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Home photography ideas: Digitize slides and prints using your camera

Watch the video:  Home photography ideas – digitize your slides and prints

If you're social distancing or self-isolating, you've got a lot of time on your hands right now. So this is the perfect opportunity to get round to sorting all those slides and prints that have been sat in a box, waiting for you to digitize them!

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Whether you have drawers full of fading prints that you took yourself, or boxes full of prized transparencies that were handed down from parents or grandparents, now is the time to get best of these shots onto a computer so they can be shared with a wider audience.

So what’s the best way of getting your old pictures onto Facebook, Flickr or your family website? The most obvious answer is to use a scanner. Flatbed scanners for prints are built into many desktop printers nowadays, while some of the best film scanners can be bought without breaking the bank. However, it's a time-consuming process involving lots of patience as you scan one line at a time.

An alternative method is one of our favorite photography tips: rather than making do with a cut-price digital scanner sensor, why not use the high-quality one that's inside your camera? Photographing your prints isn’t much more complicated than sticking them on the wall and then shooting them using a tripod. All you have to do is find the right evenly-lit spot in your home.

Re-photographing your slides is a bit more complicated, because you need a lightbox – a backlighting device that photographers traditionally used to look at their pictures. We've got a guide to help you find the best lightbox for photography.

The one other bit of gear you’ll need to re-shoot your prized photos is a macro lens, which will enable you to focus close enough to the 24x36cm positive images. Check out our guide to find the best macro lens for your camera. 

1. Stick it to the wall

To re-photograph old prints, stick them on a flat wall or cupboard at chest height using blobs of Blu Tac. Avoid a surface too close to a window or in direct sunlight – you need even, diffuse lighting. You don’t need bright light because you can use long exposures with a tripod.

2. Square up to the target

Set your camera on a tripod and extend the legs so that the centre of the lens is at the same height as the centre of the print. Use Live View to frame the picture so you’re as square on as you possibly can be. Use autofocus to make sure that the detail is sharp.

3. Choose your settings

Use Aperture Priority (A) mode and set an aperture of f/8 – this is usually the setting that gives the best resolution from a lens. Now set a low ISO, at or near 100. Fire the shutter using a cable release or remote control, or, if you don’t have either of those, use the self-timer.

4. Give it a positive twist

The general shooting technique for slides is the same as prints. As transparencies need to be backlit, use a lightbox. You’ll need a tripod that can be angled to shoot directly down, and you’ll need a macro lens to be able to get close enough. To save time retouching afterwards, clean negatives and slides with specialist PEC 12 solvent and lint-free PEC Pads.

The best lightbox for photographers and artists

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Analog photography tips: how to scan negatives and film slides
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Chris George

Chris George has worked on Digital Camera World since its launch in 2017. He has been writing about photography, mobile phones, video making and technology for over 30 years – and has edited numerous magazines including PhotoPlus, N-Photo, Digital Camera, Video Camera, and Professional Photography. 

His first serious camera was the iconic Olympus OM10, which he won the title of Young Photographer of the Year - long before the advent of autofocus and memory cards. Today he uses a Nikon D800, a Fujifilm X-T1, a Sony A7, and his iPhone 8 Plus RED.