Working with Digital Pictures (and Images)
When searching for a new digital camera, look for cameras that have the least delay “from the time
you press the button to the actual capture of the picture”. Check out this delay both without and
with flash, but wait for the flash to fully charge. Cameras that use very common cards (such as SD
cards) are very convenient, as many laptops have card slots built right in. Also, small adapters that
turn these cards into thumb drives are available at most computer stores. I prefer adapters that
have all connectors covered with caps (unexposed). Two of the latest digital camera features are
face and smile detection. In general, I like to wait until a technology is more proven – and the price
drops. I now own one of these, a very compact Casio Exilim EX-S10. The Exilim line is also
available in a thicker model at a lesser price. This one is not much over a half inch thick. Costco’s
price was very competitive with the internet, but also included a 1 GB SD card and a nice small belt
case. I carry it everywhere I go. It takes great movies with sound, that look great on our big screen
TV. It is feature rich, with a lot of Best Shot modes. I can catch water droplets in the air when the
grandkids are splashing in the pool. It does a great job of capturing printed documents, as well as
documenting just about everything you can imagine – like the part number of a filter I need to pick
up at the store.
Also, look for optical zoom, not digital zoom. Digital zoom is much like scanning a small photo and
blowing it up big. It won’t have the same clarity, but is better than nothing. Myself, I simply don’t
use digital zoom.
Generally speaking, it will cost more to print your pictures at home than it would to have them
printed at a photo place, copy center, or even at WalMart or Target via a self-service machine.
These self service machines have basic user friendly editing capabilities, for such things as
cropping, rotating, removing redeye, brightness, contrast, etc.
When it comes to printing at home, you really do get better results using the OEM’s (Original
Equipment Manufacturer’s) own paper, as the ink formulation needs to be matched to the media
you are using. Regarding generic media (photo paper), most of them will include a list of the best
settings to use for some of the more popular printers. Even then, don’t expect miracles. When you
print out a test photo, record the settings you used on that specific print, so you don’t waste money
doing the very same thing over again. If it looks great, write the settings on the packaging, and
record it somewhere more permanent, as well.
We do the vast majority of our printing at Wal-Mart. However, I’m not one that likes to stand at a
machine for long periods to edit photos. So, my wife bought me a photo printer and gave it to me
with the condition that I was to take it back and use the money towards whatever photo printer I
liked best. She knows I’m really picky. After running around from store to store and doing a lot of
test prints and reading up on various printers, I purchased the Epson PictureMate Snap PM 240.
Epson had another model that printed pictures that you could literally soak in water with no
damage. It was my second choice. If I remember right, the archival longevity was not as long. The
paper and ink for these units come in a kit. I have found that I can squeeze a few to a dozen extra
photos out of the ink cartridge by buying an extra package of their paper separately. Keep in mind
that I have had my printer for over a year and a half, so it may no longer be sold. I do not
recommend experimenting with any other brand of paper in these units. I get better looking prints
out of this printer than from any studio prints, and I can print directly from my camera’s memory
card, or with the printer connected to my laptop. I can also directly connect a thumb drive and print
photos from it. There is a battery pack available as an option.
Digital Picture and Image Tips
Much of the following content is from the June 2008 PAPAFUG (Portland Area Personal Ancestry
File Users Group) newsletter (with permission from Richard Halliday, President). As the newsletter
editor was not sure of the exact source (or sources) of the information, I did a Google search.
Although I found similar content elsewhere, without author credit, with minor exceptions, it appears
to have come from http://genealogy.about.com/cs/digitalphoto/a/digital_photos.htm. In that web
sites tend to come and go, and I cannot fully confirm that this is the original source of this
information, I have pasted it herein to make sure the information is not lost. However, I would
recommend that you also refer to this article on the genealogy.about.com site for additional
information and references. The article I found on the above listed site is by Kimberly Powell. With
a few exceptions and clarifications, I agree with the vast majority of both it and the content from the
newsletter. My comments have been inserted in blue italics.
