Flatbed Scanner Photography:
a cool tool for camera-less photography
beautiful scanner photos!
With flatbed scanner photography we use a
scanner as a camera. In the right hands, the result is some
fascinating, intriguing, and just-plain-fun close-up photography.
having a macro photography studio on your desktop without tripods,
backgrounds, or studio lighting. Give it a
try, and you'll find practical and creative possibilities galore!
If you need to review some of the basics of film and flatbed scanners,
visit the Scanning
Slides and Negatives page. I'll discuss some of the scanning
options, including some of the scanner software
settings and how to prepare your originals.
This page is for fun, and to encourage you to make your own scanner
art! I'll show off some of what I've done, and
then you'll get a chance to share your scanner photography. Everyone's
Five flatbed scanner photography tips:
- Pick subjects that have at
least one flat surface.
- When scanning hard objects, be careful not to scratch the
photography works with any flatbed scanner, but you'll double your
options if you use a scanner that handles both reflective and
translucent originals. In the latter case, backlighting
reveals structure and adds a special "glow" to the object.
- Use your scanner's close-up photography capability by zooming in on your subjects
with the crop
feature, and try high resolutions (3000 dpi and above) to create files
that display large on your screen or in prints.
- Wet and messy objects are cool to scan (fruits and
vegetables, sliced thin, come to mind), but be sure to clean the
scanner glass very well, and don't let any moisture reach
the edges of
the glass! If that's too risky for your taste (and honestly, water and
electronics do not play nicely together!), sandwich your subject in
between two sheets of clear plastic, such as a heavyweight sheet
protector from an office supply store.
Choosing a background
With flatbed scanner photography, we have
a choice of backgrounds: white or black, depending on
whether the lid is open or closed. White comes from the inside of the
lid, black backgrounds come from an open lid in a darkened room.
We have a choice of backgrounds only
when scanning with the reflected
light setting (light from below). Transmitted light scanners have their
light source in the lid itself, so leaving the lid open defeats the
Which background we choose is both aesthetic and practical.
backgrounds have a clean, pristine appeal, but subjects on black
backgrounds stand out dramatically. Closing the lid flattens the
subject for a crisp appearance; leaving the lid open may be preferred
for scanning delicate objects.
Lid closed = white background
Lid closed = black background
It's probably just a matter of time before scanners start
delivering a choice of backgrounds in the form of interchangeable cover
About Newton rings
Newton rings are halo-shaped interference pattern artifacts caused by a
flat surface in contact with a not-so-flat surface. The concentric
rings are caused by variations in light refracting on and around the
surfaces, and in the spaces between them. They are a common problem
when scanning film strips placed directly on the scanner glass.
Newton rings at high magnification,
reflected light setting
Fortunately, flatbed scanners that accept slides and negatives have
film holders that maintain space between the film and glass. This
eliminates any ring artifacts.
For other subjects (as in the example above, a polished stone laid
directly onto the glass), other tricks are in order. "Anti-Newton ring
glass" has a lightly etched surface, which breaks up
the light rays bouncing between the surfaces. Some scanners have
interchangeable glass surfaces to accommodate anti-Newton glass. This
gets rid of the
rings, but can degrade the image because the scanner sensor lies
the subject and the frosted glass.
If Newton rings are a problem, consider a fluid-mount scanner
for your flatbed scanner photography. This
eliminates both air spaces and the rings. They are messy and
time-consuming to use, but they ensure perfect contact between glass
and subject without the tiny air spaces.
Scanner Photography: disadvantages
With any new photography trick or technique, there are trade-offs to be
accounted for, and flatbed scanner photography is no different:
Flat, even lighting can be boring.
Shooting from a variety of angles is next to impossible.
Restricted to flat materials.
Despite these limitations, I hope you'll agree that scanners are useful
and flexible tools that add one more arrow to our macro photography
|Same leaf as
above, but zoomed in tight
|A slab of the
mineral flourite, scanned with backlight
|A piece of snake
skin showing individual scales
slice of green pepper in backlight, revealing juicy cells
Scanner photos: subjects, topics, and inspiration
approach to flatbed scanner photography?
Share your favorite flatbed scanner photography here!
Do you have scanner photos to show off? Share 'em!