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Photoshop Elements: Editing Tips for Old Scanned Photos

by Erin Peloquin on September 5, 2012 · 21 comments

I came home from a family reunion this summer with a suitcase full of old photos to be scanned.  So glad my aunt kept them all!  Not so glad about the amount of work involved in scanning and restoring them.  Here are a few tips I learned along the way.

This is one of those times when you need Photoshop Elements rather than Lightroom.

First off, you should know that while I did scan each and every photo for archival purposes, I am not going to edit each and every one.  The photos I’ve chosen for this example display a wide range a issues that need fixing, so that you can see what I’m doing to update my favorites.

  • Step 1:  Scan the photos and transfer them to your computer.  This is going to vary from computer to computer, so I can’t help much with this part.  On my Mac, I use Image Capture to scan.  Image Capture does allow for some editing to be applied to the scan (Add Contrast, Remove Dust, etc.), but I’m a control freak.  I’d rather do these things myself.
  • I scanned multiple photos at a timeand ended up with files that look like this.  Yes, those are old photos of me.  And no, I’m not really a duck hunter!
  • Step 3:  Use Photoshop Elements’ Divide Scanned Photos feature, which you access from the Image menu.  This will create a new file for each photo in the original scan file.  (See below for what to do if this feature doesn’t work well.)

  • Now for editing.  To crop and straighten the photo, I go to the Image Menu/Rotate/Straighten and Crop.  Elements does a good job here.

  • Next step – remove the wrinkle.  I used a combination of Spot Healing, Cloning and a Color Blend Mode Brush here.

  • Finally, I use Levels to brighten, add contrast, and remove the warm aged tone.  You can see my brightness and contrast adjustment in the Adjustment panel below.  To correct the white balance, I moved the middle red slider to .87, green to 1.18 and blue to 1.30.
  • Ok, so that’s the first image.  The 2nd image looks like this:
  • Rotate it by going to the Image menu/Rotate and selecting 90 Left. 
  • After rotating, all this image needs in the way of editing is a quick trip through Levels for Contrast and White Balance correction.
  • Next up, this photo needs to be rotated to the right.  I removed the orange date at the bottom with one quick stroke of the Spot Healing Brush with content aware.  And I finished by adding a Levels Layer for contrast.
  • Note:  Divide Scanned Photos doesn’t always work.  The images below were stuck to an album page.  It would have ruined them to try to tear them off.  Divide Scanned Photos doesn’t work here because some of the photos overlap each other, and because there is not enough contrast between the album page and the photos themselves.  This feature works best if you have a bright white background, like you’d have when you scan individual photos on a scanner.

  • To divide these photos, use your marquee tool to drag a square or rectangle around one photo.  Go to Edit/Copy to copy the photo inside the marquee, and then paste into a new file.  Repeat for each photo in the scan.

 The only thing this tutorial for dividing and editing scanned photos in Photoshop Elements doesn’t include is how to make time to do this.  If you can help me with that, I’d appreciate it!

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea Thomas September 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Can you share what resolution you used to scan your photos? Thank you!

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Erin September 7, 2012 at 9:44 am

Hi Andrea, I scanned the photos at 300 ppi.

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Sadiesma September 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Thanks for your tutorial, as always great! When my mom passed I did this for over 800 photos. And No, i did not edit each one. Another time challenge I had was in naming each .jpg file.

I managed to at least save them in individual folders – I need way more time to organize in a usable manner!

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Erin September 6, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Thanks for your comment, Sadiesma. Do you have Lightroom? It makes organizing a breeze!

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Barbara Romano September 7, 2012 at 8:31 am

Very helpful tutorial, especially in light of a similar experience I had this past August while scanning numerous photos that my sisters and I found at my mom’s house. We discovered a treasure trove of memories, and I wanted to do the pictures justice when scanning them for my sisters. I will use your tips to increase the value of our pictures. Thank you!

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Erin September 7, 2012 at 9:16 am

Thank you Barbara, so glad I could help!

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cathy @ ma vie trouvee September 7, 2012 at 8:34 am

I should have sent this thank you many months ago….Your tips are so helpful. THANK YOU for being so generous with your time and tips!

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Erin September 7, 2012 at 9:16 am

What a nice comment! Thank YOU, Cathy!

