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I posted a series of tutorials on How to Scan B&W Negatives at the end of 2009. The first tutorial showed how to get better scans by scanning as a positive, the second showed how to bypass your scanner software settings entirely by scanning in 16 bit linear mode. Several months after writing these tutorials, I purchased the pro version of VueScan after running a series of tests that convinced me VueScan would give me better results than the software that came with my scanner.

VueScan Screenshot (histogram) -- Click to enlarge

Nearly two years later, I haven’t changed my mind. VueScan has been the best solution and continues to meet all my film scanning needs. Here’s a screenshot showing a scan from a Tri-X negative developed in Diafine. I chose a Contrast Index (CI) that gave me a histogram (shown in the lower left panel) that included all the tones in my image. Then I moved the white point to the left and tweaked the gamma (the brightness slider).

VueScan Screenshot (curve) -- Click to Enlarge

Here’s another view of the same scan but with the curve graph showing instead of the histogram. I tweaked the curve to get a bit more contrast. The next step would be running the actual scan.

After scanning, I typically open my 16 bit grey scale tiff file in Picture Window Pro (PWP) to fine tune the tones, then downsize (if the image will go on the web) and sharpen.

This tutorial is an introduction to how I use VueScan. I’ve developed an efficient workflow for scanning and editing my B&W negative scans. If there’s enough interest, I’ll continue the series with in-depth, step-by-step of my entire workflow.

If you’re interested, you can download the latest version of VueScan and try it for yourself. There’s no cost for the trial and the only limitation is watermarking on the scans. I have no affiliation with VueScan. I’m a very satisfied customer who paid full price for the pro version once I saw how well VueScan worked for me.

I use a Minolta ScanDual III that’s about eight years old. The scanner works flawlessly with VueScan running on Linux Mint 9. If you have an old film scanner, the old drivers probably won’t work with newer operating systems, but VueScan can keep it running.

If you missed the first four episodes in this series, here are the links:

How to Scan B&W Negatives: An Introduction

How to Scan B&W Negatives: 16 Bit Linear 

How to Scan B&W Negatives: Adjusting Levels 

How to Scan B&W Negatives: The Power of Curves 

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I finished the last of six new photo books late Sunday night, tweaked one of them just a bit on Monday morning and ordered hard copies from AdoramaPix. The sale on 8×8, 14 page photo books ended Tuesday. Who doesn’t like a sale, especially one this good? I saved $15 + sales tax on each book so when my latest order arrives next week I’ll have a 10 volume library of my best images and $160 in savings.


This is an image of the cover from one of the photo books I ordered on Monday. All of my photo books use the same simple template inspired by a wonderful little book, “On Reading” by Andre Kertesz: White cover with photo, simple title, my name in a smaller, lighter font and one photo with a generous white border on each page.


Here’s an example of one of the inside pages from this photo book. As I mentioned in my previous post, Adorama’s (or your vendor of choice) on line templates will suit many people. I used Scribus, an open source desktop publishing program to format and lay out my books before uploading the final version to Adoramapix. It took less than an hour to upload and create six books using my method.

When you fire up Scribus, you get a setup screen that allows you to choose the book size, number of pages (you can add or delete pages any time), margins and other page settings. I set my book(s) up as 8 inches by 8 inches. I accepted the default margins of .56 inches for right, left and top. I set the bottom margin to .88 inches and chose 16 pages — Front cover, back cover and 14 internal pages.

I moved the bottom margin up slightly because I wanted each image to look centered on the page. If you center an image vertically, it looks too low on the page because of a quirk in the way our eyes see things.

Putting your image on the page is easy. Draw an image frame in the middle of the page (exact placement and size don’t matter). Right click and select Get Image. Pick the image you want from the drop down file window, click and the image will appear in the frame.

Then right click and choose adjust frame to image. To get the image where you want it to go, click Align & Distribute from the Windows menu. A sticky sub window will pop up. There are 10 align buttons in the window. Choose relative to: margins then click on center vertical and center horizontal and you’re there. Just a few mouse clicks places your image quickly and easily.

On of the neat things about Scribus is the sticky windows stay until you dismiss them so the window will be there for the next page and so on.

The cover takes a bit more work. I use a smaller version of one of my images on the cover so I need to size the frame so suit the cover design. Follow the same procedure to get your image into the frame. Then right click on the image and click properties. The properties window has all the properties of the image. Click image then check off scale to frame size (proportional) and the image will shrink to fit the frame. If the image doesn’t fit the dimensions exactly, you can fiddle with the frame to get the image to the size you want. Then click on adjust frame to image.