Begin Quote from PAPAFUG Newsletter with Inserted Comments
Tips for Scanning Digital Photos
1) Examine the photos for dirt, dust, lint, or smudges. Carefully remove surface dust and dirt with a
soft brush or lint-free photowipe. Canned air, from an office supply store helps to blast away dust
and lint from photographic slides. It is not recommended for heirloom photos. Do not shake the can
and use only in brief spurts, or it will spray out a freezing mist that could damage your slides,
negatives, or photos. If you have a photo with actual corrosion, don’t store it with any other photos
– it could contaminate them, too.
2) Examine the scanner glass for lint, hair, fingerprints, or smudges. Use a lint-free pad or wipe to
thoroughly clean the glass. Household glass cleaner can be used to clean your scanner glass, as
long as you’re careful to spray it directly on the cloth before wiping, not directly on the glass
surface, be sure it does not weep under the scanner glass. When using your scanner or handling
photographs, it is best to wear clean white cotton gloves to avoid leaving skin oils on your scanner
3) Choose the type of scan. If you’re scanning photos, you have a basic choice of color photo vs.
black and white grayscale. Grayscale produces shades between black and white (grays), where as
black and white is either totally black or totally white for any given pixel (dot) within the image.
Black and white is something I rarely use, and even then, only for certain documents. Scan your
documents in grayscale for more accurate reproduction. When scanning family photos, it is usually
best to scan in color, even if the source photo is black & white. You’ll have more adjustment
options, and you can change a color photo to black & white (grayscale), but not the other way
4) Determine the best scan resolution to assure the quality of your digital photos. The optimal
resolution depends on how the image will be printed, saved, or displayed. A good rule of thumb is
to scan your photos at a minimum of 300dpi (Dots Per Inch) to assure decent quality for
enhancement and restoration techniques. 600dpi or greater is even better if you plan to eventually
store these photos on CD or DVD, Remember 600dpi takes twice the memory space on your hard
drive. 600dpi takes four times the space of 300dpi and 1200dpi takes four times the space of
600dpi. That’s because you are going both twice as wide and twice as tall.
5) Carefully position your photo on the scanner face down on the glass, just like on a photocopy
machine. Then hit “prescan” or “preview.” The scanner will take a quick pass of the image and
display a rough version on your screen. Check to see that it’s straight, that no part of the photo has
been cut off, and that the photo appears free of dirt or smudges.
6) Using “Crop” adjust previewed image to include only the original photo. For archival purposes
you should not crop only a portion of the photo at this point (you can do it later if you want a
cropped photo for a specific purpose), but you should make sure that all you are scanning is the
actual photograph. Some scanners and software will do this step for you automatically. In some
cases, you will want to scan in the border of the photo. It may contain valuable clues as to the
contents and date, not to mention retaining antique qualities.
7) Don’t make corrections while scanning. After scanning, you’ll be able to edit the image in a
graphics software program which offers much more control. The order should be: a. Scan a basic
image, b. Save it, c. Make adjustments. I agree for your archival images (exact duplicate for
historical purposes). But if you are looking for quick results for a specific project, many scanners
can do a great job of making automatic adjustments for the amateur. On these occasions, give it a
try. You may be quite satisfied and save a lot of time. However, if you have a reasonable graphics
editing program, with a little patience you can learn to make the same adjustments but with a
greater degree of control. Alternatively, if the photo doesn’t require any real cleanup, you can
always scan it twice, once for archival purposes, and once with auto-corrections for your special
8) Check your file size to make sure that the resolution you have chosen isn’t going to create a
photo that is so large that it’s going to crash your computer. Some computers have enough free
memory to handle 34MB photo files, and some don’t. If the file size is going to be larger than you
thought, then adjust the scan resolution accordingly before making the file scan. Some scanner
software will show you the image size below the preview window, based on the selected resolution,
size, and file type. You have the options of size retention, enlargement, or reduction. Newer
computers will generally handle these larger file sizes just fine, but make sure you always leave
plenty of blank space on your hard drive – about 20% free is a good rule of thumb. Some of the
more popular graphics editing programs use this as temporary swap space to save your edits for
undo’s and such.
