In an ideal world, we’d always use a high-quality flatbed scanner to digitize old printed photos for restoration. Flatbed scanners deliver pristine, distortion-free, and sharp images, devoid of grain and compression artifacts that smartphone cameras introduce. However, circumstances don’t always permit access to a scanner, and you find yourself turning to your trusty smartphone. While smartphones aren’t scanners, they can still get the job done, albeit with some limitations. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to help you capture a decent digital image of your photo for easier restoration.

Use the Best Smartphone You Can Find

Smartphone technology is advancing rapidly, with each new generation offering significant improvements. If your phone is a few years old, consider borrowing a more recent or advanced model from a friend or family member. The better the phone’s camera, the higher the quality of your captured image.

Set Your Phone Camera to the Highest Quality Setting

Before you start, ensure your phone’s camera settings are optimized for the best results. Here’s how to do it:

  • On an iPhone:

    • Go to Settings > Camera > Formats > Select “Most Compatible” (JPEG/H.264).
  • On an Android device:

    • Open the camera app, tap the cog for settings, and choose the highest resolution available, typically 12MP or higher.

Clean the Phone Camera Lens

A clean lens is crucial for clear, sharp images. Use a clean, soft cloth to wipe the camera lens. For phones with multiple lenses, make sure all of them are clean to avoid any distortions or blurriness.

Get the Lighting Right

Proper lighting is essential for capturing a high-quality image. Follow these lighting tips:

Do:

  • Ensure the lighting is bright but soft, coming from all angles.
  • Avoid shadows caused by your arms or body.
  • Steer clear of reflections from overly bright lights or side lighting.
  • If the photo is in a frame with glass, remove it to reduce reflections.
  • Diffuse extremely bright lighting with tissue, tracing paper, or a sheet.
  • Wear dark clothing to prevent reflections.

Don’t:

  • Use the phone’s flash.
  • Rely on a table lamp or torch for lighting; they are too harsh.
  • Attempt to take the photo in full sun, as it’s nearly impossible to avoid reflections.
  • Block the light source with your body or arms.

Steady the Camera

A steady camera is vital to prevent blurriness. Use a tripod, a stand, or a clamped selfie stick to keep the camera stable. Position the camera so it’s directly facing the photo, ensuring all sides are square. Adjust the camera until the photo on the screen forms four right angles with equal-sized sides.

Don’t Use a Scanning App

While there are plenty of scanning apps available, they merely fancy up a photo and claim it’s a scan. In reality, it’s still just a photo. Avoid using scanning apps as they process the image, potentially degrading its quality and losing valuable details.

Email It

When you’re ready to share the photo, consider emailing it for the best results. Follow these steps:

On iPhone:

  1. Open the Photos app and select the photo to send.
  2. Tap Share, then tap Mail.
  3. In the To: field, type neil@image-restore.co.uk (or the desired recipient’s email address).
  4. Compose your message and tap Send.
  5. When prompted to select the image size, choose the “Actual Size” option to prevent automatic compression.

On Android:

  1. Open your photo gallery.
  2. Open the photo you wish to email.
  3. Tap Share, then select your preferred email app.
  4. Compose your message and tap Send.

Don’t:

  • Drag and drop the photo into the email body.
  • Screenshot the photo after taking it and then email it.

While these steps can help you obtain a usable image for restoration, remember that a dedicated scanner will always yield superior results. It’s important to keep in mind that a smartphone is not a scanner, but with proper technique and attention to detail, you can make the most of your smartphone’s capabilities for preserving cherished memories.