Drag the image to where you want it vertically then click to center between the left and right margins. Draw a text frame where you’d like your title, enter the information via the text editor where you can choose font, size, alignment, etc.

So why go to all this trouble when you can upload your photos to Adoramapix and use their online tools? Glad you asked. Scribus can output a high quality PDF file of your book. I use this interactively because all design is a recursive back and forth until you are happy with the results. And when you are finished you have a high quality ebook.

I ended up doing more triage with my Red Bank book as I went along. Two of the images just weren’t right for the book so I found better ones, edited them and loaded them instead. The page order wasn’t quite right either so I moved pages around in Scribus until I was satisfied. It’s very easy to move pages. Simply pick move page from the page menu then tell Scribus where to put the page relative to any other page.

When you’re ready to upload your images, choose export/save as image and Scribus will export each page as a jpeg file. For my 8×8 book, each page is exactly 2400 pixels in each dimension (300 dpi) and 100% quality. Scribus writes each page with the book name and sequential number. Takes a minute or two.

When you log in and choose to create a book, you go through the steps of picking the cover type, the size, number of pages, etc. Then click upload from your computer, select the image files and within a few minutes all images will be uploaded.

I chose a custom book with no template. The next screen lists all the images on the left, empty pages (in pairs on the bottom) and the page(s) you are working on in the main window. With my method, I simply drag the image and drop it anyplace on the page then click size to page. It’s fast and easy. Each page only takes a few seconds.

I haven’t figured out how to do the spine lettering with Scribus so I pick the text tool and type in my title and my name. You must rotate the text 90 degrees and size it by hand. Not difficult but a bit of a pain. When you’re done, click preview where you can review your book. If all is well, then click order and follow the prompts.

If you aren’t ready to order, your book will be saved for 90 days. I believe you can upgrade for something like $24.95/year for unlimited storage.

It’s lovely to have an archive quality ‘real’ book you can hold in your hands and pass on to future generations. It’s also nice to have a high quality e-book for viewing on your monitor screen. When I’m proofing my books I use the dual page display in Adobe reader. The book will display exactly the same as the printed version. The image is a bit smaller 82% on my screen but large enough to enjoy.

The real treat comes with a full screen display. Each page fills the screen vertically and because the book has been formatted at 300 dpi, the typical 96 ppi lcd screen displays each page with no loss of quality.

If anyone has questions about using Scribus for photo book creation, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email message. I’d love to help as best I can.

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So you’ve decided to make a photo book. Where do you begin? Start with a concept, a theme for your book. What’s the book about and what kind of photos will I include? When I made my first photo book a few months ago, the theme was easy. I had dozens of photos from my grandmother’s life and I wanted to tell her story, at least part of it anyway. My next project was to make two photo books of my best images from my year in Saigon, one B&W and one in color.

Here’s the cover of my latest project: “Flowers — A Closer Look.” I haven’t ordered a print version of the book yet but I do have a finished e-book. The ability to make high quality photo e-books is one of the main reasons I’ve chosen to use a desktop publishing program for page layout and book construction. When I finally decide to have the Flowers book printed I’ll use Adoramapix. Adoramapix has printed four photo books for me so far and they’ve done a marvelous job with each. You won’t be disappointed in their work.

When I’m ready to submit my photo book to Adoramapix, I simply upload my pages as individual jpeg files and use their online flash app to quickly and easily add my preformatted pages to the new book. In other words, I do all my page layouts offline using Scribus then complete the book using the Adoramapix flash app.

As an alternative, Adoramapix has dozens of preformatted templates that make it easy to create a photo book. Most people will be very happy using one of these templates. Me? I’m climbing the steep learning curve of Scribus and I’ll explain why in detail in a subsequent post.

Let’s get back to the subject at hand, first things first. Once you decide on a theme for your photo book, it’s time to gather and sift through your images. I create a new folder and name it accordingly. For instance, my flower folder is simply flower_book. My Saigon B&W folder is saigonBWbook. Then I gather scattered images and make copies that I put in the new folder.

Once I have all my images in one place, I go through a triage process. If the image isn’t good enough or I decide to leave it out, I delete it. Remember that only copies go into this folder so all my originals are safe. I may end up with more images than I can use but that’s OK. I’ll make final decisions as I work on the page layouts.

