Archive for the ‘Lightroom’ Category

How to restore historical photos

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

The starting point: A historical black and white photo print from 1944. It is tiny, just about 6 x 6 cm (2.4″ x 2.4″), and it is slightly tilted as the photo had been glued into the photo album, not exactly upright. The scan has been made following the process described below. The optical impression on my calibrated screen is very close to the original print in the album.


Okay, the basement is full of photo albums containing unique family photos and sometimes even historical moments, and you notice that some of the photos – especially those from the 1950s and before – already show serious damages. You want to save them from further deterioration, but you don’t know where to start. You think – “Gee, I should scan all these wonderful photos to preserve those memories for future generations.” Then you realize that you need to scan and restore hundreds and thousands of images, and you probably let out a big sigh and conclude: “Well, not now!” The album goes back on the shelve until you go through this little routine again the next time. Unfortunately, this will just destroy your photos further!

I guess that most of you know this cycle.

Truth is, at some point you just have to scan the images, or they will be lost forever. Now, if you are serious about the task, this little article will help you preserving those precious images without getting lost in the details (and spending too much time). Yes, it can be done!


:: Scanning the images

The basic idea is to capture the photos with as much image information as possible while avoiding any interpretation of the images at the time of scanning. In other words: You want to capture the images “as they are” without altering the optical impression. Remember, you want to archive and preserve the images. But don’t worry! You will have plenty of opportunities to interpret/improve the images later. But to do this, you will need decent scans.

1. You will need a good, modern flatbed scanner with an optical resolution of 1200 dpi or higher. The scanner should support 48 bit mode (i.e. 16 bits per color channel) and be able to save the images using the TIFF format. I use an EPSON PERFECTION 4870 PHOTO for this task. (It is an older model, but it does the job perfectly.)

2. You should familiarize yourself with the scan software that comes with scanner. You will need to know how to use the professional mode to control exposure, color space and resolution.

3. Setup your scanner for TIFF (uncompressed), 48 bit depth, and 1200 dpi. This setup will create huge amounts of data, probably more than the original print carries. For example, a 4×6 print will be 4 x 1200 x 6 x 1200 = 34,560,000 pixels, or 34.5 Megapixels. But we have three colors, and each color has 2 Bytes of data for that pixel. The resulting file is thus 34,560,000 x 3 x 2 = 207,360,000 Bytes, or roughly 197.8 MB. Ouch. Not even the original negative might have had that amount of information! But hard disks are cheap these days, so it may be a good investment to buy a 1 TB disk that can store 5,000 high resolution scans at 200 MB each.

3a. Whether you really scan at 1200 dpi or use 800 dpi or 600 dpi will depend on your needs, and the quality of the originals. If you just want to achieve the same size of the original, a 300 dpi scan is fully sufficient. As we want to preserve as much information as possible, we scan at a higher resolution. It is essential that you scan at 48 bits color depth! This will provide 2^16 = 65,536 shades per color (instead of just 2^8 = 256), so the photo software will have 256 times more data to work with. And this, dear reader, will make the difference! Faded colors can be restored without losing details in the shades.

3b. If your scanner supports Adobe RGB, you will want to use it instead of sRGB. This may help you getting as many shades as possible from the scan.

4. Before you start bulk scanning the photos, it is important to find out the darkest and brightest points. Then do each scan with the same settings. To find these, you will want to use a color target (as sold by Hartblei for little money). Basically such a target contains a really dark patch (“O”), a really bright patch (“1″), and a neutral gray patch (“Balance”), plus many more patches to control the quality. For our task, only the basic patches are important. Now do a scan of the target with the automatic controls switched off. Open the resulting image in Photoshop. Check the histogram for the darkest point (“O” patch). It should be close to zero (the left side of the histogram). If it is not there yet, you need to reduce the exposure in the scan software. Do likewise for the brightest spot in the image (“1″ patch). It should be at the right side of the histogram. Repeat this until you are satisfied with the result, i.e. the histogram spreads nicely from left to right. Then write down the values to achieve this (for future use). When you are able to create a decent scan of the target, you are ready for the scanning of the final images. Keep the last original scan of the color target. You will need it later when we process the images in Lightroom.


Color target, available from


5. Start scanning your images with the settings laid out above. The only important thing to remember is to use always the same exposure settings, and to scan at 48 bits. The resolution depends on what you want to achieve. (I think that more than 1200 dpi is not useful for historic photo prints.)

6. At the end of this process, you’ll have thousands of high-resolution images on your hard disk. These will probably look like the shot above.


:: Making basic corrections

Once all the scans have been done, we make basic corrections: color, exposure, sharpness, cropping, tilting. The goal is to come up with digital images that look like the original photos in your album.

