After hundreds of scanned photos, I noticed streaks in the photos. I looked at the original prints and the lines weren’t there. Looking at more photos, it became obvious that the issue was in the scanner. Was my fancy toy broken so soon?
No, it turns out that the frequent warnings in the manual and in the software about cleaning the scanner often were legitimate. Turns out that dragging thousands of ancient photos through, many of them with glue residue in the back, gets things dirty.
Surely enough, a bit of wiping with the bundled microfiber cloth made the issue go away.
Pro tip: clean the scanner often.
And now what?… redo all the bad scans or no? It’s about 2000 photos.
I suppose if I don’t do it now, nobody will ever do it. Deep breath, roll sleeves up, and redo the bad scans. At least I’m now getting the hang of it.
For several years I watched the thousands of photos stored away in a closet at my parents’ house slowly rot away, the colors of my childhood fading. I wanted to digitize them all, in order to freeze the color decay.
About three years ago, Phase I of The Great Scanning Project started: to manually remove the photos one-by-one from those old-school sticky albums so they can be scanned, trasferring any hand-written captions in the process. For this I recruited Griselda who spent about a week working full time on this. And so all the photos went into boxes ready to be scanned.
On a later trip, my parents drove up from Mexico with two giant boxes and two small boxes full of photos, some from my great grandparents and dating all the way back to the 1920s.
Phase II of The Great Scanning Project is to get them into a computer. There are several scanning services out there, but I had so many photos that it would cost several thousands of dollars – and even if I wanted to pay it, the photos were too sticky and curled up that they’d just be rejected or damaged. I had to take matters into my own hands.
After much research, I chose the Epson FF-680W. It can scan photos at high resolution at about 1 photo per second, and you can just put a stack of them and let it do its job. But still, it’s a lot of work and who has the time?
Then the COVID-19 Pandemic hit: Stuck working from home, I can feed photos to the scanner in the background while in meetings. I’ll never have a better opportunity. No more excuses.
I’m about 20% done with 1857 photos scanned at 600 dpi. Some great gems in there so far. Let’s see how long it takes me to finish and how many hard drives I’ll need to buy.
The photos are just getting scanned right now. I have yet to deal with fixing rotation, restoring color, adding rough dates, and identifying people. Ideally, in an automated fashion or close as can be. Then, figure out the best way to share with family. I suspect none of this will happen right away.
My parents came to visit and on my request brought along three fat photo albums from when I was born. I needed to show my wife that our son does indeed have an eery resemblance to my extremely young self, if not my adult self.
As you’d expect from photos that are over *ahem* twenty years old, they’ve suffered from some terrible degradation (older post on the subject). Not surprisingly, the photos degraded differently based on the photo development process and paper used. Some even got extremely blurry – and I think those are a lost cause.
So obviously I need to scan them all. To make the digitizing work worse, and unlike my wife’s old photos, these are glued to the album pages with transparent cellophane on top. To try and pry the photos off the album will most likely destroy them, so they need to be digitized off the page. I think this means that using a digitizing service like we did before will not be possible.
Here’s what the album looks like:
Like crap (please don’t get me started on idiotic Instagram filters people are using nowadays).
I already finished scanning one of the three albums. It wasn’t a fun process. I used an Epson Artisan 837 and the built-in Image Capture application that comes with OS X. I scanned everything at 600 dots-per-inch, which I believe easily exceeds the sharpness of the old photos.
One nice thing about Image Capture, is that it can auto-detect the photos on the page, and scan each one of them as an individual file.
It will even fix rotation! Unfortunately I didn’t have great luck with this because, as you can see, the glue is extremely yellow at this point so the program had trouble recognizing where the photos are. I would end up selecting the photos by hand.
This made the process quite tedious:
Take out page from album
Place on scanner
Go to computer, press “Overview”
Adjust what photos will get scanned
Flip page to scan the other side
Repeat process from #4 to #8
Put cellophane back on page
Reinsert to album
Hardly a model of speed, automation, and efficiency.