Adoramapix expects your images to be 300 dpi and either tiff or jpeg format in sRGB color space (even if your images are B&W). I load each image into my photo editor and convert to sRGB (it’s easy). I prefer one photo on each page and I resize the image (making sure it’s 300 dpi) to fit my page layout. When I say resize, I mean downsize. If the version of the image I’ve chosen is too small, I’ll either dig out a larger image or rescan.

For an 8 inch X 8 inch photo book, I’ve been sizing my images so I get a nice wide white border on each page. This means about 4 x 6 or 4 x 5 for rectangular images and 5 1/2 inches or thereabouts for square images.

While in my photo editor I make tonal adjustments and add moderate sharpening as needed. In a few instances, I’ve rescanned to get a better image. The main thing here is to tweak your photos so they will be ready for the next step.

First things first means choosing a theme, then collecting, sorting and preparing your images for the next step: Either creating a book using a desktop publishing program like Scribus or uploading directly to Adoramapix. I use Adoramapix as an example because I use and like them. The principles remain the same no matter who you choose to print your photo book.

One of the real benefits of this first step is it forces you to choose and organize your best work and assemble it in one place. My images are all over the place but as I build each photo book, I know where to find things and can easily back up.

I’ll explain my next step(s) in the next installment in this series. Stay tuned…

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I’m having some serious fun with my photo books project. That’s a plural folks. Three new photo books arrived in yesterday’s mail and I’m expecting a fourth, the title of this post, to arrive next week. But first, I wanted to share the cover from the “Saigon 1966: Vol. One – Black and White” book that I mentioned in an earlier post.

This is the cover from the second version of the photo book. I tried using the Adoramapix online flash app to lay out the entire book. It was OK but didn’t offer the precision I wanted. The second version was created on my computer using Scribus, an open source desktop publisher. I like this version better. I saved it as a template for consistency with all my photobooks. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll show you samples of the results today, then follow up with subsequent posts to explain how (and why) I did what I did.

Here’s the cover of the prize we’re waiting for — “Granddaughters: The Early Years.” I shot the cover image on the spur of the moment one day a couple weeks ago. The twins (Maddy and Livvy) and I were sitting at my kitchen table. I was pleasantly surprised when I processed the film and found this gem. I cropped tight to eliminate clutter and focus attention on the girls.

This is one of the inside pages, a photo of Emily that I took a few years ago. She wasn’t posed for this photo. One of my cameras was loaded with Fuji Neopan 1600. Emily was leaning over the back of a chair in the family room and I grabbed this shot. All of the images in the 14 page (6 double sided leaves plus the inside front and back covers) are captioned. Digging through old family photos and wondering who was who is frustrating, captions will solve that problem for future generations.

I spent a year in Alaska in 1963-64 and wanted to preserve the best of the surviving images. All the photos in the book were taken with a 127 box camera and slide film. The slide mounts (super slides) are the same outside dimensions as a 35mm slide but with very narrow margins and a square aspect ratio. This photo is a crop of a picture I shot from the airplane on the way to King Salmon A.F.S. in November, 1963.

I like the idea of a single image on each page. This is a sample from the inside of the Alaska book. I didn’t take this one — it’s me at 19 years of age. There are no captions in this book because I opted for a simple elegant look similar to a matted photo. The two Saigon photo books, B&W and color, follow the same format. Actually, as I said earlier, the Saigon B&W book was the model for the template.

Next time, I’ll share my workflow and some of the technical aspects of photo book creation. One of the side benefits of making these books is that it’s forcing me to get serious about organizing my images and selecting the best of them for publication. Stay tuned…

PS — The new header on my blog is from the Alaska photos. It’s a cropped shot of the midnight sun taken in the middle of the short Alaskan summer night back in 1964.

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I’ve been doing a lot of digital restoration over the past few years: Old slides from the 1960s (Alaska and Vietnam), 35mm B&W negatives from the 1960s and early 1970s (Vietnam, Phila street photography, etc.) and more recently, I restored dozens of old prints from the early 20th century for a photo book I made for my mother.

Lots of hard work and pulling myself up by my bootstraps have paid off. Mom is happy and I’m pleased with what I’ve done so far. But I wanted to take my efforts to the next level. My copy of “Digital Restoration from Start to Finish: Second Edition” by Ctein arrived last week. I dove into this marvelous book right right away. Here’s my first ‘practice’ effort.