1. In order to batch process the huge amounts of images, you will need a batch processing software that is capable of handling the images you scanned before, i.e. the software must support large TIFF files with 48 bits color depth. I use Adobe Lightroom 4.1, but there are alternatives. Lightroom handles 48 bit TIFF files in Adobe RGB without problems.

2. Import all image files and the single scan of the color target into Lightroom.

3. Select the color target, and switch to Develop mode. First, you should adjust the color balance using the Pipette tool. Point the pipette to the “Balance” field to get rid of any color stains. Then adjust Contrast, Highlights, Whites, and Blacks, so that the pixels of the color target are not yet clipping. (“Clipping” happens when some pixels in the image are too bright or too dark.) Again, the histogram should spread from far left to far right. At this time you can also adjust the sharpness by zooming on the “focus” patch and adjust the Sharpening of the image.

4. Once you have done this, select all images of your import (Ctrl-A) and then Sync… all the settings (that you used to correct the color target) to all your scans. After this, all images should look like the originals in the album.

5. Now all you have to do is to manually turn and crop each image. Again, I recommend to not interpret the image yet by cropping away parts of the image. Rather try to preserve as much of the original image (but remove the borders surrounding the image).

6. Once you are done, you have digital copies of your historical photos on your system. You can now export these images to your hard disk as sRGB JPEGs at any size you want (e.g. 1200 pixel width with 300 dpi). This would be fine for ordering small prints, showing around on a laptop computer, or for uploading to Facebook. As Lightroom is non-destructive, you can always export larger images when needed.


:: Finetuning the images

It is quite likely that you are not satisfied with the results so far. After all, you scanned damaged images, and now you have an image file that looks exactly like that flawed original. But you wanted improved images, right? Right.

7. Now you can manually fine tune each image in Lightroom as your time permits. All the image data is available in high resolution. The original scan will never be altered by Lightroom, so you can do as much fiddling and experimenting as you desire. :-) If you do not like a result, you can always start over again. Here is what I do. The values in brackets are the values used for the image above. Please note that the values will vary for each individual image.

8. Set the image to B&W.

9. Increase Contrast so that the histogram spreads nicely between the darkest and brightest spots. (+75)

9a. If needed, reduce the Blacks. (-50)

9b. If needed, increase the Whites and the Highlights. (+20, +10)

9c. If needed, increase the Shadows. (+30)

9d. Check again, that the image does not “clip” on either side of the histogram. (Lightroom indicates “clipping” by little triangles in the histogram.)

10. Adjust the Sharpening (+60)

11. Create a virtual copy of the image and open the copy in Photoshop. Now use the Remove spots and scratches filter (from Filter > Noise filters menu). For this image, a “radius” of 1 pixel and a “threshold” of 25 was perfect. You may need to fiddle around a bit to find the right values.

12. Finally, export the image to your hard disk as sRGB JPEG:

The restored historical photo. This is probably the original look when it came back from the lab in 1944. The image has been cropped and tilted. Contrast has been recovered. Dust and scratches have been removed. It has been sharpened, and it is true black and white again (despite being a sRGB color file).

Lightroom 4.1 fixes several bugs of 4.0

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Following the failed launch of Lightroom 4 a couple of months ago, Adobe has reacted to the criticism and has now made available a bug-fix called Lightroom 4.1.

As I had found a couple of bugs and issues, let me briefly review my comments and see whether Adobe has actually fixed the bugs.


:: Manual Chromatic Aberration controls – gone

In Lightroom 4.0, the controls for manual chromatic aberrations were gone and replaced by just a checkbox for automatic removal.

This has been fixed. And not just that! Manual control has actually been improved. The new function is a bit hidden, though. You will find it in Development mode under Lens Corrections > Color. The results are stunning, and it is really easy now to get rid of chromatic errors. Here is a photo from our trip to Kopenhagen in 2005. The image was shot with the tiny (and bad) Sony DSC-P72 that always had an issue with chromatic aberrations.

Result from chromatic aberrations control

Notice the magenta color stains before (left) and the clear colors after (right) using the new function. Simply stunning. Okay, that problem seems to be solved. (I still wonder why Adobe did not make this available with the 4.0 product? The only realistic answer for this problem is that the function was not ready. So I think it is still fair to call 4.0 a “rushed launch”.)

:: Maps

The problem with the map is still present. You select an image (in the filmstrip at the bottom), switch to Map mode, zoom in, and the image is de-selected.

:: Secondary Display

In my early tests I did not notice that the secondary display disappears, but as I could not reproduce this behaviour anyway (in a controlled manner), it’s difficult to say whether this has been fixed.

:: Task Manager

Lightroom 4.1 seemed to behave like any other Windows software (clicking another program in the taskbar, that program is brought to the front). However, after having worked a bit more with 4.1, I do have the same issues again – this has been not been fixed. At times, clicking on another program in the taskbar will shortly show the other program in the front, but then LR 4.1 comes up again, obstructing the view on the other program. The only way to get over this is to minimize LR 4.1 using the “minimize” button in the top right corner of the window.