I will refine the process for the other two albums, no doubt. For one, I will skip overviews and just scan full pages. It will make scanning a lot faster. I will also try and connect the scanner over USB rather than WiFi. I have a hunch that this was the main bottleneck to the scanner’s speed and not so much the digitizing itself.
But this means that I would need to cut individual photos out from a single page scan to individual files as a post-processing step. My goal is to automate this – research needed and advise appreciated.
The last step: fixing the colors of the photos. I played around with adjusting all the color curves of a specific photo manually on the excellent Pixelmator. This is what the original photo looks like:
It took a bunch of tweaking, but the results seem pretty good:
Not bad, huh? (you can click to zoom in)
Of course, fixing each photo manually like this would take a tremendous amount of time. I think the way to go, barring a completely automated solution, is to group photos by era, album, and photo paper; since those would all degrade the same way. I can then apply the same combination of color-correcting filters. I haven’t yet figured all of the details out, so this is material for a future post. Far into the future most likely.
For now the important thing is to scan the rest of the photos so we can freeze the color degradation.
You may or may not know this, but video quality in tapes (VHS more so, Beta a little less so) degrades with time. Photos too, and some kinds of photo paper degrade faster than others, and most people have no idea when they go out to have those rolls first developed.
We take those photos and make those videos because our memory fades with time. Little did we know that those old home videos and albums full of photos would fade too!
But you can put an end to this: Digitize. By digitizing your videos and scanning your photos you turn them into ones and zeros, and those don’t fade with time. I’ve been begging my mom to have our videos and photos digitized for years! I know it’s a lot of work… but maybe one day?
Shlomit decided to tackle this problem and just took all her family photos (about 5000) out of their albums and shipped them off in three boxes to ScanMyPhotos. In less than a week the photos came back along with three data DVDs. It was a lot of work, but well worth it!
The nice thing about digital photos (besides the fact that they don’t fade, you can copy without a loss of quality, you can email them, and they take up no physical space) is that even though the colors may be faded on the originals, you can always do a little bit of restoration on the computer without too much work.
I grabbed one random photo whose colors were badly faded and did some very quick color-correction using iPhoto‘s built-in tools – nothing terribly fancy. The results were better than I expected:
Not too bad, huh? So, mom… when are we doing this?
It took a lot longer than I had hoped for due to unforseen technical difficulties, but I am finally done going through the ~1500 photos we took in the last couple of weeks, selecting and post-processing, and have posted them to The MKX® Photo Central.
I am really happy with how the photos came out. We used an Olympus E-PL1 Micro Four Thirds camera on the trip instead of the usual crummy pocket camera, which we occasionally paired with a Panasonic 45-200mm telephoto lens, which allowed for some cool closeups at the stadiums and in the safari. The main album is broken up by day:
We had a little get-together on Saturday at my place. Unfortunately I lost all the photos in a timely hard drive crash. Fortunately I was able to recover the pictures from the camera’s memory card. It was a great time. Thanks to anyone who made it, especially those who came from out of town and those who helped clean afterwards!
If you have any photos, please let me know through the comments and I’ll link to them from here (or upload them myself). Read more for links and more photos.
I started having computer problems a few days ago. They coincidentally started right after I applied the Mac OS X 10.5.7 update. So I blamed that and decided to deal with it whenever I get a chance. The symptoms: my Mac mini would lock up after I use iTunes or iPhoto for a little bit. I didn’t really think it was a problem with iTunes or iPhoto themselves nor their files since they happen to be the applications I use the most on that machine – so I assumed the computer would lock up regardless of what program I’m using.
Turns out I was wrong. What happened is that the external hard drive that I use to hold (surprise!) all of my music collection, videos, and over 8000 photos was dying. It finally stopped functioning altogether tonight. None of my computers can even see it, much less mount it or extract any data from it.