Back in the days before smartphones and digital cameras, people took photos on film and had physical prints of the images. Those were the days before Instagram, where sharing photos meant pulling out the family album whenever guests came over.
But now that everything has gone digital, it would be sad if those old memories got left out of the digital age and disappeared into obscurity, gathering dust somewhere in storage.
Fortunately, you can digitize your old photos by taking pictures of them with your phone and saving them on your computer or in the cloud. That way, you don’t have to worry about losing the photos or them getting damaged.
In this guide, I’ll show you a step-by-step guide to help you take the best possible photos of your old pictures to bring them into the digital age.
Step 1: Prep the picture
Before you can take a photo of a picture, you need to get it ready first. Take it out of the photo album or remove the picture from the photo frame. If it’s a really old photo, you might want to clean it up a bit with a soft cloth so that it looks as best as possible.
If the picture was rolled up or folded, straighten it out and flatten it as much as possible. You might want to try leaving the photo under some heavy books overnight to get the picture as flat as possible.
Step 2: Position the picture
Once you have the picture prepared and ready, you need to place it in position to take a photo of it. The best way to position the picture is to lay it on a flat surface such as a table or stick it to a wall and then take a photo.
Doing flat lay photography means taking photos from directly above the subject. So, if you’re going to use this method to take a photo of a picture with your phone, you need to lay your photo on a flat surface and hold your phone directly above the picture.
It’s important that the phone camera and the picture are as parallel as possible to avoid skewing the perspective of the picture. If you place the picture flat on a surface but hold the phone at an angle above the picture, it will result in a photo of a picture that is wide at one end and fills the frame but narrow at the other with gaps in the frame.
If your arms and hands are not steady, this can be a bit of a challenge. To help you with this, you can use a phone stand or overhead tripod for smartphones. With it, you can position your smartphone camera directly above the picture without worrying about getting the angle and perspective messed up.
On the wall
Another option is to stick the picture on a wall and then take a photo of it. It’s similar to the flat lay method except you hold the phone parallel to a wall instead of directly above a flat surface. The same principles of lighting, positioning and angles still apply.
Just be sure to watch out for shadows that could be cast on the picture if the source of light is behind you do.
Step 3: Light the picture
For the best results when taking a photo of a photo with your smartphone, you need to get it lit adequately. Too much lighting and your pictures will have bright spots of light, too little and they will look underexposed.
The best lighting you can get is natural lighting. So, the best thing to do is place your picture somewhere near a window, skylight, door, or any other source of natural light indoors.
Otherwise, you can just head outside and take the photos there. If you decide on that option, it’s best to take photos when it’s overcast because the lighting is less harsh.
If you’re taking photos indoors, you can also use the house lights to add some lighting on the picture. Just don’t place the photo directly under a light or point a light straight at the picture you want to take a photo of.
A direct light from above when taking a flat lay photo will result in shadows being cast on the picture. Also, shining a light directly at the photo will create a hotspot or a bright area where the light is reflected, especially if the picture has a glossy finish. Instead, shine the light off to the side and have the picture illuminated with soft light.
Most importantly, do not use the smartphone’s flash when taking a picture of a photo with your phone. It will reflect directly on the surface of the picture you’re trying to capture and cause a bright spot. Not a good look if you want to make the photos look as best as possible.
Step 4: Take a photo of the picture
Before you can snap away at your old photos to digitize them on your phone, you need to keep a few things in mind in order to get the best results possible.
How the picture you want to capture fits into the frame of the photo you’re taking is important. For the best results, you need to get your phone as close as possible to the picture you’re taking a photo of so that it fills the frame and leaves little of the background in the frame.
And whatever you do, do not stand far from the photo and then zoom in on it. Smartphone cameras that don’t use optical zoom use digital zoom, which degrades the quality of the final image.
By default, smartphone cameras are set to automatically analyze a scene and set the exposure for the photo based on the lighting conditions of the environment. Most of the time, the phone gets it right. Other times, you might need to bypass the AI and adjust the exposure yourself.
When looking at the preview of the photo before you take a snap, check out the exposure and see if you’re happy with it. If not, you can adjust it manually by going into the metering mode or adjusting the ISO and shutter speed.
One of the most important things that you need to pay attention to when taking a photo of a photo with a phone is the focus. If the focus is out, the photo will look blurry, and your efforts to digitize a physical photo will not look good at all.
Smartphone cameras are generally good at focusing automatically, but sometimes they struggle a bit and take a while. If you’re having issues with focusing automatically, you can try doing so manually.
Support the camera
As previously mentioned, holding a phone to take a photo of a picture can be awkward for some people who don’t have steady hands. The best thing you can do is get an overhead tripod or a tabletop tripod to support your phone to avoid camera shakes that lead to blurry photos.
Even if you have steady hands, you can benefit from using a tripod, too. If you want to take photos of a lot of pictures, it would be easier to set up a tripod in one place and simply change the photos without moving the camera.
Step 5: Edit the photo
Once you are done with everything and have taken pictures of your photos, the next step is to edit them. This is where you get to clean up the photos and remove what’s not needed, as well as add life to the images.
Crop and transform
No matter how close you get to the picture you’re taking a photo of, you won’t always be able to exclude the background from the shot without chopping off some parts of the original picture in the frame of the photo of it.
If you have some bits of the background you want to remove from the photo of your picture, you can bring it up in your favourite photo editor and crop out the unwanted areas.
Also, if you find that the perspective of your photographed picture is a bit skew, you can correct it to get it looking as straight and aligned as possible
Editing can help you add more life to an otherwise dull photo, provided you do it right. You can adjust the brightness and contrast, add some filters, and do whatever else you please to make the photo look good.
Just remember that sometimes less is more. Some photos might not require you to make too many adjustments in the edit. Doing more than is necessary might result in pictures that look off and don’t match the original
I recommend you crop and edit your photos with a pro-level app such as Snapseed or Adobe Lightroom Mobile. They’re quite easy to use once you get the hang of them, but most importantly, they don’t compress your photos when you save your files as some other apps do.
Taking a photo of a picture is a fairly easy process. But if you want to get the best results, you need to use a phone with a good camera that will capture bright and sharp images with no digital noise or blur.
And if you’d like to do things the other way around and print photos from your smartphone, check out these unique mobile printer options that do an excellent job.