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Processing Older Scanned Images

Fri Sep 09, 2005 3:20 am

The recent thread started by Bo_einG, discussed the scanning of negatives and without a doubt, the quality of the scanner and the level of dpi applied have a marked effect upon the potential processability of the scanned image.
But my reason for this thread is to find out whether anyone has particular methodologies which may help poor souls such as myself in the post scanning process, and also because I see significant numbers of uploaded oldies which in my humble opinion could easily be improved. For obvious reasons, don’t press me for examples!
The majority of my 1900 plus uploads are scanned from 35mm colour negatives and over the past two years, although my post scanning processing has improved, so has standards, and I am now re-uploading many of my earlier “horrors”.
For those of you thinking that I ought to be well versed by now, I have to say that my success rate is not that good!
Clearly, the main differences between film (particularly older shots) and digital, are the increase in grain, colour casts, most often green and blue, and variations in contrast, etc., usually as a result of such things as film storage, film ISO rating, etc,.
Grain I find quite difficult at times to reduce to acceptable levels and sharpening can increase the problem, but some alleviation is possible using small amounts of smart blur and selective brightening/contrast application.
Colour aberrations can often be recovered using the PS auto colour correction and with specific colour adjustments.
My question is, has anyone developed a workflow specifically for scanned images or can offer particular help in this area?

My interest lies in the future as I am going to spend the rest of my life there!
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RE: Processing Older Scanned Images

Fri Sep 09, 2005 4:36 pm

Good to hear that there is someone on A.Net with your scanning expertise Malcolm, 1900+ uploads from 35mm negatives is very impressive  

I have nearly 1000 scanned uploads now, including some flatbed scans from prints very recently, and my acceptance ratio is 82%. This would be higher but my DSLR photos tend not to do quite so well.

My 'workflow' for a 35mm negative is as follows:

Using an airbrush and compressor remove as much dust as possible from the negative strip (in the scanning holder) before scanning.

Use Acer ScanWit 2720S to scan negative at 2700 dpi which produces a 26MB sized file, save as a TIFF image.

Using a 2.8Ghz processor laptop degrain this with Neat Image 5.1 Home. This latest version produces a markedly better result than previous versions.

Using Photoshop LE (I think this is now called Elements) reduce the size of the TIFF to 1024x768 pixels which is about 2.2MB.

Then adjust colour levels using the manual 'pipette' tool. All I do is test the level at different points in the scanned image and I decide visually which is the most accurate and apply this to the rest of the image.

Then adjust brightness levels using the Curves tool.

The next part is to adjust the sharpness of the image. If you have used Neat Image you will definitely need to sharpen the image using the Photoshop Sharpen filter. Sometimes two applications of this tool can be made and if so it can benefit to reduce the levels of contrast slightly to compensate.

The main problem with negatives is dust spots, especially if they have not been stored with loving care over the years! I use an ancient graphics programme, probably the equivalent to IrfanView32, and this allows me to manually clone out the dust spots.

I then save the TIFF image and also save a JPG version as well, normally aiming for as near to 300KB in size as I can get.

Then upload to A.Net as well as sharing with some Yahoo aviation posting groups that I belong to.

As mentioned above I have just also started using a Canon LiDE 60 which is fairly inexpensive flatbed scanner. You certainly get much better quality for your money than even a few years ago and I have so far had seven images accepted into the database and one rejected. The workflow is identical except that I scan 7x5 inch photos at 600 dpi which which produces a 35MB sized file, again save as a TIFF image and proceed as above.

I am not saying this is the correct or best way to process film negatives, it just works for me using the resources that I have to hand. The main problem is the amount of time this process takes, one strip of four photos literally does take all evening to process, research and post to A.Net. That tends to be why I am a bit sloppy with my DSLR shots because so much of the effort is removed!

Key learning points:

1) Always work on your images as TIFF files, only compress them to JPG at the final point.

2) Always use the curves tool in Photoshop to adjust brightness.

Also, when posting on A.Net, always fill in the 'Comments to Screener' box and tell the screener if you have cloned out dust spots and your rationale for posting the photo  


[Edited 2005-09-09 09:37:25]
"I chase my dreams but I never seem to arrive"
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RE: Processing Older Scanned Images

Fri Sep 09, 2005 6:15 pm

Hi Malcolm

One thing to try, works for me sometimes.

Before re-sizing the image to requirements, try sharpening twice at your current levels.

A lot of folk say no but it works for me. Most of my latest print scanned images are done this way. Have to say they look pretty good for some of them around 20 years old.


Topic Author
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RE: Processing Older Scanned Images

Sun Sep 11, 2005 3:34 am

Many thanks to Michael and Gary, and also to Anthony Noble for a long and informative email and who has over a 100 quality scanned images in the database. Check them out if you haven’t already!

The rough outline of my own workflow.

Remove obvious dust from negatives as loaded into the scanners film holder. I use a soft lens brush.

Scan using an Epsom Perfection 3170 Photo at 1200 dpi for images of between 20 and 25Mb saved as large jpeg’s.

