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Digitizing Photographs

When digitizing it is far better to scan the negatives as the results from scanning 6x4 photographs is about 40% of the quality of scanning the negatives. When displaying scanned photographs on a 24" LCD display, scratches, loss of detail, loss of color is obvious. None the less, if all you have is the photograph then that is what we have to scan if we want to preserve those precious memories.

After digitizing all our negatives, we found that the negatives for several packets of photographs were lost. Possibly given to relatives or friends so that they could create their own copies.

The Epson Perfection V500 Photo scanner had done an amazing job with scanning negatives, so I put it to the task of scanning the remaining photographs.

The reason I am scanning all our pictures is so that we can render them on an LCD screen, not for re-printing. As a result, it is very important to disable "Unsharp Mask", otherwise the images will appear "grainy" on large LCD's.

Before starting to scan the photographs sort the packs of photographs in advance, because I found that all of ours were mixed up through years of browsing. Some pictures were eventually just put in a big "pile" because it was impossible to sort them. Some development labs put the number of the photograph within the spool on the back of the photograph.

After a few hours of doing test scans with a select few pictures, I found that the following setup gave the best results:
  • Place 3 to 4 pictures on the scanning glass (depending on picture size)
    • Warning: Do not place any pictures past the left or bottom indicators marked as "MAX", since the scanner cannot scan beyond these points. Any photographs placed beyond these will just be cropped without any warning.
    • I recommend blowing the dust off each picture using a hand-held blower prior to placing on the glass
      • I have a Giotto air blower that I previously used to clean the CCD on my digital SLR
    • If switching from scanning negatives, remember to put the white backing back in the lid of the scanner
  • After closing the lid press the green scan key on the front of the scanner
  • The Epson Scan software will automatically start on the computer
    • Initial setup required only before scanning first photograph, change the settings as follows:
      • Change to "Professional Mode"
      • Document Type: "Reflective"
      • Auto Exposure Type: "Photo"
      • Image Type: "24-bit Color"
      • Scanning Quality: "Best"
      • Resolution: "600 dpi"
      • Click on: "Configuration"
        • Select the "Color" tab
        • Select "ICM"
          • Source: "EPSON Standard"
          • Target: "Adobe RGB"
        • Select OK
    • Click on "Preview"
    • Once the Preview appears, rotate the images as needed
      • If 2 or more pictures are joined into a single picture, create more space between the pictures on the glass, even removing 1 or 2 if required, then preview again
    • Do the following before every scan:
      • Press the "All" button on the Preview Screen
      • Deselect "Unsharp Mask"
    • Select Scan
  • File Save Window appears
    • Choose the folder to write the images too
    • Under Image Format
      • Type: "TIFF (*.tif)"
    • Click on OK
  • Scanner will scan each image placing the TIFF uncompressed image in the folder specified above
  • Open Adobe Photoshop (LE version included with scanner)
    • Drag the tiff images into the Photoshop window
    • Perform Auto-Levels: CTRL-SHIFT-L
      • For most photographs this will result in exceptional images
      • For low quality photographs, or photographs in a really bad shape, sometimes it is better to only do "Auto Color".
      • Try it manually on a few photographs first if you are not sure
    • Perform Dust & Scratch removal:

    • Save as JPEG, with compression level 10
Most newer photographs are only printed at 300dpi, so 600dpi may be overkill. I prefer 600dpi because many of my older photographs were developed in labs and therefore have detail beyond 300dpi. Hard drive space is cheap, so I did not bother to figure out which photographs only had 300dpi.

The scanner software does a very poor job with dust and scratch removal. Rather use the included Adobe Photoshop Elements to do dust and scratch removal.

Scanning negatives is also a lot easier since you can load 8 to 12 negatives in at a time and walk away. The scanner does all the work. With photographs the scanner can only do 3 to 4 pictures at time, so you need to load it far more frequently.

The upside with scanning photographs is that it only takes 25 seconds per photograph using the above settings, versus the 3 minutes per negative when uses Digital ICE. However, the results are far superior when scanning negatives. This excludes the Adobe post-processing time for each image.

Hint: It is easier to lift scanned photographs already on the glass using another unwanted photograph. Just slide the old photograph under one already on the glass to pick it up. In this way we can avoid getting smudges on the glass when trying to remove scanned photographs.