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Katy September 7, 2012 at 9:09 am

Thanks for the tutorial. I am amazed at how simple your edits are but how great they make the photos look. I also learned something new. I did not know about scanning a bunch of photos at one time and then having Elements divide them. I have always used the marquee tool to divide. You saved me a bunch of time with this tip. Sorry I can’t return the favor.

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Erin September 7, 2012 at 9:17 am

No problem at all, Katy! I am glad to help!

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Virginia September 7, 2012 at 9:40 am

Thank you for a fantastic tutorial on how to repair old scanned photos.
Can’t wait to try your lesson….

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Carrie Sears-Kohles September 7, 2012 at 9:44 am

Thank you for this article. I love learning new tricks in PSE. The Divide Scanned Photos tip is great! My mom gave me several old photo albums to scan. I have been putting it off knowing it will be a real chore! This tip will save me a lot of time! Thanks!!!

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Erin September 7, 2012 at 11:17 am

You are welcome! So glad I could help.

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Sara September 7, 2012 at 11:46 am

This post was very timely for me as I am in the process of scanning a bunch of old photos too! Luckily my scanner will automatically divide the photos into individual files when I scan a bunch at once.

I wish the clone and spot healing worked better in Lightroom so I didn’t have to edit so many photos in Elements! My computer has a rough time having Lightroom and Elements both open at once so I have to go from editing in Lightroom to Elements and then close Lightroom while I’m in Elements.

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Rasel September 29, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Hi
Rasel from Bangladesh
I should have sent this thank you many months ago….Your tips are so helpful. THANK YOU for being so generous with your time and tips!

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Erin October 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Awww, thanks!

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mallory April 30, 2013 at 11:48 pm

I’m in the preparation stage of scanning nearly 1,000 photos. What is the best scanner I could buy in terms of picture quality and cost? Should the scanner be specifically for photos, or can I get a scanner/printer that would also allow me to scan and print items that are not photos? Thanks for any input.

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Erin May 1, 2013 at 9:15 am

Honestly, Mallory, if you’re going to spend the money on a scanner, I would just send it in to one of the scanning companies. You will save time, and probably money too. They will send you a disc with your digital files on it.

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Clyde July 28, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Thank you for your very helpful information on dividing scanned photos not separated.

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kat February 13, 2014 at 4:57 am

I have done thousands of old family photos now, over an 8 year period. The best way to set up for “divide and straighten” is to take the pictures out of their album and put on the scanner with a little bit of space between them so the program can find the edges of each photo. Since I had so many photos to do, I invested in a used vintage Large Format flatbed scanner, Epson GT-10000, that lets me get 16-20 photos in one scan batch (my siblings helped with the cost). It will even let me feed the photos automatically one at a time, but the pictures typically were too bent and created feed problems. It was faster to just batch scan, divide and straighten. Once the photos were scanned, divided and renamed, I imported them into Adobe Lightroom for better organization plus it has pretty good BASIC repair tools. I now just use Elements for “doctoring up” photos that really need some work done on them. It is A LOT of work, but worth it. I make up photo albums tailored to the individual I am sending them to. My new project now is working on all the movies I had transferred from 8mm to digital. The 8mm tapes were nearly spoiled and saved just in time, even though they had been kept in their “tin cans” for years. I have been finding songs in iTunes to use as background audio for events, i.e., Easter, Christmas, Beach, dances, birthdays, etc., since the movies were shot silent. What we have to do to preserve all the history that was memorialized on decaying media is overwhelming sometimes. Side note: As a little background, what got me into the photo scanning was, my aging mother’s house burned to the ground. All was lost except for about half the photo albums my brother managed to get out through a window during the fire. We lost all the very old black & whites which was really sad. So I encourage all of you to get your pictures digitized and in multiple safe places before something bad happens and everything is lost. Good luck to all of you baby boomers.

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David February 14, 2014 at 3:49 am

Hi Kat, if you have a suitcase full of photos (or, worse, a load of old, fragile photos stuck in albums), try using a handheld scanner or an app like Pic Scanner (for iPhone and iPad devices) Really fast, good quality scans, and you don’t have to take out and put back photos in albums. Also no need to worry about bent photos, feed problems etc. Pic Scanner costs only three dollars, handheld scanners $70-120. Even if you scan 60-70% of the photos this way and the rest with the trusted flatbed, you will save a great deal of time and effort.

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