In PS LE, level and crop to 3 x 2.

Enlarge image to actual pixel size and clone out using the Clone Stamp Tool all dirt marks and scratches and occasional yellow/brown emulsion blobs. This is a labour of love as the total image covers an area of around 9ft x 7 ft (over 70 screens) on my 18” TFT, but I have yet to find fully effective software for doing this automatically.

Reduce size to Fit On Screen.

Apply Auto Colour Correction which will often appear to remove a ’discoloured film’ much as removing discoloured varnish from a painting.
Occasionally, if the image has a large area of dominant colour, using this tool may result in colour aberration.

Fine tune colour using Hue/Saturation.

Adjust brightness using Levels.

If the sky in particular is noticeably grainy at this stage, I may apply a very limited amount of Smart Blur to reduce.

I then apply Sharpen/Sharpen and save as the corrected original.

Reduce size to 1024 x 675 pixels and sharpen as required.

If grain is still apparent, some further use of Smart Blur may help but thresholds need to be kept below 4.5 to avoid patchiness. For large areas of clear sky it can be worth considering the use of the Magic Wand tool and Noise – De-speckle. Lightening also has a beneficial effect, and obviously the avoidance of over sharpening.

I have trialled higher scan values but the benefits were not obvious but this may be down to my scanner. Also higher dpi usually means extended scanning times.

I shall certainly try out Michaels suggestion of down loading TIFF images from the scanner with later conversion to JPEG.

Finally, all credit to our screeners. I don’t usually add comments with my scanned uploads as the date taken, rarity/ scarcity, and the less than perfect (digital!) quality probably makes this superfluous and they do indeed make reasonable allowance for age (not mine!) in particular.

My interest lies in the future as I am going to spend the rest of my life there!
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RE: Processing Older Scanned Images

Sun Sep 11, 2005 6:06 am


This is an interesting topic. I have a couple of hundred scanned negative shots in the DB most taken at Scottish Airports about 20 years ago.

The thing that is surprising me is the file sizes that are being mentioned. I scan with an Epson perfection 3200 flat bed with built in light hood. I normally scan 35mm negs at 2900 dpi which gives me a jpeg file of around 10 Mb if I save it with zero compression as a rough scan.

I use PS Elements 2 and my editing goes like this.

1) Crop and rotate to give a level picture with an approximate 3 : 2 aspect ratio

2) Adjust brightness / contrast using levels

3) Correct color cast

4) Enlarge to about 50% and clone out dust spots and blemishes

5) Sharpen using USM

6) Save with minimum compression - giving a file size of between 8 and 12 MB depending on extent of cropping and editing

7) Run through Neat Image to reduce grain

8) Import back in to PS Elements and apply a small amount of additional sharpening.

9) Resize to 768 pixels high and save to give a file size of about 1 Mb. If necessary I apply slight compression to get the file size under the required 1MB for A.Net upload.

Quite probably not the best way of doing things but I have had pretty good success with it so far. I did initially save the images as Tiff files but they were so big it was using up too much disk space and I have not found any noticeable difference in quality saving as jpegs.

All the best,

One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.
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RE: Processing Older Scanned Images

Sun Sep 11, 2005 5:46 pm

And all this goes to show that we are doing things differently !
My scanner has given up the ghost as a result of which I haven't done any for a while. An awful lot of my photos are on black and white with a lot of slides and some colour neg.
However, using a Nikon Coolscan 3 my workflow was....
Scan at maximum resolution.
Rotate and Crop, rotation is usually just to the point that I disagree with the screeners sufficiently for bad level.
Adjust contrast and levels (usually just enough for baddark)
Resize to 1024 across. By eye this usually gives something in the region of 685 high. If wildly different I go back and re-crop just enough for badsize.
A lot of my negs have developed mould and I then have to clone this out. On the black and white, in particular, I can save time by selecting the sky if it is blankish using the magic wand and adding some smart blur which softens the grain and mould/scratches. Select the inverse and then add USM or smart sharpen. I do not sharpen the sky. Why sharpen the grain anymore than you need to ?
When I first came across Neat Image I thought that it was a dream come true but I came to hate the plastic feel of the images preferring to see the grain than the NI effect. I have not used it for a considerable time. I have discussed this with others and can see little or no use for it with pure digital images. A tiny amount, tiny, can be of use with higher speed films.

Quoting Ghostbase (Reply 1):
Also, when posting on A.Net, always fill in the 'Comments to Screener' box and tell the screener if you have cloned out dust spots and your rationale for posting the photo

I totally agree with Ghostbase on this.
I take the view that the Screeners want our old photos on the DB and if I have had to work damned hard to remove mould from a badly degraded neg, I tell them so. If it is a rare aircraft, incident or similar, or there are varying levels, tell them so. If verticals are all over, tell them which you have used.

I have helped Anthony Noble, as has Malcolm. If you have not looked at his images, go on and treat yourselves.
Mick Bajcar
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RE: Processing Older Scanned Images

Mon Sep 12, 2005 6:27 am

Thanks John, and as Mick says we do seem to have our own preferences in terms of work flow, but perhaps over time we may find more common ground.

