Use your phone camera to copy old photos
My cousin and I visited her childhood home, where her mother still lived. On the wall in the dining room hung a portrait of her 2nd great grandfather. It was the only copy of this image that she knew existed. This picture was well over 100 years old. My cousin badly wanted a copy of the portrait. Her mother wasn’t comfortable letting us or anybody else remove the portrait from the wall. My cousin was in town for only a couple of days. I used my phone to make a copy of some old photos with my phone.
Out of respect for her mother’s wishes, my cousins and I couldn’t remove the portrait from the wall. Since this may have been the only existing copy of this image, the reality was that the family was one natural disaster away from losing it forever. Even a quick snapshot would preserve the snapshot satisfactorily.
There were a few problems trying to get a decent picture. Even though it was a bright summer day, the dining room where this portrait was handing was dark. The glass in the frame had a lot of glare. While I was taking the pictures, I had to stand in different places so that my reflection wasn’t too obtrusive. You can see that I couldn’t completely eliminate my reflection. With a little more editing, I will be able to edit my silhouette out of the above image.
I took as many pictures as I could and from many different angles. I took some with the overhead light on and some with it off. We closed the curtains and opened them. I left with dozens of pictures and edited once I got home. If you decide to copy old photos with your phone, realize that the lighting and clarity won’t be optimal. In some cases, it’ll still be the best solution to having no copy at all.
You may only get one shot
Just like this portrait of my cousin’s great great grandfather, I’ve had times when I’ve been at a relative’s house where they bring out a picture or item that I haven’t seen before. A long time ago, we didn’t have mobile phones or digital phones to take quick photos. It’s so easy now to take photos of anything!
The next time you visit a relative, make sure to ask if they have old photos, albums, mementos or keepsakes that have a significance in your family. These opportunities sometimes happen only once. An old relative can pass away. Heirlooms get bequeathed, lost or donated. Natural disasters can’t be predicted. Water damage, fire, or theft can destroy or ruin old family belongings, some of the most valuable being the old pictures that we cherish. Always have your mobile phone ready!
If you don’t own it
You might know that an old photo exists, but if it’s not yours, you’ll need to ask the owner if you can borrow it to get a copy made. There are people (me) that don’t like to borrow one-of-a-kind photos to others. I fear the thought of losing the original. If you tell the owner how much it would mean to you and that you just want to take a few quick pictures with your phone, she’ll probably say yes.
Professional copies can be expensive
You may think that doing it yourself won’t be satisfactory. I can remember thirty years ago when I paid over eighty dollars for photo copy and restoration of one old picture. I had to send the original photo to an out-of-state company and wait 6-8 weeks to get back a negative. Thanks to technology, it is a lot more economical now to make copies of pictures. If you take pictures of old photos with your phone, it’s almost free.
DIY saves time and money
Taking pictures of old photos with your phone also saves a lot of time. It may not take 6-8 weeks like I had to wait thirty years ago, but recently I waited eight hours for a company in California to digitally restore an old photo and email a copy to me. This may sound reasonable, but if you’re sitting at your aunt’s house with an album in front of you, you don’t have time to scan and email to someone else. Taking several pictures with your cell phone will save tons of time.
Tips to copy old photos with your phone
- Clean the camera lens
- Have the picture that you’re photographing and copying as flat as possible. (Tip: use 4 magnets on the corners and stick it at eye level on the frig)
- Have the camera lens parallel with the photograph. Tilting your camera even a little will make the copy look distorted.
- Leave extra room around the photo you’re copying. Some phone lenses distort copied images near the outer four edges. You can crop any distortion out if you leave enough room.
- Get close enough to the image to get sharp details and still be in focus
- Try to take the picture in a well-lit room, out of direct sunlight and shadows.
- Minimize shadows by not having the bright light behind you and the camera.
- Turn off the flash feature on your phone if the item is behond glass or plastic.
- Use a photo editing app like Snapseed to sharpen, crop, and adjust your photos once you’re home.
- Always ask for permission to take pictures photos or mementos in someone else’s home.
Other troublesome issues:
Magnetic Albums: Horrid. But there are still a lot of these albums out there. First, try to remove the photo from the album. Carefully peel the clear plastic back and then see if you can remove the photo from the sticky part of the page. If it’s really stuck, leave the photo in the album and just take the photo as is – or through the plastic.
Pictures glued into albums: Don’t bother trying to get them out of the album. Taking pictures of old photos with your phone in these situations is ideal. In fact, there are other apps that you can add to your phone that will allow you to take a picture of the entire page and then crop each photo. I don’t have a lot of experience with these apps but it’s worth looking into them.
Glare problems: There’s an app called PhotoScan will fix light glare problems. I highly recommend it. It is easy to add to your phone and super easy to understand. You simply take four photos of the same picture. The onscreen instructions tell you where to match up the dots on each shutter click. You end up with a photo with no glare. Try it here at PhotoScan by Google Photos.
Extra large, antique wall portraits: Often, taking pictures of old photos with your phone of these types will have several challenges. One is that they are so big. If the owner allows you to take the portrait off of the wall, set it in a room with good lighting and make sure it is perpendicular. I suggest having one person hold it steady on a counter so that it is parallel to the phone camera at your eye level. Take a lot of pictures so that you can crop, edit, sharpen, etc later. You may also try using the PhotoScan app.
If you want higher quality
If you copy old photos with your phone and aren’t happy with the results, you may want to put the extra time and effort into sending your picture to a professional. For me, the copies I’ve taken with phone cameras are more than adequate for most of the images that I’ve photographed. I’ve been able to easily copy and share them online with my family and friends. They also turn out surprisingly nice when I make 4×6 prints at home on my Canon printer.
Easy to copy old photos with your phone
Copying pictures of old photos with your phone will allow you to get copies made quickly and easily. Most importantly, you’ll be able to share them almost instantly with your family and friends. You’ll also be able to save them in so many places or make prints at home or online. Once you edit the photos on your phone, share them on Facebook, Instagram or send an email. If you don’t have a family Facebook page where you can share your photos and memories, I can show you how to create your family Facebook group in 30 minutes or less here! You can even start using them to add to your Ancestry account or other genealogy site that you use to track your family history. It’s definitely worth a shot!