Photo Scanning Tips

by Dave Jordan

If you have photos you feel should be in our 398th archives, we would appreciate either a donation of the original or a scan. Most will want to make scans and thus this page outlines some tips in regard to creating a good quality scan.


The best scans are made from a quality original, especially if it is a glossy print. Most of the old base photographs were taken by the Photo and Intelligence Group with very high quality cameras. Many of their photos prints were only in the 3"x4" size, but there tends to be incredible detail not seen at first glance by the naked eye, though easily seen on the computer. The key to great scans are an original photo, preferably glossy, free of dust and scanned with proper settings.

Scanning Parameters

It is best to scan your old 398th photos in color, with the .jpeg format, and between 300 and 1200 dpi.

The .jpeg format is the same format as most digital cameras.

While the original base photos were black and white, it does provide a nice patina if the scanning is done in color. If color is not an option, then choose gray scale, not black and white on your scanner settings.

Choosing the right dpi (dots per inch) depends on the size of the original photo and your purpose. A good rule of thumb is that if you want to make a high quality print at the same size as the original, use 300 dpi. For example, if you have a 4x6 original and you only intend to make 4x6 prints, then scanning at 300 dpi is the right choice. While 300 dpi might be the best choice for most scans, I'd like to suggest a second rule of thumb and that is to select a scan setting such that it is possible to make a photo twice as big as the original. Thus if you'd like that 4x6 to be printed at 8x12, then you should scan at 600 dpi. At 600 dpi, those old 398th base 3x4 photos will look great on 6x8 paper (and as 5x7s and 8x10s). The tables below summarizes suggested scan rates for most photos, in particular crew photos, portraits, or aircraft on the ground.

Another type of photo, requires more resolution. These are the photos of aircraft in flight, whether a single aircraft or many in formation. For these, additional dpi is suggested in the table below. Scanning at these rates below will allow us to view the photos at a very large size on computer screens that sometimes enables the reading of aircraft serial numbers and other fine detail not easily observed by the naked eye. Such details can sometimes lead to the dating of the photo and being able to identify from records who was in the various aircraft. It doesn't always work out that well, but with the higher dpi, sometimes we get lucky.

Suggested DPI Scan Rates
Original Photo Size Most Photos (Crew, Portrait, Aircraft on Ground) Aircraft in Flight
2"x3" or less 1200 dpi 2400 dpi
3"x4" 900 dpi 1200 dpi
4"x6" 600 dpi 1200 dpi
5"x7" 400 dpi 1200 dpi
8"x10" 300 dpi 600 dpi

Post Processing

If you have photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Photoshop Express, you may wish to do some post processing of the scan. However, if you are just sending one or two scans to our 398th Photo Historian (see below) it is not necessary as we can perform this function. If you do have the software, and wish to do so for your own use, or in the creation of a Photo CD with a large number of scan, you may wish to crop, adjust contrast, and use unsharp mask. Unsharp mask is a choice in Photoshop and other photo editors for sharpening. In general it works better than choices labeled sharpening.

Kodak Picturemaker Issue

If you don't have a scanner, you may be tempted to use the Kodak Picturemaker. The Kodak Picturemaker makes terrific duplicates on photo paper, but if you or the 398th team tries to scan the duplicate, the scanner picks up very tiny lines on the photo paper. Thus while you might figure you could mail us the duplicate and have us scan the duplicate, the quality will not be there for the web page. Thus if you don't have a scanner, it would be preferable to find a friend or relative who does.

Sending Scans or Photos:

Small numbers of Crew photos, Aircraft photos or other photos scans can be e-mailed to Geoff Rice, our 398th Photo Historian. Geoff will also work with you if you'd rather postal mail him the original photo for scanning. He will promptly send the photo back when completed. If you have many photos which you feel should be in the 398th photo archives, you should consider making a 398th Photo CD. See our 398th Photo CD Tips.