Click to enlarge

This restored photo was taken on July 4, 1926. The little girl in the center is my 88 year old mother. The woman on the right wearing the black hat is my grandmother. The setting was in the Kingsessing Playground in Phila. They had a gala July 4th celebration every year. This would have been the baby parade I believe.

The family lived across the street at 5022 Kingsessing Ave. I lived in that same house until I was 12 years old. I still remember those July 4th celebrations. I made a print of the restored photo for mom. She loves it.

Click to enlarge

This is the photo I started with. Mom found it in the bottom drawer of her dresser (along with a bunch of other photos). They belonged to my late Aunt Martie Ann. Another treasure trove found!

As you can see, this 85 year old photo is in poor condition. The first job is to get the image into the computer. I had always scanned B&W photos as gray scale. My first lesson was to scan this photo as RGB as Ctein suggests. An RGB scan gives you more control. The default scanner settings for Gray scale uses the green channel. You can get a cleaner scan by using one or more of the other channels. You can even use the ‘dirty channel’ to isolate damage so it’s easier to make a mask.

I didn’t use a mask for this restoration. I found the cleanest channel, then fixed the image manually. The restored image is pure B&W with a full range of tones including good midtone contrast to give the image some nice snap.

I cropped the original from the left and top. The person in the background on the far left was a distraction and cropping a little from the top eliminated some of the worst damage. Then I used the clone tool and the speck removal tool to clean up the dirt, scratches, tears, fingerprints and spots (from poor processing).

When I was satisfied, I resized the image and sharpened it. Ctein suggests you scan at 16 bits. This one was easy for me because I always use 16 bit scans and do all my post scan editing 16 bit with Picture Window Pro, a program I’ve been using for about 10 years now. I upgraded PWP from 3.1 to 3.5 about 7 years ago. A couple months ago I downloaded PWP 5.0 and played with it until the 30 day trial ended.

Ctein calls PWP “an amazing program” and I couldn’t agree more. After reading through Ctein’s book the first time, I decided it was time for me to upgrade to 5.0. The upgrade cost a mere $44.95, half the purchase price paid by new users. PWP is a windows only program but it runs on my linux box under Wine.

Oh, I almost forgot. I also have Neat Image running under Wine. I bought the pro version years ago and get free upgrades. Neat Image can work wonders. It reduces or eliminates image noise and does a fantastic job of it too.

I’ve been studying Ctein’s book and practicing what I’m learning with color now. Every time I open the book, I learn something new and valuable. I tried PWP’s Texture Mask and wow did it ever work for me. I was able to create masks that in combination with the advanced sharpen transformation, cleaned up a large percentage of dust spots and dirt without compromising image quality in two color restorations I’m working on. But that’s another story for another time. Meanwhile, I’m having fun.

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You’ll be amazed how your photos can be transformed with proper tonal adjustments, adjustments that are a lot simpler than you might have thought. Once you discover how to play the powerful curves tool in your photo editor, your images will sing.

Click to enlarge

What would you do with this image? It’s flat, all grays, no blacks, no whites, no contrast. I took this picture on an overcast, shadowless day. The negative was developed in Diafine, a compensating developer that yields lower contrast negatives. A double whammy.

Not to worry. Flat negatives scan better because the scanner has an easier time grabbing midtones. All the information is there in the scan. It’s simply compressed and needs to be coaxed and prodded with tonal adjustments using the curves tool.

Click to enlarge

Here’s the transformed image. Quite an improvement over the flat, lifeless scan. I expanded the tonal range and increased the contrast using the curves tool in PWP (aka brightness curve). Once I was satisfied with the tonality of the image I used unsharp masking (USM) @ 10%/r=30/threshold=0 for local contrast enhancement. Then I sharpened again with USM set @ 50%/r=2/threshold=0.

I downsized the image for the web, saved the file and reopened it in the GIMP where I tweaked the levels and used smart sharpening with very low settings: amount=30%/r=0.3/threshold=0. When you downsize an image, sometimes you need to sharpen again to compensate.

Click to enlarge

Let’s go through the tonal adjustments step by step. This screenshot shows the raw scan on the left, the transformed image on the right. The brighness curve dialog (lower left) shows the original histogram with a superimposed S curve. The original curve is the straight line rising at a 45 degree angle from lower left to upper right.

I established three control points along this curve and moved them to create the new S shaped curve. The dialog in the bottom center is the same curve but with the histogram view selected. You can see how I slid the bottom of the two double arrows to the left for the shadows and the other arrow to the right for the highlights.

