I spent my Saturday this week cleaning up a couple of photo scans in Photoshop. Really one was a photo scan and the other was a negative scan. It amounts to about the same thing except I used two different scanners to get them onto the computer.

My Minolta film scanner is old. Somewhere around the year 2002 old. I write this in 2022 so that puts it at around twenty years old. Thanks to the scanner software VueScan I can still use it but it doesn’t work quite right all the time. The scanner uses a holder that I can put a strip of four or five negatives or slides in. The scanner then moves the holder to the appropriate spot to scan. Or it’s supposed to.

These days when I scan a strip of film it gets the first two in the correct spot but over or undershoots the last two or three. I have no idea why. I don’t know if it’s a software or a hardware problem. I tried an older version of Vuescan and it made no difference. I think it’s a hardware problem. I opened up the case on the scanner and blew the dust out (there was hardly any in there) but that made no difference.

Eventually I got on with scanning. Since I only had one negative to scan it came out fine. The scanner doesn’t overshoot the first one. The negative was one I bought off of eBay. Occasionally I look there and see what old fine art nude negatives are there for sale. I paid around ten dollars for this one. It’s a nude woman in some sort of net with flashing colors around her. It caught my eye and I thought I could make something out of it.

The second photo I was working on came in the mail form an old coworker. We worked together at Marvel Comics back in the 1990s. He had a nice group photo of a bunch of us who worked there. The photo was from September 1990. I asked him to send it to me so I could scan it in and he did. The version of it that he posted was a photo taken of the 4×6 inch photo with his phone. I knew a scan of it would be nicer.

The photo I scanned on one of my flatbed scanners. The Canoscan 8800F. This one scans negatives too but not as well as the dedicated film scanner. It also has a very high optical resolution which is really good for scanning photos. At first I scanned it at 1200 DPI but then I thought the better of it and scanned it at 2400 DPI too. That’s really overkill since 2400 DPI means that I could print the photo at 24×36 inch poster size and I’m not going to do that. But I have to return the photo when I’m done with it so why not make sure I have more DPI than I need? I’ve got the hard drive space for it.

Since the 2400 DPI scan was overkill I decided to clean up the 1200 DPI scan. By clean up I mean digitally remove all the dust and dirt that had accumulated on the 4×6 inch photo over the years. You can’t even see the dust and dirt on the photo with the naked eye but the blown up scan on the monitor makes it obvious.

There is scanner software that comes with new scanners that cleans up a lot of the dust specs but I don’t have that software. I’m not even sure how well it works. I used such software in the past and it only worked fair to middling. So I had to use the Photoshop spot healing brush. Tap on a digital dust speck and the tool makes it disappear and blend in. That has to be done speck by speck. There are usually hundreds of specks. So that’s how I cleaned the photo up.

After cleaning I went about figuring out how to make the photo scan look nicer. This meant duplicating the photo as other layers and using color correction tools, exposure tools, and layer styles on all those other layers. Then I blended them together. I even did an internet search to see if there were any new ideas out there on how to do this. I found at least one good idea I didn’t know about.

After almost getting the photo to where I wanted it I had an epiphany. Why was I working on the 1200 DPI version when I has a 2400 DPI version to work on? Sure 2400 DPI was overkill but if I ever needed that overkill I’d have to clean it up all over again. It’s easy to downsample something to get rid or resolution and hard to upsample and gain resolution (pointless even). So I decided to start over with the 2400 DPI version. I blame the lack of foresight on a sinus headache I had that day.

It took another hour or two to clean up the higher res version but eventually I got that one done too and finished it off. It came out nice and I posted it on Facebook. It was well received.

After doing that one I decided to clean up the negative I got from eBay. That one took even longer to clean. Negatives usually have more dust and scratches on them that printed photos do. This one had a lot. It was underexposed with pinholes of light all over the scan. It took some patience and persistence to clean up.

It also got me looking online at some new film scanners. Twenty years ago when I bought my dedicated film scanner there were three or four of them on the market by the big photo companies. Minolta made mine plus Nikon had one and there was a least one more that I can’t remember now. I think they’ve gotten out of the film scanner business because I only saw one new scanner made by a company called Plustek. It cost $550.

At least that was the only good one I saw. There are cheap $100 and under film scanners but those are made for people who just want to cheaply digitize old family photos. They’re not quite the artist quality that I want.

The Plustek one is the way to go for me but I don’t think I’ll be buying it anytime soon. It’s not like I have a pile of negatives to scan at the moment so I can wait. My Epson flatbed scanner can scan in film in a pinch anyway. I just don’t want to lose my ability to make high quality scans of film. It’s a good resource to have.