I've pretty much given up on the scanner because of all the issues you addressed (and I'll throw in how scanned "metalics" always turn out black - yuck!). Taking pictures, I've found, yields better results but does require perfect lighting, with natural sunlight being the best, and that can be a real hassle when we have a string of rainy days. Takes patience...sigh.
And Emily, trust me, I've very low-tech, but I learned how to use a simple photo editing program (came with the computer) in just a couple of hours, and if I can do you, YOU CAN, for sure! Give it a try - you'll love how you can crop, lighten/brighten, and make it look more like the real thing.
"More than what I should be, make me what I could be, finish what you started, Lord" (from a song by Marty McCall)