:: ACR 7

ACR7 seems to not be required to interact correctly with Photoshop CS 5.5 – fixed.

:: Speed

I never experienced big issues with speed (unlike many others), so I can not really comment on this. Rumour has it that there have been improvements, though.

:: Export fails

I experienced exports that failed, but I could not find a way to reproduce these problems consistently. I will monitor this closely and report here if I find this problem to continue.


I think the Adobe development team has felt an enormous pressure to correct the problems with version 4.0, and that the 4.1 update is the version the team really wanted to launch (but could not due to timing problems). My confidence in Adobe is somewhat restored, but the lesson is pretty clear: Never change a running system!* I will certainly be very sceptic of any new major release of an Adobe product, even more so when my current workflow works for me. Rather pass the marketing language and see what real users in the real world say about the release and then decide whether it’s worthwhile to upgrade.


*but also: Never run a changing system, and also change a never running system. The ultimate goal is to run a never changing system! ;-)

Lightroom 4

Friday, May 4th, 2012

The other day I upgraded to Lightroom 4.

What a sad product. What a sad company. What a sad way of launching a product.

What? No cheers, no standing ovations for this release? How comes?

Well, before I get into the darker sides of Lightroom 4, let’s have a brief look at the positives. The product itself is certainly not bad. In fact, it is pretty cool. In theory, it does have all the nice features that you would expect from a leading photo editing tool in its fourth generation, and it is truly amazing how far the product actually has evolved. Then again, the software is in its fifth year of development now (LR 1.0 was launched in 2007), so I would expect nothing less than rock-solid software. More on that later.

The most important new feature (for me) is the integrated map. You can now place photos on your map, and automatically assign a reverse geocode to your images and write the information to the meta data. The photos are shown on a Google Map, so it’s not a stand-alone feature that quickly gets old but a future-proof feature that always has the latest maps available. Also, you can now create photo albums directly from Lightroom. Nice. (However, this seems only to be for the Blurb service for now, so it’s not much use outside the U.S.)

And that’s about it. Feature-wise I did not see many other cool additions or fixes.

But -now we are stepping into the problems- Adobe has again proven that they are unable to keep course, especially as version 3.6 was pretty good without all the problems of versions 1.x and 2.x.


:: Basic development sliders – changed

The most annoying thing about this “upgrade” is the fact that the development tab now has changed the way you can process (“develop”) an image. In the “Basic” section, they messed around a lot: Gone is the “brightness” slider, but they kept “contrast” and moved it up. Gone are the “recovery” and “fill” sliders. Instead you now have sliders for “Highlights”, “Shadows”, “Whites”, and “Blacks” which are very similar to the descriptions in the “Tone Curve”, but they are not linked to each other.

Later I realized that the previous development sliders can be revived by selecting the “Process 2010″ instead of “Process 2012 (current)” in the “Camera Calibration” panel. Be cautious to update to the current process as some users report problems when reverting back to “Process 2010″.


:: Manual Chromatic Aberration controls – gone

In the “Lens Corrections” section, gone is the cool way to manually adjust the Chromatic Aberrations according to your needs. All it offers now is a checkbox for “Remove Chromatic Aberrations”, which seems to do some sort of automatic adjustment, that gives zero control to the user. (I understand that for version 4.1 Adobe plans an improved automatic adjustment with some stunning results, but I always prefer to have the ability to manually contol the processing of my images.)

“Community Champ” Rikk Flohr, one of the Adobe advocates, writes:

Chromatic Aberration [removal controls - ed.] isn’t gone. It is now Automatic and while a mild debate rages, many of us believe that the automatic and its eventual fine-tuning by the engineers will/have render the old manual method obsolete. (posted 2nd April, 2012 in the Adobe Community Support Forum)

This view makes my angry, really. I think that it is incredibly arrogant to remove a feature that has worked for many photographers (including myself) and replace it with a feature that does not work or that does not work as well as the proven manual method. What’s the point?


:: New bugs

Adobe is not a small company. As I write this, the company has a market capitalization of US$16,500,000,000. Yet these people simply can not launch a new, bug-free version. There are so few new features, that I am really amazed that even those few features do not work properly. Don’t they test the stuff anymore? Don’t they interact with their wide customer base, looking for feedback?

Map. For example, the map feature has one very annoying bug, at least on my system. I discovered this bug within 10 minutes of toying around with the new feature: Open the “Map” tab, then select an image, then zoom into the map. While you zoom in, the selected image will be de-selected. (You do not notice this at first, because you focus on the map that is displayed, not on the thumbnail image in the filmstrip.) This has two consequences: First, the image disappears from your secondary monitor, so you can not view the large image while zooming in. At this time you realize that something weird happended. Second, when you switch back to development mode, Lightroom thinks that no image is selected and will select and show the first image of the filmstrip instead of the image that you have been working on originally that you wanted to place on the map. On large photosets this means that you will have to scroll all the way back to the original position in the filmstrip to continue working on that image. This slows down your workflow significantly. How on Earth can it be that noone at Adobe discovered this bug? How? I am speechless.

