Tips for scanning photos with iPhone and iPad

Scanning photos is super easy. Yes, you read it right. And it’s real fast.

Masochists still like to do it the old-fashioned way. Wrestle with the old desktop scanner, pull photos out of albums, crop and edit everything manually, and then label and organize the scans. But for the rest of us, an iPhone or iPad is all we need.


Scanning photos with iPhone? What’s the resolution like?

Plenty good. Most iPhone and iPad models nowadays have 12 megapixel cameras, and their digital sensors are very good. In practical terms, this means that you can get high resolution pictures even in less than ideal lighting conditions.

Of course, you could simply use the iPhone (or iPad)’s Camera app to take photo of a photo, and crop and enhance it with Photos app’s (modest) tools. If you have a handful of photos, do this. Skip to the tips below. Follow them, and you’ll get  good scans.

But I have HUNDREDS of photos. Loose, framed, in albums…

Most of us have stacks of old photos in need of some TLC. Is there a simple way to scan, crop, enhance, and do a few other things to bring them into the digital age; make them shareable?

Of course. There’s an app for everything. For scanning photos, there are a couple we’ll suggest: Pic Scanner Gold and it’s lite version, Pic Scanner. With both of these, you can scan four photos at a time (or an entire album page), and the apps will detect, separate, enhance and save all the photos. It’s a fast, easy, and inexpensive way of scanning photos. Again: follow the tips given below, and you’ll get superb scans. Pic Scanner Gold is meant for newer devices (iPhone 6s and newer), and has many more features. Pic Scanner isfor older devices. You can read about these apps, and download them, here:

Pic Scanner Gold on the App Store

Pic Scanner on the App Store


Tips to get good results when scanning photos with iPhone

To scan with your smartphone, iPad or a digital camera, remember a few things:

  • Lighting: Ensure good ambient lighting. If you can, scan in natural daylight. You don’t want the sun shining directly on the photos, but indirect or reflected light; so scan near a window. It’s harder to avoid glare and reflections under artificial (electric) light. Colors will also not be reproduced faithfully, especially if scanning under fluorescent light. Can you guess which of the following scans was done by daylight and which under a table lamp?

2      2a

  • No flash: Never use flash while scanning, for precisely the reasons mentioned above regarding electric and fluorescent lighting. Turn OFF flash before you scan. See the reflections and flash glare in the photos below:

glare reflections scanned photo      scanned pic with flash glare

  • No zoom: Using the digital zoom on your smartphone will reduce image resolution. Bring the camera closer to the photo being scanned, instead of holding it further away and zooming in. As explains, “Digital zoom….takes a central portion of the image and enlarges it, thus ‘simulating’ optical zoom. In other words, the camera crops a portion of the image and then enlarges it back to size. In so doing, you lose image quality.”
  • Steady hands: Since the photos being scanned are close to the camera, you must hold the iPhone or iPad very steady while scanning. Can be difficult, especially with iPad. An easy solution is to place the iPhone or iPad on a locker stand, and position the photos below it.
  • Scan fewer: Scanning four at a time is faster, but you’ll lose on resolution. If you scan one or two photos at a time, you’ll get really sharp scans.
  • Hold camera closer: Don’t hold the camera so far that in the viewfinder, the photos look like postage stamps. And don’t hold it so close that the photos extend beyond the scanner frame. All four corners of every photo must be visible in the scan.

Ready to shoot? Tap to focus

iOS cameras auto-focus pretty fast, but if the photos look blurred in hte viewfinder, the scans will also be blurry. Tap the screen once to force focus, and then tap the shutter.

You can find more tips on auto-cropping, editing, creating albums etc. elsewhere in this blog, or just email us.


Blog of Pic Scanner, the photo scanner app for iPhone and iPad. Tips on how to digitize old family photos

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