1. Take care to sneak a selection of old photos out of albums, shoeboxes or wherever they may be stored so that the gift’s eventual recipient won’t know what’s up. I prefer rescuing photos of the long-lost variety rather than repurposing images everyone in the family already knows by heart. Digging deep into the family archive is a great start.
2. Better still, recruit siblings, spouses and other friends or relatives to donate a great picture or two to the cause. In many instances, these photos that come from outside of the recipient’s own collection may be even more appreciated because they’re not quite as well known, or maybe they’ve never even been seen before.
3. Choose notable moments from the archive. If Grandpa always talked about his glory days of football, find one of his high-school team photos and turn a tiny little mug into a frame-worthy portrait. If mom fondly remembers her days as a champion calf roper, dig up a long-lost news photo or snapshot of her practicing and remind her of those old memories once again.
4. With a stash of photos in hand, it’s time to set about digitizing them. Since most folks don’t have negatives for their antique images, a flatbed scanner is ideal for ingesting most old prints—especially since most of them are usually smaller than an 8x10 or even 5x7 in size. I like to scan in color, even black-and-white photos, just so that I can harness all of the information the image has available.
5. A good rule of thumb for scan resolution is to work backward from the final print size you plan to create. A 300dpi scan of a 4x5 print will ultimately yield a 4x5 finished print size. Since you most likely want the freedom to enlarge, consider doubling the dpi to 600 in order to double the finished print size to 8x10. Fairly basic math skills can determine the appropriate scan size by using 300dpi as the baseline printing resolution. That means a 300dpi scan will print the same size as the original, a 600dpi scan can print twice as large, a 1200dpi scan four times as large, and so on. If you don’t know yet how you’re going to print the finished product, scan as large as you comfortably can since you can always shrink the file size later to make smaller prints.
6. With high-resolution RAW scans now at the ready, it’s time to prep them for finishing. This often involves correcting fading and color casts in color photos—a task that can easily be completed in Lightroom or Aperture by using the white-balance tool to choose a neutral white or gray area in the scene. Sometimes the Auto Color or Auto Levels functions in Lightroom and Photoshop go a long way toward restoring fading color from old photos. Otherwise, simply use Photoshop’s color balance controls to remove color casts one shade at a time.