have slides to scan, make sure you buy a scanner specifically for slides and prints, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s no more difficult than scanning prints and you can get amazing quality images from slides, often suitable for a two page spread.

Slides are very expensive to have professionally scanned, because they are fiddly and take a long time, minutes per slide, to do a good job. But often, they are exceptionally crisp images in a very small package. Think about how good slides can look projected to many times their original size on a screen. Slides will soon be completely obsolete though, ending up in the garbage without a backward glance. So I took the time to go through all of my own and my father’s slides, saving only the best for my book.

If you don’t have a slide projector, you can get an inexpensive slide viewer that you hold up to your eye one slide at a time. Consider getting one. There may be some real gems in that pile.

Next week, I’ll get you started with Shutterfly for those who are ready to surge ahead.

Now – to work!

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