Cleaning up scanned photos in Photoshop

Digital stories are often created by combining older photos with a freshly recorded voice-over using an editing software program. When people begin to gather photos for their stories, they may discover that some of their images or audio materials are not yet digital files. Today I share the Digital approach to digitizing archival photos. I use Adobe Photoshop in this Mac-oriented tutorial.

Clean the  printed photo with a soft cloth to remove extra dust before scanning. Scan at 600 dpi or higher so that the digital image has a higher resolution for video editing. If you start with an photo that is 2 inches by 2 inches, the higher resolution scan gives you an image that won’t look too pixelated on a computer screen. All images are a collection of pixels but we like to maintain the illusion that they are not. Scanning a larger photo at a high resolution means that you will be able to zoom in during editing (aka The Ken Burns effect).

When the printed photo is scanned, give the jpg file a descriptive name that is meaningful to you and save it to a folder on your computer. Organize your  photo, audio and video files into folders prior to importing all of the folders into your editing software. Leave the file in the same folder and avoid the temptation to change the file name once you’ve imported the folders into your editing software.

To maintain a faster workflow (and to avoid wasting your time), do not take the next steps to clean up your photos until you are sure they will be included in your final edited project.

Original photo

Import your scanned image into Photoshop. Rather than changing the original image, make adjustments to a duplicate layer by going to the Layers menu and choosing Duplicate Layer.  The default Layer name will be called “Background copy” and click OK.

Crop the image to remove extra pixels from around the central photo. This eliminates anything visually distracting from the edges of your photo. Select the Crop Tool and pull edges toward image to remove unwanted pixels.

After crop and auto contrast adjustments

Next check the Contrast (relative light and dark values) and adjust these settings to match requirements for the digital story.  In Photoshop, Auto Contrast (Image>Auto Contrast) usually gives the sort of higher contrast images I prefer. For colour photos,  check the Vibrance  (Image>Vibrance). Move the Vibrance and Saturation sliders to the right to increase the vibrancy and saturation of colours in the shot until you have the “look” you prefer.

Sometimes scans made from older black and white images require further work. The speckled areas are most visible with higher contrast – white spots over a dark background or dark specks on a lighter sky area.

If a scanned photo has distracting specks – Photoshop offers the Spot Cleaning Brush Tool to resolve this. Working at up to 200% visibility,  click to remove each spot and move on to the next one. If you don’t like the effect, undo it. It does not have to be perfect – adjust the speckled areas that stand out the most and then return to 100% visibility to assess if your adjustments are working.

Within the Adobe software system, when an original jpg file is revised in Photoshop,  it is automatically updated in your Premiere Pro project. However,  since we duplicated the background layer,  we have been working in a Photoshop document. There is one more step – to replace the original scanned image with the updated one.  Save your Photoshop document, then save it as a jpg and replace the original. If you need to make adjustments later, return to the Duplicate Layer in your Photoshop file, make the changes, and again replace the jpg file that Premiere Pro uses as a reference in the Timeline.

Additional detailed tutorials
Old Picture, New Life – Tuts tutorial
Removing Dust and Scratches – Have Camera Will Travel tutorial


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