When we take traditional film photos, we always have them processed as 4x6 inch prints. Smaller 3x5 prints might save a dollar or two but the 4x6 size allows for a better scan. The larger print size helps to improve the finished result you'll be viewing on-screen. Prints are usually easier to scan than negatives, if you're archiving your old film photos on your computer. You may get slightly better results scanning color prints or negatives than with a digital camera, however there are trade-offs. When scanning, there are usually flaws. The print itself may not be perfect. The contrast and colors might not be quite right. No matter how careful you are, there is almost always dust on the scanned image that winds up being obvious on the computer screen.
The first thing we do is scan the prints, negatives or slides, or download digital images from our digicam to our computer at the highest resolution possible and save in uncompressed tiff format. This makes for a huge file, but we have more to work with for a better end result. We’ll reduce the file size later. We then use our favorite photo editing software (see here for information) to adjust and clean up each photo.
With the editing software (we use Adobe Photoshop and Corel Paint Shop Pro) we rotate and crop each photo. No matter how careful we are when taking a picture we're usually off a few degrees from being aligned. We rotate the photo using the horizon in the distance or vertical lines of buildings or trees as a reference for what's supposed to be straight. Then we crop the photo to make it look appealing, sometimes removing a bit from side to side or top to bottom if there's something there that wasn't intended to be; say the tip of a finger in front of the lens.
Then we remove the dust or other spots that shouldn't be there. There are several tools in the software that achieve this rather well. The dust and scratches filter is good at removing multiple dust spots but we caution against using it on the entire image. This filter tends to remove important details of the photo if not used correctly. If you select only the part of the image that has severe dust on it, and then use the dust and scratches filter, you won't affect the rest of the photo. Other handy utensils for dust are the smudge and healing brush tools. Dust is most often visible in the sky, and since there is little detail there, these tools will wipe away the dust spots easily.
Are you planning to get a huge monitor sometime in the future? Then save the images as large as you have room for on your hard disk.
After all the dust is gone we might remove other items that spoil the photo such as jet contrails or wires. The clone stamp tool works well for this, as you can stamp a portion of the sky next to the imperfection and replace the undesirable part with what you just cloned. Afterwards the smudge tool, or the blur tool, will help to blend the sky back to a natural look. Think of it like finger painting. (This gets a little trickier if the imperfection is in a detailed portion of the photo.) Finally, we might sharpen the image a bit with one of the sharpening filters. Don't over do it though. Over-sharpened photo images tend to look phony.
After the housecleaning, then we adjust the color, brightness and contrast of our photos. To adjust the color, we use the "adjust variations" window. This shows nine miniature versions of the photo with various color corrections so you can decide what you're after. Simply pick the one that looks best and click on it. Be sure to do this with all four of the options available; shadows, mid tones, highlights and saturation. Most times adding just a touch of one color or the other to the mid tones is all that is necessary. Then in the brightness/contrast window we'll darken, brighten, or add contrast as necessary. Usually just a little is enough; the scanning software typically gives us an image that is nearly correct.
Next, and we're almost done, it's time to sharpen the image. We use the Unsharp Mask filter for this. You can set varying degrees of sharpening. Too much will make the photo look phony. We typically use a sharpening value of between 70 and 100. This brings out some details that might have been lost in the scanning process. After sharpening, we might notice more dust that we couldn't see before, so we use the smudge tool or the dust filter to take care of it.
Last, we adjust the image size and save it. This is where you need to plan ahead. Are you planning to get a huge monitor sometime in the future? Then save the images as large as you have room for on your hard disk. (We usually save our photos at 72 dpi screen resolution [75 dpi for Windows] at a size of about 10x14 inches.) Do you expect to print the images on a high quality printer? If so, save them big and at high resolution.
Generally, we save our photos in jpeg format since it compresses the file size without much loss of image detail. However, if you plan to print the images later, save them in an uncompressed format such as tiff. The slight loss of detail in compressed jpeg's isn't noticeable on screen but when printing a full page photo, you might notice. Never save in gif format, unless you're putting small thumbnail photos on the web, as gif files reduce your photo to 256 colors; an extreme loss of quality.
Keep the original prints and you can always go back and scan them again if you haven't saved them in the format you'll need in the future. Of course if your dog gets hold of them and chews them up, you'll be glad you saved the computer images at the largest size and highest resolution possible. Have these tips been helpful to you? Share some of your own ideas with us with the email link at the bottom of the page. By the way, click on the image above to see the larger size of the photograph from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.