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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Photo of a Photo

black and white photo from 1944 of a young womanHave you ever run across old photos in the family stacks from long ago, and wondered how to make it big enough to see, or to get reprints when the negatives are long gone?

You can take these to professional enlargers who will scan them on professional quality scanners, usually at high a price.

You can also scan them yourself on a consumer grade scanner at home.photo circa 1962 of a group of children in beach attire The results are pretty mixed, and old photos of poorer quality tend to reproduce poorly, and don't enlarge very well.

But there is another method if you are a photographer, and that, quite simply, is to photograph the photograph.

Ah, but unless you know how, it's easier said than done. I have had lots of occasions where I needed to photograph artwork, and the method that has reproduced the best results for me are pretty simple.

To photograph a photo, you should remove them from their frames whenever possible. Glass covering makes it exceedingly difficult to get a good reproduction. Keep in mind that if the original photo is very blurry, your results are also going to blurry. This is a flaw you can't really correct well.

Use sticky-tack to stick your photo flat on a blank wall, or poster board, or foam core board. I use foam core board most of the time. It's white and reflects what little light there will be without causing glare. Make sure the photo isn't curled up around the edges - try to get it as flat as possible.

The best lighting to do this in without causing shadows or glare on the photo is on a very dull overcast day - you need some light, but not sunlight. Where you place the photo should get the maximum amount of light you can get. If it isn't raining, outdoors is ideal. If it is, place the photo so the light source falls on it as evenly as possible.

The camera settings will vary depending on the amount of light, and the surroundings - whether the room has light walls (which will reflect some light) or dark walls. My little studio has light walls. For this tutorial, the camera was set at a very high ISO - 1600. My shutter speed and f-stop varied depending on the photo from 80 and f8 to 125 and f10.

Use a tripod, and ensure the focal plane is level - you don't want your camera tilted up or or vintage photo from 1944 of a young woman in coat, hat and boots of the perioddown, or on a sideways angle. Take your shot and you've suddenly got an old memory that you can share with others.

The photo of the woman used in this tutorial was a print that was 2" X 2.75". The reproduction will print as large as 5" X 7", but the optimal print size would be 4" X 6".

The photos will have some grain at such a high ISO - how much will depend on the abilities of your camera. Keep in mind that most older photos already have grain. Most of the photos you see on the display board above are from the 1940s, and have a glossy finish, which is more difficult to reproduce this way than photos with a semi-gloss or matte finish, as this one here.


Reproduce a bunch of old treasures, tie them in a nice bundle with a pretty bow and make a gift of them for your favourite scrapbooker. Christmas isn't that far off!

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