Shocking Demo Shows Why You Need to Scan and Save Your Bad Photographs Too!

Burry White Cat Photo
A blurry shot from slight camera movement – circa 1980 (raw scan)

I think we are almost to the point where I can safely say there is no such thing as a bad photograph.

Aside from the photos that are accidentally shot off or the ones where the camera is completely set wrong (for example in the more complicated manual modes), every photo — even the “bad” ones — will one day be a few clicks away from being usable.

Too Good to Be True?

The photo on the right is an example of one I never wanted to put in a frame or even an album because it’s, well, a bit blurry.

I was a little boy when I took this with my very first camera I ever owned. I convinced my Mom to buy it for me for a nickel at a garage sale. I took this photo of my childhood friend and his cat and must have moved the camera a bit when pulling down on the blue plastic shutter button on the right side. The result made my friend look ghostly — soft and blurry. You can’t even make out the writing on his t-shirt.

I bet a lot of people would never even think this paper print would be good enough to scan. They might even think of it as a misfit photo — a photograph maybe not even good enough to save anymore.

(I kinda made this term up – it’s a reference to the unwanted Misfit Toys from a childhood favorite of mine ~”Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.”)

A popular scanning “school of thought” I read about all the time on the internet is one that goes something like this:

  1. Look through all your prints, slides and negatives
  2. Scan only the best of the best
  3. Toss the others aside — or even out! 

(For the record: I shudder at the thought of anyone trashing any “one-of-a-kind” photograph!)

But, what if I said to you that I disagree with the above strategy and suggest that maybe you should consider doing the absolute opposite of this. Like maybe you should actually scan each and every photograph — yes even the misfits — from now on. Sound crazy?

Photo Magic is Already Here or Just Around the Corner!

In October of 2011, Jue Wang, senior research scientist at Adobe, showed off a jaw-dropping “sneak peak” of some technology that will make all of you who threw every one of your so-called “bad photos” away wish you had that day back to do over again!

Check out this 6 minute video if you haven’t already seen it:  (HD version)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q10kwKm77RY&feature=youtu.be]

This may be great for all of your blurry shots you say, but I bet you are wondering about some of your other misfit shots — like where your Mom’s finger was covering part of the lens? Or what about the ones that seem completely unusable because of a huge flash bulb reflection off a glass window that’s smack dab in the middle of the shot!? Oh, and what about the photos of your family picnics that have giant buffalo grazing in the background that you would rather not be there?

What about those you ask. How can you easily remove something in the shot you didn’t want?

Check out at least the first minute and a half of this second sneak peak if you haven’t already seen “Content Aware Filling” in action:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtQs-oS92xc]

It wasn’t that long ago when the term “Content Aware Filling” was foreign to all but a handful of genius programmers. It was just October of 2009 when Adobe demonstrated this magical technique as a possible inclusion for the next release of their flagship professional image editing program Photoshop CS. And now, not only is it already available in CS5, this feature has already trickled down to the masses in their more affordable consumer level software Photoshop Elements.

And deblurring and Content Aware Filling are just two examples of futuristic image correction technology. Once your photographs are turned into 1’s and 0’s on your computer, it’s just a matter of time before other types of unsolved imperfections get the royal “sneak peak” demonstration in front of a live audience.

Is the Fear of Any Kind of Photo Editing Keeping You From Scanning?

I know there are a lot of people out there who are probably so intimidated by all this technology, it’s probably holding you back from scanning any of your photos. Every day, you see your photo collection staring at you from a cardboard box in the hall closet. Just the thought of having to learn how to color correct or even crop your photos could be ensuring you won’t ever scan the first print.

But you know, seeing videos like the one above continues to convince me more and more that everyone — even the fearful — should just scan now and worry about making them look nice and pretty later. And when I mean later, I don’t mean tomorrow or even next month. It mean, it could even be next year or even years from now when software technology is even further along than it is now.

And maybe you’ll think I’m insane for continuing to suggest this, but I still say you should scan everything! Scan all your photos, not just the so-called “best of the best.” I say scan the blurry ones, scan the ones with a finger in the shot and also scan the ones with camera flash reflections.

I feel every unique photo is a photo worth saving. It’s a piece of your life’s story.

Bad Camera Flash
A camera flash at just the wrong angle messed up what would have been a great shot! (raw scan)

Scan Like You’re At a TV Crime Scene

I kind of see the scanning portion of my workflow as collecting evidence in a crime scene — like from one of those network drama shows you know you like watching. Your job is to scan your photos in the best way you possibly can and then safely archive them. At a crime scene, this compares to collecting the evidence and carefully bagging and bottling it up, so that someday, analysis and science will produce the results you’re looking for.

