Stick a Fork in It…

Back on May 1st, I scanned a slide of myself with my cousins in front of Old Ironsides. The slide must have come into contact with some darkroom chemicals, as it was heavily stained and spotted, not to mention covered with hairs, fungus and other crap:

Before retouching and cropping

Before retouching and cropping

Obviously, it’s in pretty bad shape, but still… there was something there I wanted to save. So I went to work, and all other scanning work has been on hold (save one other, also difficult, slide) while I worked on this one.

The first step was to adjust color on the unstained parts of the slide, which I did via an adjustment layer. The next step was to go after the fungus in the sky, and all the little blue spots in the black parts of the ship. Those were the easy parts. Next, I had to fix the blue spot over Billy’s eye, and the spots on his shirt. At some point I conceded the right fifth of the image and cropped in much tighter to get rid of most of the blue blob. For the rest, I added a series of masked adjustment layers to remove the blue color and change the tonality, until I was finally able to get the rest of the bow passable.

It’s certainly not perfect. I’ll plead guilty to a certain amount of retouching fatigue on this one. I do admit I like the looser composition of the original better. But still, it’s a damned sight better than what I started with:

After restoration

After Restoration



I was looking through my old negatives to see if I could find the negative of the picture of my Dad that I posted last September, when I came across yet another box of slides. The box contained a bunch of rejected slides, pictures that were either too light or too dark to be part of a slide show. That was then. Now, we can edit pictures digitally, so I figured they were worth a second look. I found about fifteen that looked like they might be worth a quick scan to see if there was anything worth the work of fixing them.

Of the first four, this was the most promising. It’s a picture of my sister and me from 1963, taken by my father.

Nancy and Me - before

Nancy and Me – before

It looks like it was from the tail end of a roll — light fogged at the right and top, and covered with fungus.

Nancy and Me - After

Nancy and Me – After

Not bad at all. So what did I do?

  1. I cropped much of the fogged area out of the picture. (The ‘Before’ picture is actually cropped).
  2. I added an initial overall Curves adjustment to make the darks darker and the lighter areas lighter, and adjust the color.
  3. I added a second Curves adjustment on top of the first, masked with a layer mask with a very soft bottom edge, over the top half of the picture. This layer makes the top part of the picture darker and more contrasty, and further adjusts the colors.
  4. Used the Spot Healing Brush to clean up the biggest bits of dirt on the scan. Things like hairs and especially large clumps of mold.
  5. Cleaned up some (but not anywhere near all) of the mold tendrils on the faces. Just the very largest spots — there was way too much mold damage on this picture to spot them all away individually.
  6. Dealt with the blue mold spots. These occur where the fungus has eaten through the yellow dye layer of the emulsion. For some, like the blue spot on my face, and some of the blue spots on the couch, I used the Clone Stamp Tool. In other places, like along the back wall and the spot in my sister’s hair, it was sufficient to use the Sponge Tool to desaturate the blue away.
  7. I used the Sponge Tool and Burn Tool to desaturate and darken the edge fogging on the right side of the picture.
  8. Finally, I duplicated my layer, ran the Dust and Scratches filter on it, masked it, and then removed the mask away from any edges.

The problem with the Dust and Scratches layer is that it works by blurring the spots away, and can also blur away detail. Usually, I only need to unmask the Dust and Scratches layer where there are dust spots. Usually, if there are particularly bad areas, they’re confined to the sides, which are out of focus anyway. Not this picture. I had to accept this image was not going to be as clean as I’d like.The fungus damage was way too extensive, and covered every square millimeter of the film. So I unmasked everything away from any sort of edge. For example, I unmasked the skin if the faces, but left the edge of the lips and eyes from the base layer showing, to retain the sharpness of the edges.

Overall, though, considering the state of the original image, not too shabby, even if I do say so myself.


Done, by Gum

I’ve finally finished off the first phase of The Great Slide Scanning Project. About a month ago, I finally finished retouching the last of the slides — an old, heavily faded, blotchy, fungus ridden AnscoChrome slide of my cousin Susan riding a bicycle. Since then, I’ve been busily uploading them to a private, sister WordPress site, captioning them, adjusting thumbnail cropping and generally polishing. I’ve just sent a note to my cousins, letting them know about it. It’s done.

It was interesting dealing with a brand new WordPress installation. I ended up using the stock Twenty Twelve theme, mainly because of its dimensions and the way it deals with photo captions — some of the newer themes only showed captions when mousing over the images. I did like the Twenty Fifteen theme, but the attachment page images are bigger in Twenty Twelve. I’m less fond of it’s lack of customization — you can’t edit the stylesheet, and I’m not fond of the rather plain font used for the header. But it’s a site that will probably see a week’s worth of traffic as family members check it out, and then go dormant.

Phase II will be the pictures from my mother’s side of the family. There aren’t nearly as many of them, but there are around 70 old glass mounted slides from the 1940s, taken by my mother’s aunt, including some of my mother as a child. I’m hoping they’ll fit in the scanner. I’m also hoping they won’t need nearly as much retouching.

One slight problem is that I appear to have lost my old PowerMac G4 — it won’t start up, and that’s the machine I used to run the Polaroid dust and scratches filter. If I can’t get it running, I’ll need to find a better dust removal filter.

Temporal Anomalies

I just finished retouching a scan of one of Dad’s slides from 1958. In the picture, Grandma is watching my cousin Bill, as a baby, by her living room table.

Bill and Grandma

Bill and Grandma

I was zoomed in at 100%, retouching away the dust spots and mold, moving over the picture millimeter by millimeter.

