17 June 2011

Time to Scan Photographs

Warren’s mother sharing
a photo album.
Welcome back. Blame my mother. Before she passed away, she accumulated hundreds of photographs and mounted most in albums. How do I share her albums? And me? I’ve got stacks of plastic holders crammed with 35 mm color slides.

I’m going to write about how I’m using my retirement time--lots of it--to transfer photographs and slides onto digital media for sharing.

Why Me?

I considered sending everything to a commercial lab, but having once lost photographs, I was hesitant, particularly since some labs send work overseas. And then there was the cost, which would mushroom with the entire package.

My daughter, Rachel, offered to help (www.rachelphilipson.com); but I’d rather she devote her time to honest-to-goodness photography or graphic design clients, which isn’t to say I wouldn’t pay.

Since there’s only one tool that I’d really need, I decided that, after retiring, I would invest and do it myself.

The Tool--A Scanner

When I was teaching, converting a photograph to numbers was digitizing and the operation was performed with, you guessed it, a digitizer. Searching online for digitizers didn’t get me where I wanted to be. Searching for scanners did.

Comparing the many available scanners, I came up with one that’s worked fine for me (Epson Perfection V600), but I emphasize that it may not be the right device for you. And there’s always something newer.


Not aiming to make photo-scanning a career, I’m forgetful about different settings. I do pay attention to the scanning resolution, measured as dots per inch (dpi). The more dots per inch, the higher the resolution, the sharper the resulting image.

Based on Rachel’s guidance and scanner defaults, I generally scan color slides around 4800 dpi and photographic prints, color or black and white, at 400 dpi or 600 dpi. Do I need that high a resolution if the image is only going to be displayed on a computer monitor? Not even close. The default scanner setting is less than 100 dpi.

The Software

My scanner cranks out images quickly-- a minute or less at lower resolutions and a few minutes at higher resolution. If everything’s connected, the scanned image shows up in my computer files, where I can try to improve the image. (Hang on; I’ll show you what I mean.)

Packaged with my scanner was Adobe Photoshop Elements 7.0. Rachel uses the full blown, knock your socks off Photoshop, but I don’t use a tenth of what Photoshop Elements offers. (It’s not ignorance is bliss; it’s…ok, maybe it is ignorance is bliss.)

What Do I Do?

Warning! Warning! I taught Remote Sensing, but I’m neither a photographer nor an image processing guru. Worse, I’ve yet to read more than a few parts of the online Photoshop manual.

I often crop an image to trim away the edges. Sometimes I go further. While I would never come between my mother and her sister or question Gestalt, I kind of like the parts of this photograph more than the whole. (Remember the right half?)


Cropping different parts of a family photo.
I often modify the brightness and sometimes the contrast. My slide of the Krak de Chevaliers, a Crusader castle in Syria, was sort of a yin-yang, too dark--too light.  Adjusting the brightness, I felt better about the details, though I may have overdone it.

Brightening a photo of the Krak de Chevaliers
Crusader castle in Syria.
If I can improve sharpness and color, I will. I think it helped with this slide of the ancient site of Palmyra, Syria. 

Removing a color cast and sharpening
a photo of Palmyra, Syria.
I remove dust with a blower before scanning; I keep thinking about using a gas duster (canned air). There are tools that can help by reducing static, but they’re not cheap and I’m not a specialist. There’s also software that can help, but I  suspect you’d lose information.  

Removing the dust but not the birds
from a photo of the Krak de Chevaliers
Crusader castle, Syria.
Given the scanned image, I enlarge then systematically review the image to find and remove dust anomalies. I’m sure I’ve removed more than anomalies in the process, but here’s another photograph of the Krak de Chevaliers, where I saved two dust-like birds (dark spots in the sky near top, center). Maybe I shouldn’t have.

Wrap Up

Family members have told me how much they enjoy receiving the photographs, which alone says that scanning is a productive use of my retirement time. It’s also allowed me to illustrate the blog posts.

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll write again in about a week.

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