Just a final comment from me for now (although I still hope that others may wish to add their tuppence worth)

My own “well” will inevitably run dry but in addition to those who have already disclosed their as yet to be uploaded collections, I do so hope that others will “dip their toes in the waters” of scanning old negs and slides.

As we all know, aviation photography now spans a century or so, my interests having been particularly stimulated by my father’s service in the Royal Flying Corps in WW1, and there must be a veritable gold mine of old images out there. Some are in the database but of course these hardly scratch the surface.

I would encourage those who possess such images to find some way of sharing them with us. Clearly much advice is on offer through this forum and there may even be kindly souls who would undertake scanning on behalf of those who lack the facilities or techniques.

Sounds a little naïve? Well maybe, but I hold the belief that as far as this site is concerned, the past should and hopefully will become a significant part of its future.

My interest lies in the future as I am going to spend the rest of my life there!
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RE: Processing Older Scanned Images

Wed Sep 14, 2005 7:52 pm

Sorry, a bit late in reading this thread, but here's one more workflow (mine) for processing scanned slides and negatives. I use Photoshop CS.

  • I scan at the highest possible resolution and bit-depth, save as a 16-bit TIFF in AdobeRGB colour space if possible. All intermediate saves are of course also done as 16-bit TIFF's.
  • Save a back-up copy of the unedited scan.
  • Level.
  • Crop (usually preserving the 3:2 aspect ratio of the original slide).
  • Remove vignetting if necessary (only very rarely). This is a complicated procedure, involving separate channels and the Photoshop Gradient tool. I have not yet found an easy way to do this, and I am glad only very few of my slides suffer from vignetting... The method is very effective though.
  • Very important step: accurately set white & black points for each colour. I first use the Threshold tool to find the darkest and lightests points of the image, and then use the histogram for each colour separately to set these two points to truly black and white respectively. Doing it for each colour separately effectively removes any colour casts as well. All in all this step almost always has an amazing impact on the overall image quality and makes all subsequent editing much easier.
  • Use the Shadow/Highlight tool to light up the shadows or bring out the detail in a bright sky. Use with care, as this can easily destroy the image by creating halos and other weird effects.
  • Adjust overall brightness (and sometimes contrast) using the Curves tool. If a large correction is needed, apply in multiple smaller steps.
  • Remove noise (Neat Image), with separate settings for sky, aircraft and grass/trees etc. Just as with the Shadow/Highlight tool, use with great care. It is very easy to totally destroy your image with Neat Image. But when used right, it's a very powerful tool.
  • Adjust colour balance, using the Gray Point eyedropper in the Curves tool, and making further adjustments in the Curves tool if necessary.
  • Boost saturation a bit if necessary.
  • Use clone tool and healing brush to remove dust, scratches and other nasties.
  • For old negatives (not slides) I sometimes use the Dust & Scratches filter to remove the 'pepper & salt' effect in the sky areas.
  • Save a back-up copy of the edited scan.
  • Resize & resample to desired pixel size (for my scans this is 1200 pixels wide), usually in multiple smaller steps for a better result.
  • Sharpen the image using the edge sharpening method. This sharpens only what needs to be sharpened, and nothing else. Takes a bit of time, but is very effective and allows for very precise control.
  • Convert to sRGB colour space and 8-bit, then save as a high quality JPG.

I never use any of the "auto" adjustments in Photoshop, because I've always been very disappointed with their results. The Curves tool is much more powerful, and allows for much better control of what you do.

I am fairly satisfied with the results this workflow gives me, even from mediocre, 25 year old slides. I have developed it as I went along, making changes to it (improvements hopefully) with every image I uploaded. And so some of my older uploads are now in need of some rework and a re-upload...

My main regret is that, all those years ago, I didn't think it necessary to use high quality film. I wasn't a fan of K64 and K25 back then, mostly because of the slow and cumbersome way to get them developed, but now I wish I had been...



[Edited 2005-09-14 13:08:46]
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RE: Processing Older Scanned Images

Wed Sep 14, 2005 8:02 pm

Hi all

Thanks for adding to the thread Aad.

Will need to give your workflow a go with my older prints. One thing about the grey point eyedropper tool is that it's great for taking out colour casts that appear on prints over the years.

One thing I did the other day. I scanned a 20 year old British Airways HS748 print, fixed all the dirt and colours and then printed it on my Epson. Looks a lot better than the original  Smile


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RE: Processing Older Scanned Images

Wed Sep 14, 2005 8:25 pm

Hi Gary,

Quoting Granite (Reply 8):
I scanned a 20 year old British Airways HS748 print, fixed all the dirt and colours and then printed it on my Epson. Looks a lot better than the original

Yes, it's amazing what a reasonable scanner and Photoshop can do. Some of my oldest slides (early 1980's) are not exactly of the very best of quality (cheap Fuji film, cheap lens etc). But I was amazed with how they turned out after scanning and editing. Much, much better than the original.  Smile



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