give us those nice bright colors, give us the greens of summers


I warn you now, today’s blog is going to be slightly technical, but it’s something all of you are probably dealing with eventually: digitizing or scanning your old pictures. Longtime reader Tim H. asked me how I was able to pull so many old pictures out of my ass (actually, he phrased it much nicer) because he wanted to start an archive of his own.

First off, let me say this – scanning pictures has to be one of the most tedious, bullshit jobs in personal computing. Nobody has made it particularly easy, and after about five full-page scans, I’m usually so benumbed that I have to be pried off the floor with cooking spray. There are certainly no consumer-priced scanners that whip through pictures like a mimeograph; most force you to load each pic individually.


I wonder if I caught it

Most of my old shots come from three or four “scanning jags” over the last six years, when I decided to grin and bear it for about five hours each, and even then, I’ve only scanned about 3% of the total. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve taken digital pictures of some of my old photos (like I did with this one), which is easy as long as your digicam is set to Super High Resolution and you haven’t been drinking coffee.

I’ve used Epson scanners since the very beginning, because they’ve always integrated seamlessly with the Mac, and they don’t dump a bunch of software onto your computer like HP and Canon do. If I were to buy a scanner now, I’d get one with an automatic document feeder (ADF) like the Epson Scanner Perfection 4490 Office version, because it’ll also turn batches of documents into PDFs.

The rest, at least for me, is just feeding and Photoshop. I went to the Lars Lucier School for Photoshop; he taught me the 10 basic rules of the game in 1997, and I’ve never forgotten them. I know, as a Mac fanboy, I should be using iPhoto or (god forbid) Aperture, but I love PS and would be nowhere without the “Save for Web & Devices” command, which is how you see my pictures on this blog. If Lars wants to pipe up and give his 35-second PS tutorial, it’s better than any book.

As for workflow, I do my old pictures in batches, fitting as many into the 8.5X11 space as I can, scanning them as one file, and separating them later. This can be a pain in the ass when you have a strict naming convention like I do, and you’ll tend to forget which pictures you have unless you’re extremely attentive, but it saves you hours.

Lars says 300-350 dpi is enough resolution to archive photos, and print copies that have a shot at looking like the original. That may sound proletarian to you cinephiles out there, but anything more, and your eyes will glaze over with boredom as drool empties out of your mouth.

There’s always sending your photos away and having some company do it for you, but I don’t think I could mail pictures from the early ’70s without being utterly devastated when Fedex loses my shit again. I’m sure there’s a more elegant solution to archiving your photos – maybe iPhoto is better now, maybe there’s a scanner that makes it all too easy – but I’ll leave it up to studio audience for a better idea.

On a personal note, Tim H. needs this info because he just lost his younger sister and would like to start a photo project to remember her by. Tim, I just want to say that my family would like to give yours all the warmth in the world, and I hope I can be of service in some tiny way.

0 thoughts on “give us those nice bright colors, give us the greens of summers

  1. timh

    Thanks Ian – I have always been impressed with your photo library so I am happy to learn some of the secrets. It has been a difficult last few months watching my 30 year old sister battle melanoma. To channel my energy into something positive I am planning on digitally archiving my parents books of photos so this info is greatly appreciated. Thanks again -tim

  2. Neva

    So sorry Tim. I cannot even imagine the sadness of that experience and hope the photo project helps in some way.
    Thanks Ian for the tips!

  3. ken

    Tim- I too am sorry for your loss.
    Ian- See, I’ve had nothing but success with FedEx but will never buy another Epson product as long as I live. If you click on my name, I link to a post I did about Epson printers and why I wouldn’t buy Epson ever again.


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