Inset of his hand

Inset of his hand

As I got to the section by his hand, I noticed he had his hand on a spent flashbulb.

If you saw one, would you even know what it was?

Back then, if you wanted to do interior photography of people, you used a flash gun with expendable glass bulbs filled with, I think, magnesium wire and oxygen that burned instantly to produce one pop of light. Dad must have used it for one of the previous pictures, set it down on the table, and the baby picked it up, as babies are wont to do.

One-shot flashbulbs were replaced with flashcubes when I was a teenager, soon to be replaced with electronic flash units, good for thousands of pictures, replacing calculations of guide numbers and distance and f/stops with automatic exposure.

It got me thinking—how much of our current everyday technology will be obsolete and unrecognizable in a few decades?

Slide Scanning Update

I was just re-reading my post on my slide scanning workflow, and thought I’d post an update. I’m just about to finish my second carousel, and I’ve made a change that has sped things up a bit.

First of all, I’d like to mention that VueScan no longer requires the the slides to be set to “Mirror”. There was a update a couple of months ago that took care of this issue.

Second, I’ve found a better way to use the “Dust and Scratches” (DS) layer that I generate using the old Polaroid Dust and Scratches plugin. I would imagine this technique would also work with the default Dust and scratches plugin too. To recap, I found that the Polaroid dust and scratches plugin did a very good job of getting rid of dust spots, and to a lesser extent, fungus, but it also left artifacts, and removed detail.

Kids watching my uncle feed a squirrel

Cousin Susan, Uncle Tom, and neighbor watch my Uncle Dick feed a squirrel. Circa 1955

Previously, I was running the filter on a copy of the file, and then adding the result as a layer, and erasing the layer where it was causing problems. This created a lot of work, because I had to carefully inspect the whole image in order to erase the layer where it was causing problems.

Eventually, I realized it would be better to reverse things. Now, I add the layer, and immediately add a layer mask to it in Photoshop, making the layer completely transparent. Layer masks allow you to make make parts of layer transparent or translucent. When the mask is black, the layer is transparent. Where the mask is white, the layer is opaque. Gray generates a semi-transparent area. Once the mask is created, you can paint on it with the brush or any of the other tools, allowing very good control of what parts of a layer are visible. It’s a great tool for creating collages.

So I start off with a completely transparent DS layer, and then use the graphics tablet and brush tool to unmask the layer over dust spots. Generally speaking, for spots and fungus tendrils, it’s faster than using the Spot Healing Brush, and working this way allows me to avoid applying the layer to areas with a lot of detail. For hairs, scratches, and areas of detail, I find the Spot Healing Brush works better—it’s more complete, and it’s less likely to add artifacts or remove detail.

I’ve found this speeds things up quite a bit, since I can keep the brush away from edges and detail, only applying the layer where it’s needed. This means I don’t have to keep checking the DS layer to make sure it isn’t obscuring detail. It’s also usually faster than the Sport Healing Brush — my aim doesn’t need to be as accurate, and I don’t have to fuss with it as much. Using this technique (plus the fact that the current batch of slides hasn’t been as dirty as the first batch) meant that I was able to get many more slides scanned for my aunt than I anticipated in time for Christmas.

Slide Scanning Work Flow

I mentioned in my previous post that I’m scanning my father’s old slides. The slides are almost all Kodachromes, spanning the period from the mid 1950s to the 1970s. The eventual goal is to have a set of scans that I can disseminate to family members at a reasonable resolution, without, hopefully, it becoming my life’s work. The slides are in a variety of states: some are well exposed, well processed, and have no color casts, some are underexposed, a set are overexposed, and some have visible color casts. All of them, I’ve found, are filthy, and many are covered with fungus.  What I didn’t realize was that I’d signed up for a restoration project.

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Scanning Slides With the Plustek OpticFilm 8200

My Dad was a great photographer. With his 35mm Kodak Signet, and Zeiss Ikon folding medium format rangefinder, he shot a ton of slides that he would bring out from time to time for a “movie” show. Somehow, when he died, I became the custodian of his pictures. When I picked up a Carousel projector for my own slides, I organized his slides into a couple of standing carousel shows.

Every now and then, some family member has asked about getting copies or scans of the slides. Every now and then, I’d think about transferring them to digital, look into the matter, and come away with these options, all of them bad:

  • Have them scanned locally by a camera store, at about a $1 a slide. I did this for a couple of my own slides for a funeral; the quality was atrocious. The scans were blurry, the contrast was muddy, and the color was shitty. There is no way I was going to let them do more.
  • Send them out to a digitizing service. Aside from the inherent risk of sending them out at all, I’ve read that the lower priced services actually send the slides overseas, where labor costs are lower. No way. There are services that do the work domestically, but they’re higher priced—on the order of $3-6 apiece. I may still explore this option for his medium format slides.
  • Get a scanner, and scan them myself. This would entail the cost of the scanner, plus my own time scanning and post processing the slides. For the longest time, the only scanner I could find that looked like it had quality I could live with was the Nikon CoolScan series. The only problem was that they were $2000 – $5000 — and no longer available. Every now and then I would desultorily look at eBay to see if they had one I could afford at the moment, and come away empty handed.
  • Get a cheap scanner. My mother actually got one for me for Christmas, but it turned out to be Windows only. I tend to doubt I would have been happy with the quality.

Finally, about a year ago, I started reading about the Plustek OpticFilm series of scanners. I saw some sample images, and they looked good. I checked the reviews, and they were mostly good, with the caveat that there was a learning curve involved, so last March, I bit the bullet, and bought one. Continue reading