Like forensic DNA analysis is now helping to solve decades-old cases from archived evidence, advances in computer algorithms (like in the videos you just watched) will help to correct your misfit photographs that you never in a million years thought could ever be fixed.

It seems like more and more of the impossible is becoming more and more possible each and every year. It’s so amazing!

As they say in Hollywood, or at least used to when they shot with actual film cameras, just “get it in the can!” It’s just so, so, so important to get your photos scanned as soon as you can, even if you wait and do any needed editing at a later time.

Because, you see, the payoff to waiting is that someday, it’s very possible technology may have improved so far that you will just have to press one giant button in your non-destructive image editor and all of your misfit photographs will instantly become perfectly color corrected, deblurred, and scratch, dust and buffalo free!

Giant Red Button - Press for Perfect Photos in the Future!

So am I insane or do you agree that maybe this really is a great way to look at scanning your own photo collection? Tell me how you feel in the comments below.

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4 Comments on "Shocking Demo Shows Why You Need to Scan and Save Your Bad Photographs Too!"

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Art Taylor
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You are definitely not insane. I agree completely with your philosophy. Scan everything, ESPECIALLY any one-of-a-kind photos. If a blurry, dusty, dirty, scratched shot is the only one you have of someone or something important to you and the original person or object is no longer available to be re-photographed, keep and scan it. You can edit a copy to the best of your skills and software’s abilities now and probably make at least some improvements from the original. Who knows what capabilities future software releases and your own scanning/retouching skills will permit later? So long as you have your original image and scanned file, as technology and your personal skills improve, you’ll be able to go back later and re-scan if necessary and re-process your original scans that have been re-saved as copies.

The only sorting I’d recommend prior to scanning is to sort originals into groups, depending on: print size; color or black and white; portrait or landscape aspect ratio; color negative or black and white negative; type of film stock (especially for color negatives and slides since each type of film (e.g. Kodak, Fuji, etc.) has its own distinctive color balance and scanning and color correction will be quicker if all of one type of film is scanned in a batch, then another type of film is scanned and adjusted; for slides in 2×2 inch standard mounts, there is a variety of image sizes (828 slides with an 28 x 40 mm image, Superslides, using 127 film for a 40 x 40 mm image, 35 mm slides with 24 x 36 mm image, 126 Instamatic with 28 x 28 mm images, and 110 Pocket Instamatic slides with a 13 x 17 mm image, and possibly other rare sizes) so all slides should be sorted into groups based on image size/format and film type (Kodachrome/Ektachrome/Fujichrome/Agfachrome/3M, etc.), again because of different color balance from type to type. It might also speed the overall workflow to further sort each of the above groups by exposure level — ‘correct’ exposure, over-exposed, under-exposed — so that the scanning software can be adjusted for a group of scans instead of needing adjustment for each individual slide or negative or print. Being able to scan a batch of specific-size prints, with similar exposures and color balance will be faster than needing to re-crop in the scanning software from one print to the next. Likewise when scanning slides — scan all of one size image before resetting the scanner crop tool to a different size. General exposure corrections for either over- or under-exposed originals can be made once for a group of similarly exposed images, with more precise adjustments, if needed, made later for individual images in post-scan processing. General color corrections can also be made more quickly for groups of images on the same type of film, again with fine tuning done on individual images as needed, in processing. If using a flatbed scanner with a transparency adapter unit, placing landscape and portrait format slides the same way, regardless of image orientation, will let you set the scanning crop tool once for a batch of slides instead of needing to adjust it for different orientations as you work. Also, for either slides or negatives, make sure all the images have the emulsion side facing either up or down, depending on how your particular scanner requires them.

One thing to keep in mind as you might put off making any attempt to do any scanning, as time passes, the available choice of scanners will likely continue to decline as the manufacturers tend to disregard the masses of prints, negatives, and slides in existence and any desire to bring them into a digital world. At least three major scanner manufacturers have exited the scanner market completely in the last five years and the remaining companies are introducing only a few new models and then on an irregular schedule. If you don’t yet have a scanner, decide what your needs for a scanner are and go out and buy the model that best meets your current and anticipated needs and fits within your budget. Try to find a new Nikon slide/negative scanner today at any price, anywhere. They are sometimes available used on eBay or elsewhere but Nikon no longer makes them and continuing software support for newer computer operating systems is questionable. If you opt for a Nikon slide scanner, especially for the latest Mac OS, plan on also buying either VueScan or Silverfast Ai. Nikon does not provide a driver for the latest Mac OS. Microtek and Minolta/Konica-Minolta scanners were discontinued several years ago so finding current drivers or other software support for them is likely difficult today. Both brands were recommended in the past but limited markets saw production and support for these models discontinued. Don’t leave it until it’s too late to buy a scanner for your needs.

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