Archive for June, 2007

Slide Scanning – A Step By Step Tutorial

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

If you have been photographing for a while then you probably started with film, maybe in the 70s, 80s or 90s. If you were a photo geek then you’d migrate to slide film at some point. You got a higher resolution, and accurate colors. Slides were slides, and in theory the lab couldn’t get it wrong.

In came digital technology, and today you have a stack of slides (with probably some awesome shots) somewhere in the basement. Rarely you do the full bonanza of setting up the slide projector and do an old-fashioned slide show for your family and friends. Everyone wants it digital today, on a PC or Mac, on a CD or DVD.

So, you start to wonder – “How do I get brilliant scans from my brilliant slides?”

Now, I am currently scanning my complete archive in order to preserve it for the future (a rather boring task by the way), and so I thought, heck, why not write an easy-to-understand step by step tutorial on slide scanning? Well, here we go…

The Setup

I use a Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II for all slide scans. There is no point in using flatbed scanners. You need a dedicated film scanner if you want to get great scans from your slides.

The scanner is setup to scan at the highest possible resolution, 2688 x 4032 pixels, from a 35 mm framed slide. I use double-scan (2x) to eliminate noise from the scanner sensor, automatic brightness and autofocus to get a good basic scan, AdobeRGB as color space, and 16 bit as color depth to get the biggest possible image data for post-processing. And I still use Photoshop 7 for this. Other software capable of handling AdobeRGB and 16 bit works as well.

Here is the original slide (Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park, U.S.A.). The scanner generated a whopping 62 MB file, so you’ll need a fast computer and plenty of memory to fluently process the scan.

Tenaya Lake
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

One important reminder: Before you actually start post-processing, please make sure that you open the scan as “AdobeRGB” in Photoshop. Otherwise the colors will be way off.

Step 1: Tilt

I do most of my shots without tripod, so they are rarely perfect in terms of tilting. No problem. Before I start anything to do with Photoshop, I tilt the photo. Here, it’s 1.3 degrees clockwise.

Tenaya Lake

Step 2: Crop

Now let’s get rid of this ugly frame, and the white borders that appeared as result from the tilting. Away with it! Crop it!

Tenaya Lake Yosemite National Park

Step 3: Set the Gray Balance

The scan seems to have a slight color stain, with a tendency towards magenta. By adjusting the gray balance you get rid of this. I use the “gradation curves” tool in Photoshop (Ctrl-M). Pick the middle color picker, and click on a neutral point in the picture. You’ll find this neutral spot usually in a gray area, e.g. on a car tyre, a gray piece of clothing, a gray rock, or a white wall in the shadow. This steps needs some trial and error, but you’ll get better over time as experience sets in.

Tenaya Lake Yosemite

Step 4: Adjust brightness and contrast

Now, the scan appears a bit too bright. Let’s adjust the darkest point (here: to 16), and put in a bend into the brightness (here: 1.2) to improve contrast without creating too many dark areas. Then restrict the whole spectrum to 3 (the darkest pixel) to 252 (the brightest pixel). The idea is to get a nice brightness distribution across the whole image (i.e. not too dark, not too bright) without reaching the color values of 0 or 255. Again, you need some practice with that, but after a few dozen slides you will have a pretty good understanding what to do. I use the Ctrl-L tool for that (don’t know the English name for it). :-)

Brightness Adjustment in Photoshop 7

Tenaya Lake California

Step 5: Adjust the Color Saturation

We are almost done. Just the brilliance of the photo remains to be improved. I do this by carefully increasing the color saturation. Actually I am not a fan of those highly saturated photos – I rather prefer a naturally looking scan that comes very close to the mood of the original without looking too artificial. Usually I use the saturation tool (Ctrl-U) to add +5 to +17 in saturation. If you are absolutely unsure how to approach that one, I suggest to start with a high value, like +30, and if it looks way too colorful (artificial) then use half of that value. Repeat until you have a decent looking photo.

Tenaya Lake

Step 6: Adjust the Sharpness

Now we just need to adjust the sharpness, and take some final steps. (You will not see the effect of sharpening on the small images presented here, so I left this one out, but you will see it when you are working on your high-res scans.) A word of caution: do not over-sharpen your high-res scan! It can happen easily, and -especially with grainy 400 ASA slides- might destroy the natural look of the scan – all you are actually doing in such cases is to sharpen the grain instead of the photo. That’s why I usually skip sharpening for such photos.

Step 7: Prepare for Web & Print

Up until now we have been working in AdobeRGB and 16 bit mode to preserve as much image information as possible during the post-processing. It takes longer and requires more memory, but the additional data pays off when the image is actually being re-calculated by Photoshop. However, if you want to actually do something with the image file (e.g. publish them on the web, or order prints from your lab), then you should convert the mode from AdobeRGB to sRGB and finally from 16 bit to 8 bit mode. And then, in a last step, you will want save the image as TIFF (for loss-free long-term storage) and/or as compressed JPEG. I recommend to save the JPEG at a quality setting of 9, 10, or 11 (in Photoshop), again with the goal to preserve as much image information as possible.

The resulting image has a size of 26.6 MB (TIFF) and 4 MB (JPEG, Quality 11). If you are curious about the final image: please feel free to download the JPEG version as compressed ZIP archive.

