How to Digitize Photos and Negative Film with A Scanner

Scanning is a wonderful thing to do with old photographs that were taken with film cameras that your parents and grandparents used to photograph their lives. A scanner that can digitize old slides and negative film is essential to bringing those old photographs into the digital world. Scanning photos to digital is not a hard thing to do when you have the right equipment. Right now, most of the old photographs needing to be digitized are sitting in analog and a lot of them are in shoe boxes stored in the attics and basements. In this blog, we are going to go over the tools you will need to start scanning photos to your computer.

For a step by step tutorial on how to digitize your photos, watch our Scanning Photo Series below from our YouTube Channel. You can also subscribe for more tips and tutorials on the best negative scanners and scanning practices.

Types of Photographs Found

Before we start, I want to talk a little bit about what you're going to find in your shoebox. To start, one type of old photograph you will find are prints. Some of these prints you will notice have faded. After scanning, we can bring those back and give them new life again. Another type you will find are negatives which were what those old prints were made from. These beautiful negatives will usually have a sepia-tone brown color and you'll want to hold them on the edges to prevent any finger marks on the image. A lot of times, negatives will come in these beautiful sleeves that will help protect and preserve them. I suggest leaving them in the sleeves until you are ready to start scanning. The last type of photograph you will find are slides. Unlike negatives, slides are positives so you can see exactly what the image is through a loop or on a light table.

The Right Negative Scanner

Getting a slide and negative scanner is important. Most people already have a scanner in your home that is a multi-function device that also does printing, copying and faxing. The problem with that type of scanner is the fact that it doesn't have a way to scan negatives and slides. To scan negatives and slides, your scanner needs to have what is called a transparency module. You’ll find the transparency module underneath the white cover used when scanning photographs and prints. The light on the top of the scanner will light up the film as it lays flat on the scanning bed so that the scanner on the bottom can pick up the picture. Here are some of the best photo negative scanners we recommend below:

Once you have your negative scanner, it will come with a few necessary pieces. To make sure your film and slides lay flat on the scanning bed, you will find a few holder parts. There is one made for 35mm negatives or slides and you also will find that there will be some holders that have different sizes like medium format or 120 film, 4x5 film, 5x7 film, 620 film and some 110 film. The scanner has a software that will turn your negatives into a positive so you can see what exactly is there. That is the beauty of scanning, having the ability to see your old photographs come to life as well as making sure you digitize your photos so that you will always have them.

Getting Ready Before You Start Scanning


One of the most important tools that you’ll use is gloves. If you get finger marks on your negatives, slides, or prints it will take a lot longer to fix in post. The other tools that you can use are rocket air blasters or canned air. Both are great for removing dust or dirt on your images. When using the canned air be sure to use it right side up because if you use it upside down, it will come out as a liquid and if liquid gets on your negatives or slides it will take a while to clean those up. The other thing that you’ll use is Pec-12 from Photographic Solutions and this is a cleaner that we use for the emollition of the film. Along with the Pec-12, we also have what’s called Pec Pads which are non-abrasive, soft cloths that you can use to clean your film.

Now that we are ready to put the film into the scanner, we'll need to talk about the holders. You will notice there will be one holder with a space for 35mm negatives and slides. The other holder comes with space for 120 or medium format film. On the edge of the holder, you will see a letter. That letter corresponds to the letter on the scanner, so when you set it down, it will slide right into the actual scanner and stays in place right in the center. Now, remember to put on your gloves. It’s easiest to keep one glove off when removing the negatives from the sleeves, just make sure to grab the negative by the corner and not on directly on the film.

Scanning Negatives and Slides

When you look at your film, you’ll notice that there are numbers displayed. On the holder itself, it displays an icon that communicates to have your negatives upside down. You can tell by how the numbers are shown. The film has two sides to it—there is a glossy side and a matte side. The matte side is your emulsion side the glossy side is your film base. You are going to want your film to be emulsion side up and you will place it inside the holder and click it into place. Match the letter on the holder to the letter on the scanner and you are ready to scan. For slides you will do the same thing—place upside down and emulsion side up. It doesn’t make a difference if you are putting them vertically or horizontally because in the software when you scan them in you will be able to rotate them around clockwise or counterclockwise until you get the right orientation.

Scanning Prints

First, place the lid over the transparency module. Again, you will put on your gloves. You will have various sizes of prints so it’s important to place similar sized prints on the bed of the scanner to try and maintain the best resolution. For example, if you are scanning both a small stamp and an 8x10 print at 600 dpi, the 8x10 print will look beautiful while the small stamp will not turn out so good. Once you have your similar sized prints, you will place them upside down onto the scanning bed. After you place the lid down, you will go into the scanning software and select preview. You will then select the size of the file that you’ll want by choosing the dpi and then we are ready to scan.

Extra Tip

If you decide to forgo the holder or if you have a film that doesn’t fit, you will still be able to get a good scan by placing it directly on the scanning bed. Now, this is where we get a lot of calls and questions. People call in saying that they are getting an error on their scanner. If you notice on the holder itself, there is a small cutout on the bottom edge. That small gap is where the light and the sensor meet up to calibrate, making sure it’s scanning the right thing. But when you don’t use the holder and decide to place the film on the bed itself, most people place the film at the very bottom and cover up the calibration area which then causes an error. To fix this, move the print up and leave a small space for the calibration to happen.

Edit, Edit, Edit 


It's important to note that if you have thousands of negatives, slides and prints, separating out the best images will save you a lot of time. When you look through your images, you'll find that your negatives will be hard to see. In some cases, there will be prints that came from those negatives. When you look through the prints and find the one you like, you should be able to easily match up the print with the negative. Since a negative is a first-generation scan, it has more detail than the print and is the better option when deciding which to scan. 

When people went to the photo lab in the old days, they would get doubles or triples of the same image. Even when taking the photo, people would capture more than one of the same scene to make sure they got at least one good photo. It's safe to say, there might be duplicate images that you will have to sort out and choose between. 

Now let's talk about the slides. These are the slides you use to put into the slide projector on family evenings and would sit down to watch. Since slides are so small, we have a couple of tools to use to see the images more clearly. One important tool we have is a loupe. When you place the loupe up to the slide in the light, you can really see the detail in the photograph. With the loupe, you will be able to determine which slides are worth scanning and which are not. Another tool is the Pana-Vue 2 Illuminated slide viewer. With this, you will put the slide in the top and a lightbulb will come on illuminating the slide so that you can see it. To save time, we highly suggest looking through all of your images and sorting out the best before you start scanning. 

For more information on scanning, stay tuned for future blogs and videos in the next couple of weeks. You can also subscribe to our YouTube Channel for informative tutorials on scanning, product reviews and more!

Digitize photosNegative scannerScanning negativesScanning printsTutorials


Dheeraj Sharma

Dheeraj Sharma

Dear Sir,

Thanks for explaining scanning of negative and photograph.

We going to participate in the tender of govt. of India for digitization of Audo, Video , photo and negatives.

Can you helps us ?

With regards

Kristofer Van Wagner

Kristofer Van Wagner

Thank you for explaining that when digitizing our photos, it is important for us to choose the right scanner. My dad is planning to digitize old photos. I will ask him to survey the scanners.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published