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Old 11-16-2004, 11:13 PM
LVgeogeek LVgeogeek is offline
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Location: Las Vegas
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Will scanning old photos damage them?

With my newfound time off, I have been going through a large box of old family photos, some dating back to the early 1920's. TThere are some that I would like to be able to send to family members, but I want to keep the originals.
I want to scan them, and burn them to disc to preserve them, as well as to be able to make copies. Will the light from the scanner damage the pictures from the intense light exposure? I don't want to do anything that would damage these precious family pictures.
Some info that might help in answering my question. Most of the pics are black and white, but some are a sepia tone. The scanner I have is a Cannon CannoScanN124OU.
Old 11-16-2004, 11:23 PM
Q.E.D. Q.E.D. is offline
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I highly doubt that you'll see any significant effect from a single scan or even a few scans, but many repeated scans may gradually cause some fading in the long term.
Old 11-16-2004, 11:32 PM
DougC DougC is offline
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- - - The light is not that bright and won't hurt them in any practical sense. What is of concern is if the photos have curled up in poor storage conditions; forcibly flattening them out may cause them to crack or delaminate flakes of coating. A good camera shop should be able to help you out on perserving old photos, but the first thing they may tell you to do is consider re-photographing the old photos with a good medium- or large-format camera first, in case preservation efforts take a bad turn.
Old 11-16-2004, 11:32 PM
commasense commasense is offline
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IANA photo archivist, but I don't think you have much to worry about, unless the pictures are so physically fragile that simply handling them could cause damage. The light source of a scanner isn't all that intense. IMO, they'd get more exposure from being out in daylight for a few minutes. Furthermore, B&W pictures are less susceptible to fading than color, because color prints use organic dyes, whereas B&W uses silver oxides that are pretty permanent.

Of course, if you're really concerned, take one that seems of less value, and test it. But I thnk you're good to go.
Old 11-17-2004, 12:35 AM
LVgeogeek LVgeogeek is offline
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Location: Las Vegas
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Originally Posted by DougC
What is of concern is if the photos have curled up in poor storage conditions; forcibly flattening them out may cause them to crack or delaminate flakes of coating
The pics are in relativly good condition, some are in old photo albums with the corner picture tabs and some are loose. Q.E.D., I could see how repeated scans could possibly cause damage, hopefully it won't take more than one scan a piece. I plan on scanning all of them, and putting the originals in new archival albums to prevent any deterioration and making copies to put in frames and send to relatives.
Thanks for the help!
Old 11-17-2004, 12:49 AM
Lissa Lissa is offline
Join Date: Mar 1999
Posts: 10,581
I work in a museum which has an extensive photo archive, and so far, you've been given pretty good information. Scanning them once or twice should do no appreciable harm. The biggest dangers to your photos comes from improper storage.

Old photo albums are terrible. If any of your pictures are still in them, remove them and put them in proper archival materials which are available at any good scrapbooking or photo supply store. Any paper which touches them should be acid-free. Never use tapes or adhesives on photos. Some plastics "off-gas" so make sure any plastic envelopes you store them in are archival quality-- not just the plastic binders you can buy at K-Mart to cover reports and such.

If you're really serious about long-term preservation of the originals, you may want to get an expert to look at them. (Contact your local museum for a reference). You need to identify the type of process used to make the photographs, because some of them may harm neighboring pictures as they deteriorate. (A cheaper solution may be to house each one in a seperate acid-free paper envelope.)

Never use storage containers made from unprocessed woodpulp paper, glassine, PVC or wood. Also avoid products made from colored papers because they often contain dyes or inks that are unstable and can bleed onto photographs. I suggest placing them in acid-free envelopes and putting them into a metal box, or file cabinet drawer.

Store your photos in a dark place. Ideally, the best conditions are about 30-40% humidity and 50 degrees farenheit. Since I doubt you're set up for vault-style storage, I suggest putting them somewhere where the temperature and humidity remain relatively constant, such as a closet in center of the house.

Humidity really can be a problem. If the humidity is too low, the paper base of a photograph may become brittle and the top emulsion layer will crack. High humidity can cause the paper base to swell and can encourage mold growth. (If you notice the photographs beginning to stick together, the humidity is too high.)

Despite your best efforts, some of your photos can still decay beacuse of something we charmingly term "inherent vice", meaning that the chemicals or papers used in the making of the photo themselves degrade over time. Your best bet in a case like this is simply to have a copy made since conservation would be really expensive.

Wear gloves when handling them to protect the photos from the oils on your skin. If you need to lable photos (something that is strongly encouraged because future generations may not be able to identify the subjects) use a pencil, not an ink pen or marker.

Check regularly for evidence of insect damage, but never put any chemicals or repellants in the same container as the photos. If need be, put the repellant around the outside of the container.

Good luck!


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