Easy Photo Tip: Use Your Camera as a Scanner

Flatbed scanners are great for copying documents and creating high resolution image files from printed pictures. Every serious photographer should own a flatbed. However, there are times when a digital camera trumps a scanner at its own game. “When?” you ask. Read on!

Despite their obvious and abundant benefits, flatbed scanners are slow, and there is a size limit on the two-dimensional objects they can scan. These two facts point toward situations where using a digital camera is the smarter option.

If you have a large number of photos to scan and a short amount of time to do it, use a digital camera to literally take pictures of the pictures. One good example is when you are visiting relatives during the holidays later this year and they drag out the family albums. Shoot close-up shots of each photograph. Of course, the results may not be quite as good compared to a scan, but heck—isn’t it better to have fuzzy pix of grandpa getting off the boat from Bratislava than having no picture at all?

Another good example: your children’s cherished school projects—you know, those finger paint masterpieces et al they bring home by the wagonload between Kindergarten and Junior High. Truth is, it would be great to save the original artwork, but who has room? Photograph the objets d'art as they accumulate. Load all the images into a digital photo frame and send the whole mess to the grandparents for Christmas.

Another situation where cameras outshine scanners: when the object is simply too large or otherwise inconvenient to scan. A whiteboard covered with classroom notes is an example of something too big. A menu from a ritzy restaurant is something that’s inconvenient to jam into a flatbed—and could be too large as well.

So there is your project for this weekend. Practice taking pictures of pictures so that the next time your stingy sister refuses to let the family heirloom photo albums out of her clutches, you can shoot a whole set for yourself.

The photo at the top of this story was shot with a Panasonic GH2. My daughter created a drawing and I wanted to photograph it to preserve it. She placed it over her face like a mask and it came to life. I processed it with Alien Skin’s Snap Art 3 to give in an eerie oil painting appearance, appropriate for Halloween.

—Jon Sienkiewicz

cdjohannes's picture

Camera's are a great tool for recording various images. I was a software consultant for 18+ years and photographed numerous drawings on white boards, along with various documents.

Another tool that I use is a portable scanner from Neat. Also, I recently discovered an APP for my iPhone that converts images to PDF's...using the camera in the phone. The APP is Tiny Scan.

I have used these to scan documents that I have signed and then email.