Secondary Display. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, the secodary display just disappears. To get it back again, I need to press [F11]. Annoying.

Task Manager. Another annoying bug I experience. In Windows, when you run a program, you can show or hide it by clicking the respective icon in the task bar. You can also pull a dormant program “to the front” by just clicking the icon (e.g. when I want to switch to Firefox, I just click the Firefox icon, and it is in the foreground). For some strange reason, Lightroom 4 does not allow this for me. When I click another application, it briefly shows and then Lightroom is pulled to the front again, blocking the other program window. The only reliable way to switch to another program is (for me) to use the “minimize” button (top right corner), and THEN to click the icon of the program I want to use. Hello?

ACR7. Funnily enough, Lightroom 4 requires Adobe Camera Raw 7 to work seamlessly with Photoshop, and you get an error message that says so. Yet, ACR 7 has not yet been released. Hmmmmm.

Speed. Many users report that LR4 is slow. I have noticed that the sliders react slowly at times, but I attributed this to the fact that I was editing the test photos on a network drive (which is OK for smaller JPEGs, but not for RAWs). Also, my machine is quite fast (Vista 64, i7 920 @ 2.67 GHz, 12 GB of RAM) so I may not notice the sluggishness as much as other users.

Export fails. For some images, the batch export process just does not work. A couple of images remains unprocessed. When I start the export process for these images again (without having done anything else), they export fine. Sad, sad, sad.

Even more bugs. To see what other users report on LR4 and the supposed bug-fix version 4.1 release candidates, check the official Adobe Bug Tracker for Lightroom and Photoshop. OK, Adobe does not call this a “bug tracker”, for them it’s a “Community-powered support for Photoshop Family”. But in the end it’s really a pool for gathering bugs found by customers and users. Looking at all those issues and complaints is not for the faint hearted.

All this makes me feel that Lightroom 4 is an incomplete release that was thrown onto the market under severe time-pressure and without much testing. Why can’t Adobe test thoroughly and wait another six months (or a year) to release the next major version? Ah, I know the answer: This would significantly affect their revenue streams. And revenue means profit for software-makers. And reducing the profit means the share price takes a hit. And this, quite frankly, makes me sick. I am happy to pay a higher price for a high-end product, but then I do expect high-end quality to be delivered. (By the way, looking at the feedback for LR 4.1 RC2 does not really restore Adobe’s credibility.)


:: Summary

So, all-in-all, I think Lightroom 4 is a very mixed bag. If you absolutely need the map feature, I’d suggest to do the upgrade. But if you do not need it now, you will want to wait for the 4.1 version that will fix some (not all) of the bugs. On the other hand, if you have a solid Lightroom 3.x installation and are not convinced that you do not need the upgrade, just do not buy it. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. It’s really as simple as that.

West Canada 2002, or: The Joy of Slide Scanning

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

As I had some time on my hands recently (hint, hint), I took a deep breath and descended into our photo archive to wade through thousands of images from our 2002 trip to British Columbia and Alberta. I have not been satisfied with those scans for a very long time as I knew they were not state-of-the-art, but I could never motivate myself enough to re-scan all those slides. Until now.

So I fetched all the slides and took new, fresh, crisp scans of them. The old scans were from 2002 and 2003, from various sources and scanners, processed with lousy equipment. Now I used our trusted Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II slide scanner with the latest SilverFast scan software, the combo of Photoshop Lightroom 3.3 and Photoshop CS5, and, of course, color calibrated monitors.

Guess what? The slides look as fresh as they looked back then, but now the scans look as fresh as the slides so you can enjoy the images as they really are! While I was at it, I also decided to bump up the size of the images from 750 x 500 to 1000 x 667, so you get much larger images, almost double the size!

Here are just three examples of the visual improvement:

Canoos waiting for customers at the Moraine Lake, Alberta/Canada
Mark Zanzig

Sunwapta Falls at Jasper National Park, Alberta/Canada
Mark Zanzig

Fairmont Hotel Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta/Canada
Mark Zanzig

The most astonishing fact, however, is that those slides are still quite breathtaking. So I realized (again) that despite all the cool digital technology that supports us photographers today – shooting photos is not so much about the photography but really about the beauty of the places and the nature of the subjects. In this case, I believe that many of the spots we visited, especially the National Parks, are of timeless beauty, and will probably look as awesome today as they did back in 2002.

Please do visit the West Canada Photo Gallery and enjoy!