Google makes digitizing boxes of old photos a snap

Raise your hand if you have a box or two (or 12) of old photos in a closet in your house.

I’m certainly raising my hand.

I’ve done my fair share of scanning with flatbed scanners and even document scanners, but I’m not even close to getting all the pictures in my house scanned.

Plus, there are thousands of photos at my parents’ house and my wife’s parents’ house. We’d love to have all those, too.

Google has released a new app called PhotoScan to help us digitally capture all those loose photos using a smartphone camera instead of a scanner.

If you can take a picture with your phone, you can digitally capture printed photos.

Wait, this sounds like just taking a picture of a picture — yes?


Taking a picture of a picture is sure to disappoint unless you have a special lighting setup and a copy stand.

Just tossing a photo on a table and snapping a photo of it will inevitably produce areas of glare, especially if the photos are glossy.

PhotoScan uses computational photography to stitch together different views of the photo to avoid the glare.

You start by finding a surface to place the pictures on. It’ll help if the surface’s color contrasts with your photos, or if it’s at least all one color.

Then open the PhotoScan app and snap a picture of the picture.

The app will then place four white dots toward the corners of the picture.

A circle will appear on the screen and you line up the circle with each dot, pausing long enough over each dot for the phone to snap another photo. When you’ve snapped a photo of all the dotted areas, there are now five photos, all taken at slightly different angles, and the app will stitch them into one photo and magically remove any areas of glare.

The idea is that taking the four photos of the corners moves the camera and image just enough to reposition the glare areas so the app can erase them.

It works wonderfully. Each picture takes maybe 30 seconds from start to finish, and the app will only save the final result — not the 5 pieces.

You can rotate the final product and adjust the corners if the auto-cropping is off a bit.

If you use Google’s Photos app, you can have the pics uploaded automatically, or you can save them to your phone’s camera roll.

The PhotoScan app is free and available for iOS and Android phones.

Learn more at You can download it from the iOS app store or Google Play store.

You do have to have a reasonably recent iPhone for it to work. An iPhone 5S or newer is required (no iPhone 5 or 5C, sorry).

Android users need version 5 or later; no listing of specific phone models is included in the Google Play store.



Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at

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