Scanning Hints

Recently I was asked for some scanning recommendations, and then also having just purchased Lightroom and trying to reign in my photo collection, I thought I might have some useful insights for anyone looking to scan their old photos into their digital collections.
So it seems I’ve been here before. Going through all of my old photos from decades gone by, wondering how best to capture them and save them so I don’t have to do this again (and in case I ever have that option taken away from me). This time, the purchase of Adobe’s photo development and cataloging software Lightroom lead me to try to, once again, bring all my photos under one room, collected in one place, with all the best digital versions available of each shot. Needless to say most collections can’t stand up to that kind of scrutiny without some desire to improve or upgrade the system you have. And mine is no exception.

Even though I’d scanned all of these photos before, standards change and some files get misplaced. For this reason, I decided to rescan many of the prints I’d scanned before. Isn’t that a lot of work? Well, it’s not insignificant, but technology improvements and better understanding of processes and software are making it worthwhile for me.

For one thing, though I have all of these photos already, I’m scanning at a higher resolution this time. I’m scanning everything at 100% but 600 dpi as opposed to previous 300 dpi scans. Is this necessary? Not likely, it’s more than I’ll use, but the increase in HD size, and also the introduction of cheap enlargement printing and photobooks make having the larger resolution worth considering so that enlargements can print well at a larger range of sizes.

Also, now that lightroom and Photoshop include RAW-light development options for jpgs and other file types with greater control and often with non-destructive options, it makes it well worth considering as future software developments become available. I for one (along with most) “ruined” more than my share of scans with the over-use of the Shadows and Highlights filter in Photoshop. Thanks to Lightroom, I can still make the same tweaks without throwing away that original data, so that in two years when they come out with the next great thing, I hopefully won’t have to do this all over again (since the photos will likely continue to degrade in their own imperceptible way.

And not that I needed to rescan for this, but keywords and metadata in general has improved considerably and makes having a new, fresh collection worth drooling over as well.

A few words about the scan process. While I’m a big fan of using TWAIN import for scanner within Photoshop for day to day and single run scans, I’m sat back and thought about the process for large run scanning endeavors. Using Photoshop to get the images into the computer is an additional step and a wasteful one. For this round, I’m using scanner software (in this case Epson) to handle the capture and also naming and saving. It’s a real time saver. I can set the scanner software up to capture the image based on my presets and save the file out, eliminating the tedious process of saving and naming files and even much of my participation at all, other than setting the photos on the scanner bed.

And there’s another time saver. While most scanner software allows you to preview the bed and select what you’ll be scanning, I forego that and just sort of break the bed into three zones and set the scanner to scan each of those three with the settings I want. It’s hugely inefficient in that it scans a 4×6 photo with 2 inches border all around it, but the speed of doing that and then cropping it off, is far superior to re-previewing every time. It might not be for all scanners, but if you haven’t tried it, give it your own tests. It might save you a ton of time.

I’ve defaulted the scanning software to save the files as tiffs, that way I can open them after in Photoshop and crop and straighten them without worrying about the slow (of fast) degradation of jpgs. Once I have all the kinks worked out, and before I bring them into lightroom, I’ll run a Photoshop script (Image processor) on the whole batch of them to convert them to the highest quality jpg. Doing it once will maintain quality, and still drop the file size significantly.

In Photoshop (while they’re still tiffs), I tend to use the lens distort filter on them all, and use the straighten tool to draw the top of the photo edge to straighten the scans so they can be cropped easily. I know there are lots of automated options as well, but given a handful of keyboard shortcuts and actions, I find this way works fastest for me, then a quick Auto Colour filter for anything photographed before the 2000s, or anything on a cheaper camera, and I’m off to the races. I usually follow up the auto colour with a quick fade, Edit>Fade and drop the effect somewhere between 33 and 77, that’s just my taste, and that’ll put it in an acceptable range, that can be worked with later in Lightroom or RAW filtering. The less pixel editing the better though, because, remember, we’re shifting to non-desctructive options in Lightroom. I should probably scrap the whole Auto-colour thing and say I do it all in Lightroom, but I’d be lying. Some of the worst images definitely get the pre-Lightroom bump from me.

Definitely look into actions and keyboard shortcuts if you haven’t already. I find it far faster to hit an F5 or F6 to rotate my photos than any menu command or mouse maneuver. And if you hope to conquer a box of 800 photos in a day as I am doing, it’s an absolute necessity.

So that’s it. I’m sure I’ve forgotten (or taken for granted) many steps, tips and timesavers, but I thought it might be useful to put some of the steps down in case any of it saves you some time. It’s so important to be able to save your images in a worth and useful format, so the better job you do, the better off you are. Oh, and as someone who’s going through a lot of photos from the 20’s and 30’s with all kinds of people no one recognizes anymore, let me make a plea for future generations: When you add keywords, use people’s full names, including possibly maiden names in brackets for women in some cases. More information captured now, means less work, and greater appreciation in the future.

Sorry it wasn’t succinct, but hopefully it all made sense. Happy scanning.


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