That’s it. You see: Getting brilliant scans from your slides is a lot of work but definitely not rocket science, really.

Photoshop Lightroom 1.1 available

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Almost four months after the first release of Photoshop Lightroom, Adobe has now silently released an update to its picture management software – upgrading version 1.0 to 1.1 (download). If you are using a registered version of Lightroom 1.0, you can just install the update over the existing installation. Worked like a charm for me.

Now, let’s have a look, which of the bugs that I have found have been fixed. Some of the bugs can not be checked right now as they seemed to appear just occasionally. Please re-visit this blog post for an update over the next few weeks.


  1. Lr freezes occasionally upon logon to Windows after previous sleep mode [fixed]
  2. Undo function does not work properly [not fixed]
  3. Lr freezes occasionally after a large number of images has been edited [fixed]
  4. Lr does not import all files from a CF card [fixed]
  5. Entering a long caption triggers an error [fixed]
  6. Behaviour of Tab key in Development Mode [not fixed]
  7. Use settings from previous image does not always work [not fixed]
  8. Navigating to the next image applies the settings of the previous image [fixed]
  9. Help does not work [fixed]
  10. Lr does not support Photoshop 7.0 [fixed]

Feature Requests / Improvement Suggestions / Annoyances

  1. “Remove Dust” can not be applied intelligently to a batch of photos
  2. Right Scrollbar in Develop Mode [not implemented]
  3. Pasted Actions should be listed [not implemented]
  4. Lr does not show physical size in Loupe view [not implemented]

New Features / Changes

  1. Libraries are now called “Catalogs”
  2. Import and export catalogs
  3. Folder synchronization
  4. Enhanced DNG export settings
  5. Additional Metadata fields and presets [cool!]
  6. Hierarchical Template Folders
  7. Stamper Tool is now called “Painter Tool”
  8. Enhanced Remove Red Eye / Spots Tools [cool!]
  9. Additional “Develop” Settings [cool!]
  10. Image rendering algo [not cool?]

This last item on the image rendering algo has fostered a heated discussion at the official Adobe Lightroom forum. I will look into this myself and report back what I think about this.

Other than that, the update seems to be good and useful.

Hilarious: Flickr wins “Best Practices” Award

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

The recent Flickr filtering discussion (more here, here and here) did not stop The Webby Awards to select Flickr for the award in the category “Best Practices”. The Academy members think of themselves as “an intellectually diverse organization” with celebrities such as David Bowie, Vint Cerf, Matt Groening, Richard Branson, and many many more on the board.

Apparently, these folks are not familiar with (or maybe even approve) the recent practices of Flickr to not announce important changes to the service (like filtering images from users in four countries) and the truly horrible service Flickr provided recently to their paying customers (e.g. by not answering questions for days, or by not announcing a general refund policy for unhappy members who want to leave the service in the light of the changes).

Flickr sees itself in a nice group of winners, though: KFC’s Flavor Station received an award (“Restaurant”), Know Menopause (“Pharmaceuticals”) too, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Experience Paris-Beijing (“Events”), to name just a few. Ah, and Youtube’s unforgettable Lonelygirl15 received the award as “Best Actress”. Hilarious!

Congratulations, Flickr! Way to go! Keep up the good work!

Why I do not give away photos for free

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

Every now and then, I get inquiries from potential customers some morons about the use of a photo, just like this:

We are contacting you from (name withheld – Ed.), a global online magazine that profiles cultural destinations, attractions, events and personalities. In our upcoming issue, we will be featuring a story on Mexico city and its many cultural, historic, social, and artistic attractions. We saw your beautiful photos on your website and would be very interested in featuring one or two of them to run along with our story. You would receive full photo credit for any image used.

Please let us know if you are interested by contacting us at …

or this:

I would like to use one of your gorgeous photos. I am just starting an Italian cabinetry import business and want to include a photo in my first display ad. Something like the coloseum with the concept of “Timeless Italian Design”. I will run the ad once and will email you a copy. I would like to use it the first time without charge as I am spending so much on the ad and if it does well I will rerun it and pay you for any future use. I will give you a small credit for the photo in the ad if you like. Please reply ASAP as the deadline is tomorrow.

In each and every case I write back politely, indicating that I would be more than happy to licence any image according to our pricelist that should answer most, if not all, questions.

I think the term “any commercial use” is pretty clear and can not be mistaken. So, the guys who wrote the mails above, are trying to earn money, right? That’s commercial use, isn’t it? And if they earn money using my photos, it’s just fair that I get a share of this. Having been published by several leading publishers (e.g. National Geographic Society), I am well beyond the point where I give away photos just for the credits.

Also, giving away valuable content for free is not going to pay your bills. You see, photography is expensive. First, you have to have the equipment. Back in the old days that meant: a suitable camera, suitable lenses, lots of film, and some accessories like tripod, filters and so on. This is still unchanged today. You need a suitable camera, suitable lenses, plenty of memory, and some accessories. Then you have to get on location: you need to book a flight and a rental car, you have to buy gasoline, you need a hotel room. A travel guide. Entry fees. Sometimes you have to pay for licence fees. And you need plenty of time to catch the right moment. So why in the world should a photograph be free?

Just try that with your local bakery. Walk in and offer to shoot some great photos of the bakery in return for a month of free rolls. Won’t work – they usually prefer to see the cash.

So do I.