Cleaning up scanned photos in Photoshop

Woman is pointing in black & white photo
Time to clean up your scans in Photoshop

Digital stories (like Agawa Canyon, pictured here) sometimes combine older photos with a freshly recorded voice-over. 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. I’ll share the Digital Stories Canada approach to digitizing archival photos. Time to start cleaning up scanned photos in Photoshop.

Step 1: Prep print and scan

Lightly brush the printed photo with a clean soft cloth to remove extra dust before scanning. Make sure your scanner is clean too.

Scan at 600 dpi or higher so you end up with a higher resolution for video editing.

Why higher resolution?

If you scan a photo at a high resolution, you will have more options when editing.  You can zoom into a photo to make someone stand out in the crowd (aka The Ken Burns effect).

Step 2: Save the file with a meaningful name

After the printed photo is scanned, give the jpg file a descriptive name that is meaningful to you.

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 avoid wasting your time, do not clean up your photos until you are sure they will be included in your final edited project. You could literally spend hours cleaning images you’ll never use.

Step 3: Adjustments in Photoshop

Scanned photo of man with backpack before cleaning it up in Photoshop
Original scanned 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.” 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.

Scanned image after adjustment in Photoshop
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.

Step 4: Clean up the dust and dirt specks

Sometimes scans made from older black and white images need additional touch-ups. The speckled areas are most visible in higher contrast areas – 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.

Work at up to 200% visibility so that specks are more visible.

Using the Spot Cleaning Brush Tool, 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 – some spots are easier to cover than others.

Adjust the speckled areas that stand out the most and then return to 100% visibility to assess if your adjustments are working.

If you are working with the Adobe Creative Cloud system, when you adjust the original jpg file 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.

Any adjustments later?

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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