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How to Use Your Flatbed Scanner as Digital Camera

scanner-photography.jpgNo camera? No problem! Suppose you feel like taking a break from your camera, or maybe it’s just a rainy day and you don’t want to go out and risk getting the camera wet. Then you can use your flatbed scanner (assuming you have one) to make very interesting still-life pictures. In this post Kai Virihaur shows you how to get these interesting images using your scanner and everyday objects.

Your scanner may have settings for both film (transparencies) and paper – then use the setting for paper. Now find some interesting objects, of suitable size to put on the glass plate of the scanner. You could for instance use seashells, flowers, seed pods, pine cones, leaves, pieces of driftwood, or even small instruments like old watches or compasses.

You put your favorite objects on the plate and arrange them in some way that pleases you. Just be careful not to scratch the glass in case you are working with some hard edgy object.

Ouch, now you can’t close the cover! No problem, just leave the cover open. I recommend putting a piece of cloth over your object arrangement instead. This cloth then becomes part of the composition, in the role of (hopefully) matching background. A black cloth is pretty safe, it matches just about anything.


Now run the scanner, and open the resulting image in your favorite image editing software. It doesn’t need to be very fancy, but it is an advantage if you can tweak the image a bit, adjust the contrast and brightness and so on, to make it look as good as possible. And perhaps you decide to crop it. Note: if you made the scan at a high resolution, say 500 dpi or even higher, you can crop it a great deal and still have a well-defined image which is suitable for printing on paper.

If you don’t quite like the image you got from the first scan it is very easy to just lift the cloth and rearrange your objects, or remove them and try something new. Keep doing this until you feel absolutely euphoric about the result!

scanner-photography-2.jpgIn case you are an advanced user of image editing software like Adobe Photoshop, you can make marvelous composites by overlaying several scans and then combining chosen parts from different images. I won’t go into detail about how to do this, since it is outside the scope of this brief article, but if you are familiar with image editing software you get the idea.

The quality of the illumination you get from a flatbed scanner is very special. Since the object is illuminated by a long strip of light traveling across the glass plate, it is bathed in a soft, diffused light which can’t quite be reproduced by other methods. If you want to really get into it, you can play with adding extra light sources that shine on your objects from the side.

Experimenting with alternative ways of making images, like this one, will add an extra dimension to your photographic skill, and hopefully boost your creativity.

Kai Virihaur, alias “Sunnyman”, runs the photoblog A1 Photo Tips to share his passion for Photography, which has been one of his many art-related interests ever since he got his first “Brownie” camera some 40 years ago.

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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