Thursday, November 4, 2010

Photo Thursdays - Scanning Portraits

I don't know about you, but I have hundreds of photos in photo albums, which is great, except I want all my photos to be digitally accessible. It makes it nicer to preserve the quality and share with others. So what do you do with all those great non-digital photos? Answer: Make 'em digital. To accomplish this feat, you will need a scanner.

Scanners are extremely affordable these days, especially considering so many all-in-one units are the rage. I purchase all-in-one units specifically because they have scanners. Some people get really intimidated by scanners. Many are scared off by the terminology and pointless bickering on review sites about image quality. Here's my take on it: most scanners out there will do the job you need just fine. Unless you're a graphic designer looking to have the highest-quality scanner, an all-in-one unit should do just fine. Standalone scanners are generally pretty awesome too.

Now, once you have a scanner, how do you go about getting that picture in your computer? For starters, place your photo face down on your scanner bed. There should be guides in your scanner that tell you where to line it up. Next, open up Photoshop. Yes, most scanners come with software that allows you to scan, but I often find these programs tedious and they can often hide your files in strange places. They are great when you are scanning multiple pictures at a time, but when you have just one or two photos, I prefer Photoshop.

Once you're in Photoshop, go to the File menu and select the Import option. In this sub-menu you will find multiple ways to import a scanned print. You should see your scanner's name as one of these options. Generally there is a specific name for your scanner and then there's another option that looks like your scanner name, but has WIA in front of it. Because each scanner is a bit different, we will work with the WIA option which is generally the same between scanners.

Once you select the WIA option, a window will pop up with a few options. It may seem simple enough to select the type of picture you're scanning and press Scan, but that will not give you a high-quality print. The whole point of scanning in photos is to have them of sufficient quality that you could reprint them if necessary. To do this, select the 'Adjust the quality of the scanned print' link at the bottom of the window.

This pops up a new menu. Select your picture type and then get ready to play with resolution.

Resolution refers to how much information is contained within your picture. Computer monitors display at 72 dpi (dots per inch), which means in every square inch of your computer screen there are 72 dots. That works great for computer screens, but if you printed that out it would look horrible. That's because prints are not as forgiving as computer screens. So, you will need to scan your photo in at a higher resolution. If you would like to print your photo at the same size it currently is (4x6 would be printed as a 4x6 at some later date), select 300 dpi, which is the standard resolution for printing. If you would like to reprint your photo as a larger image at some future date, select a higher dpi. A word of caution about dpi: the higher the dpi, the more information the image will contain and the larger the file size you'll end up with. Generally, sticking to 300 dpi is a good idea.

After you select your resolution, it will bump you back to the previous screen. Press the Preview button. Yes, you could skip this step, but it will spend extra time scanning useless information, which will increase the file size as well. After your scanner does a preview sweep, the program should automatically size it to the scanned image. If not, you can manually resize the preview.

Once you have it the way you want, press the Scan button. This will import the image into Photoshop. When scanning is complete, you will be in Photoshop with a digital image just like one you took from your camera.

... except... (you knew there would be an except) it will have some flaws. Because it was scanned with bright light and flaws in the print, you will find fuzzy areas, parts of the photo with strange white dots and maybe some small colored strands. These are unavoidable effects due to dust and scratches, but you can usually get rid of them without too much effort.
Notice how faded the black appears. Also, you'll notice the white specks. These are dust and scratches that accompany the scanned image.

First, though, your image may need to be rotated. If so, go to the Image menu and select Rotate Canvas and choose the appropriate rotation angle.

Once your photo is properly aligned, we need to clean up the flaws. To do this, go to the Filter menu, down to Noise... and over to Dust and Scratches... 

As the name implies, it will clean up the dust and scratches that were scanned in with the photo. Photoshop accomplishes this by blurring your photo. A little blurring won't do too much damage, but be very careful or you can blur more than you wanted. A little goes a long way.

The Radius option should be somewhere between 1 and 5 on most images. Any more than this and you will lose definition. Increasing the Threshold option will make the edges of elements in the picture sharper, but be careful. This process takes practice. You can always try something and undo it if you don't like it.

The Dust and Scratches option should take care of most problems. From here, you can use the Spot Healing Brush and Clone Stamp Tool to eliminate the remaining flaws.

The final result is a digital image that is now part of your collection and which can be printed at any time at a high-quality resolution.

Alternative Method
Like I mentioned earlier, most scanners come with native software and often include a Photoshop plug-in that has more options. Below is an image of what my scanner's import option looks like.

Most are fairly similar. The advantage of this method is it gives you considerably more options, including Resolution up to 9600 (WAY more than you should ever need). While all the bells and whistles may seem tempting, it's best to save these until you're actually in Photoshop since Photoshop does a better job with most things.
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