All images will have a characteristic curve that rises gradually from the foot, steepens through the midtones and rolls over the shoulder at the top. The steeper the rise, the more contrast. The S curve for each image will differ somewhat. The trick here is to massage that curve until you like what you see.

The dialog on the bottom right shows the histogram for the adjusted image. It’s still on the dark side. I tried making all the adjustments using one curve, but got better results when I did a second transformation on the highlights.

Click to enlarge

The image on the left is the transformation from the first screen, the image on the right shows the final.

This time around, I used two control points to anchor the shadows and two more to give the highlights a boost. Once again, the dialog on the left and in the center are two views of the same curve transformation.

The dialog on the right shows the final histogram. Note the shape and how the original histogram has been expanded to fill all the values from pure black to pure white.

Click to enlarge

The title of this tutorial is B&W Photography: 16-bit Tonal Adjustments. Now I want to show you why it’s so important to work with 16-bit files. A 16-bit file can contain 65,536 discrete tones ranging from pure black to pure white. An 8-bit file has only 256 values to work with.

I converted my 16-bit scan to 8-bit for this demonstration. I went through the exact same transformations as I did with the 16-bit files I showed you. When you expand the tones of a flat image, you are stretching the histogram with limited tones to cover all the values from 0 to 255. Have a look at the histogram on the lower right. All the gaps are missing tones — not a good thing at all.

Click to enlarge

And the gaps get even worse here. Compare the final 8-bit histogram to the final 16-bit histogram. Big difference. I used an extreme example and not all images require as large a tonal adjustment as this one, but when you want to make a lot of tonal adjustments (or even a few small ones), use 16-bit files whenever possible.

So now what? Try the curves tool on your photos. Play with curves and learn how to use them effectively. It just takes practice (and patience). You’ll learn that sometimes small tonal adjustments are all you need to really transform your images. Next time, I’ll show you a more subtle example.

Feel free to leave comments and questions. I’ll be happy to answer and help where I can.

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Dragonstar made a nice comment about my latest (April 2) The Weekend in Black and White contribution: Trees: Tone & Texture — Ceres 2010. “One day I must try to understand what you do with your negatives…” Margaret Gosden is also interested and I’ve been meaning to write a few new tutorials (it’s been too long), so…

I decided to kick off the series with an introduction that recreates the sequence of steps I took to improve the tonality of the scanned negative prior to sharpening. The illustrations are screenshots from Picture Window Pro. Click to enlarge so you can see the details.

Click to enlarge

The image on the left is a medium resolution (1410 dpi)16 bit scan I made using VueScan with my Minolta Scan Dual III film scanner. I did some preliminary rough tonal adjustments using curves in VueScan. I did the fine tuning with PWP.

You can see the histogram and my adjusted curve in the Brightness Curve dialog in the middle of the screen. I felt the shadows needed some darkening and the overall image a contrast boost.

Click to enlarge

This screen shows the same before and after images with the alternate view of the Brightness Curve dialog. It’s easier to see the curve I applied.

The dialog shows the existing histogram on top and the new histogram on the bottom. I established two control points using the double headed arrows, one for the shadows and another for the highlights. I moved the bottom of the shadow arrow to the left and the highlight arrow to the right.

The new curve is superimposed on the histogram display. The image on the right is the result. It doesn’t take much to make big changes. As you can see, I moved the shadows just enough. I anchored the highlights and boosted them the tiniest bit. If I hadn’t anchored the highlights, the entire curve would have been pulled down.

The result is a steeper curve which increases contrast, deeper shadows and a wee boost to the highlights.

Click to enlarge

Here’s where I applied a bit of local contrast enhancement. The unsharp mask dialog shows Amount = 10% / Radius = 30 / Threshold = 0, very conservative settings. Some people use amounts of 20% or more and radii of 50, 60 or more. I use higher settings sometimes depending on the image.

Local Contrast Enhancement (LCE) can work magic on some images. I use it all the time now. Rather than try to explain how LCE works, here’s a link to a good tutorial on the subject.

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/contrast-enhancement.shtml

The next few steps (final sharpening and size reduction for the web) were done using Gimp. The Gimp can’t handle 16 bit files so I converted and did a save as 8 bit (different file name) and opened the file in the Gimp. I sharpened this image using smart sharpening. I’ll get into different sharpening methods in another tutorial.

Think of this article as more introduction than full blown tutorial. Next time I’ll get into more details.

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