What is Scanner Photography?

Digital technology has completely revolutionized photography as there are so many diverse capture devices being used today. This includes everything from the regular compact cameras and complex DSLRs to the sophisticated large format digital cameras, not to mention the tablets and smartphones.

There is also the traditional flatbed scanner, which when skillfully used in scanner photography, has the ability to produce superb images.

Scanner photography is commonly known as scanography and it creates images that are slightly different from regular cameras. This is mainly because of how it renders images.

A scanner’s imaging head gradually renders an image through scanning forwards and backwards under a clear glass plate. The head is moved incrementally across the glass until the flat document placed on the scanner has been fully captured and converted into a digital image.

An important feature about photos produced by scanners is that they do not really need a wide depth of field. Basically the only part of the digital image that is sharp after scanning is the bit that is in direct contact with the glass.

This makes scanning two-dimensional objects very easy, but it becomes more challenging when dealing with three-dimensional subjects.

The main appeal of using a scanner for three-dimensional artwork or subjects is the restricted field of depth. As a result, the digital image of such objects will have an attractive and unique softness.

However, make sure that you take care of the scanner’s glass by not scanning heavy objects. Furthermore, the glass must be free of any dirt and blemishes in order to avoid spending a lot of time in doing post-production work to clean out the dust spots.

Scanner photography certainly has several unique benefits as compared to using other photography capture devices. A good example is the fact that it completely eliminates the concern of camera or subject movement during capture, which can cause blurred images.

Additionally, since a scan usually covers a broad area, it is possible to create large sized prints.

You can find flatbed scanners for cheap nowadays, with top quality models priced almost similar to sophisticated compact cameras. Scanners are also very simple to use, especially when it comes to the overall user friendly interface.

Once you connect the scanner to your computer and install the necessary drivers, you are ready to get started scanning at any time.

It is good to note that you will require lots of patience when starting out in scanner photography. This mainly applies to familiarizing yourself with dealing strictly with objects that fit your scanner bed.

You will slowly develop an understanding of the unique pictorial features of a scanner. That is, only having one source of light coming from one direction combined with one focal length and one perspective.

As mentioned above, the depth of field is very limited when it comes to scanning, something around less than one inch. Only the specific parts that touch the glass of your scanner bed are going to be in very sharp focus. Consequently, the remaining part of the object will fade away progressively into a shadow to signify distance.

This effect can be used artistically to give 3-D subjects a feeling of depth created by the gradual focus loss and shadows. In contrast, 2-Du subjects with a minimal depth will normally appear completely sharp and evenly illuminated across the image.

The sum total of these interest features is that images are produced with exceptional clarity, accurate colors, sharp details, beautiful tonality and a contrasting light.

How to Use a Scanner

The process of using flatbed scanners is very straightforward. Simply open your scanner bed open and place the preferred subject matter carefully on the glass.

Take extra care when using 3-D objects not to damage the glass, particularly when repositioning the subject. It is generally advisable to scan in a dark room in order to create a dark background.

Some photographers even suspend a multi-colored board or solid colored piece of cloth and also a textured material about 5 inches on top of the scanner to create a nice background.

Next, you need to pre-scan the subject onto the computer monitor to see how your composition looks like. It is during this time that creativity, patience and composition created by rearranging the subject will be essential.

Just making slight changes in how the subject is positioned will have a major difference in the final product. You can also try multiple arrangements and then select the one you like best afterwards.

Once you figure your preferred subject composition, the resolution and scan size is set on the computer and a digital scan is made. Generally, the best way to determine the right size is to think about the expected final use of the image.

As a good practice, it is best to create high-resolution prints. While this will take up more space on your computer’s hard drive as compared to scanning low resolution images, it will give you more leeway for postproduction alterations without affecting image quality.

The amount of time it takes to complete one scan will depend on two main factors, including the resolution and size of scanning area. Higher resolution scans covering a larger area will take longer to complete.

While this might be frustrating sometimes, it also encourages more creativity. For instance, you can move the subject around during scanning to create some interesting effects.

For the best image quality when scanning, only use the high scanning resolution setting that uses the built in optics instead of interpolated resolutions. If you want to enhance the image resolution later on, you will get much better results through your image editing software.

Additionally, avoid using the default scanner program to make any changes in sharpness, contrast and color, but rather, do these operations afterwards in professional image editing programs like Photoshop.


Scanography is simply an extremely controlled way of taking pictures, but you should still approach it with an open minded outlook about what subject matters will work. Take the leap and experiment with different subjects from flowers to coins.

You simply never know what kind of unique image you can create, which is one of the reasons why scanner photography is so appealing.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *