Many of us who are interested in genealogy have inherited old photographs of family members. They were usually kept in a family album and a family matriarch or patriarch would identify each individual. If you have photos that you can't identify, check out our article Who are These People. Now genealogy programs allow the inclusion of those old photos into a document that can be reproduced and distributed to all interested family members. So how do we get the old photos into the computer? We use a scanner.
Scanners have become very reasonable in price and many people now have them in their homes. Many more will acquire one in he next year. And while it's hard not to get some useful output from scanners, knowing certain basic principles can save time, disk space and transmission time. Following are some principles of basic scanning and some creative things that can be done with scanners and image processing programs.
Types of Scanners
Scanners generally fall into about 4 categories;
Resolution and Image Size
Scanners have a limited number of sensors with which to capture the image and thus have to "sample" the image. The more samples that can be obtained, the closer the image comes to being a continuous tone image as a photograph. The number of sensors across the scanner determines the "width" resolution while the number of discrete stops in the "length" direction determines the length resolution. Generally these are 600 dpi width by 600 dpi length where dpi is the number of "dots per inch" or samples. For a full color image, each "dot' or sample consists of red, green and blue information. 24 bit scanners (which have been the standard until recently) have 8 bits of each of the 3 primary colors. More recently the number of bits has risen to 30 and as high as 36. With 24 bit scanners, each color is represented by 8 bits which provide a range of 256 shades. The total color gamut is then 256 times 256 times 256 or over 6 million colors. Note that 8 bits equals one Byte and computer memory and disk storage are measured in Bytes. (We capitalize it just to enforce the definitions of bits as b and Bytes as B. Mb is megabits and MB is megabytes. One is 8 times the other.)
A full size 8 in by 10 inch image scanned at 600x600 resolution is 3x8X600x10x600 or 86,400,000 Bytes of data. That takes a lot of disk storage and would take in excess of 4 hours to send to someone over the Internet using a 56k modem. (Modems are measured in bits per second not Bytes per second). Corrected 2/10/2004
Images generally fall into 3 categories: color, grayscale and line art. The discussion above assumed color images; grayscale includes only black in various shades of lightness that we call grey. A 24 bit scanner would scan greyscale as 256 shades of grey running from white to black. Such an image would require only 1/3 of the storage space and transmission time of a color image. The last category is line art such as a drawing which generally includes only black and white and needs only one bit of data. It requires 1/8 of the storage space and transmission time of a greyscale image.
Matching the Scan to the End Usage
Before you scan anything, take a few minutes to plan on how you are going to used the scanned output. Perhaps the end usages will fall into one of the following cases.
Your scanner can probably save your scanned output in a multitude of image formats. What are they, what should you use and how do you use them? We won't cover them all here but we will discuss the most popular.
Working with Images
Scanned images retain all of the faults and blemishes of the image from which they were scanned. Many old photos lack contrast and may have faded significantly. Some may be scratched, have writing on the face of the picture or other insults that make the image less than it was when your ancestors prized it as the greatest technological advance they had ever seen. But all is not lost. Here are some things that can be done:
Most scanners come with some form of imaging program that can manipulate, correct and enhance the scanned image. Generally that program is Photoshop LE. But whatever it is or whether you use another program, the process is generally the same.
If you have an image that you are going to work with, scan it in .TIF format. You may eventually want it in .JPG format but every time you open and re-save a .JPG image, it gets re-compressed with the attendant loss of data. Keep it as a .TIF until you are ready to save it for the final time. Once you save your .JPG image and are satisfied with it, you can dump the .TIF.
Some programs simplify the process so as to keep the operator out. Others offer many more options and put the operator in charge. For the simple programs like Adobe Photo Deluxe, you go through a process called "fix photo" which tries to make the photo into what the program thinks it should be. It's simple, usually impoves the photo but doesn't handle all of the problems associated with antique photos.
Programs like Photoshop LE, Picture Publisher, or Microsoft Photo Editor allow more control of the process. The first step is to correct the contrast and brightness. You can do it manually in all of the programs but they also allow you to try an automatic correction. In Picture Publisher it's called "Stretch Detail" on the effects menu; in Microsoft Photo Editor it's on the effects menu and you can use "balance" to do it manually or "auto balance" to do it automatically. If you don't like what you get you can go to edit and click on "undo". So try as much as you can and "undo" what you don't like.
If the colors are off you can use the color balance in any of the programs but if we're dealing with old photos they probably aren't in color. Some may look that way because they have yellowed with age. You can correct for this in scanning by scanning them as grayscale and not as color.
Once you have the color, brightness and contrast the way you want them, it's time to clean up scratches and other marks. Some small marks can be "smudged" out. Most programs have a "smudge" tool but that is generally unsatisfactory for areas large enough to show the details of the smudge. It's better to use the "clone" tool and copy an identical section of the image to the area to be corrected. That process includes the texture of the affected area where as "smudge" tends to destroy it. Areas that have been damaged such that significant detail is lost require more artistic work. If the left eye is lost, copy the right eye and rotate it 180 deg. Darken or lighten it to match it's surroundings. Draw in what you have to but unless you're very artistic, that is not a very satisfactory approach. If the damage is near the edge of the photo, consider cropping the image as long as significant detail is not being lost. Use an oval or circular crop or mask and use a textured or gradient fill outside the mask area. A crop would eliminate everything outside of the crop boundary while a fill would paint texture or a gradient color range outside of the mask area.
If you have a grayscale photo and want to jazz it up, you can color it by masking certain areas and using a color fill. In order to have the fill look like its not one solid color pasted on, you have to choose a transparency that lets the underlying texture show through. Most programs have "layers" or "objects" that let you manipulate them before you "combine" them into a single image. The transparency of each "layer" can be adjusted until the image looks right.