9) Scan the original image. This could take a few minutes if you’re scanning at a very high
resolution. While waiting, you can get your next photo ready for scanning.
Tips for Digital Photo Storage
Once you’ve got your photo scanned, it’s time to save it to your hard drive, choose an archival
method, and select a good photo-editing program.
1) Selecting a file type. The best file type for scanning and saving archival photos is TIF (Tagged
Image Format), the undisputed leader when best quality is required. The popular JPG (JPEG) file
format is nice because its compression algorithm creates smaller file sizes - making it the most
popular photo format for Web pages and file sharing - but the compression which creates the small
files also causes some quality loss. This loss of image quality is small, but becomes important
when dealing with digital images that you plan to modify and resave (something that you may do
when restoring damaged or faded photographs) because the loss of image quality compounds
itself at each saving of the file. Special note: unless space on your computer’s hard drive is at a
real premium, stick with TIF when scanning and saving digital photos.
2) Save an archive copy of the original photo in TIF format. Make a special folder and place it in
that special folder on your hard drive or copy to CD or other digital medium. Resist the urge to edit
this original photo, no matter how bad it looks. The purpose of this copy is to preserve, as closely
as possible, the original photograph in a digital format - a format that will outlast the original print
photo. If making a copy of a photo (or a folder full of photos) on the same hard drive, simply drag it
using the right mouse button and releasing it in some white space either in the same window or
another open window. Then, select “Copy Here”. If copying within the same window, it will add the
words Copy of” to the beginning of the file or folder name.
3) Make a copy of your scanned photo to work on, rather than adjusting your original scanned
image. Save it with a different filename (such as “ -edited “on the end) to help prevent you from
accidentally overwriting the original as you work on editing the photo.
4) Choose a good graphics program. The key to good digital photos is selecting a good graphics
program. If you don’t have photo editing software yet, there are a lot of good options available -
ranging from free photo editors, to beginner photo editors, to advanced photo editing software.
Now that you’ve done all the tedious work of scanning and saving your photos as digital images,
it’s time to get started with the fun part - photo retouching! Pictures with stains, creases, and tears
may have character, but they aren’t as pretty for framing or photo projects. These photo editing tips
will help make your old pictures album-ready.
Tips for Editing Digital Photos
1) Open your photo editing software and select the photo you wish to work with. Be sure that it is a
copy, not your original digital image. This way you can always start over if you make a mistake.
When making edits that require the holding down of your mouse button, don’t do too much editing
before releasing the button, and pressing it again. Otherwise, when you make a mistake, and need
to undo, you will lose a lot of work. With some programs, you may not be able to undo back past
the last file save. You may also be able to change the number of levels of undo that your program
will allow you to do.
2) Crop your photo using the crop tool in cases where there is extra “wasted” space in the photo.
Depending upon your purpose, you may also wish to use the crop tool to cut out the background or
focus in on a particular person. Since you have saved a copy of the original photo, you don’t have
to worry about losing important historical details by getting a bit creative with cropping. If the
picture is not sitting square, do your rotations before any cropping. When rotating, it is very
important that you are working with the TIF format, as every bit of data is being affected in a
rotation, but the TIF format won’t lose a thing.
3) Fix photo flaws including rips, tears, creases, spots, and smudges, with a variety of handy fix-it
tools:·Creases, Tears, Spots, & Smudges - Most image-editing programs have a cloning or copying
tool to help fix photo flaws by filling them in with patches from similar areas in the picture. If the
area is large, you may want to zoom in on the area a bit before applying the cloning tool. The best
alternative in low-budget photo editing software is usually the smudge tool. In class, I
demonstrated using the cloning tool with varying size and degrees of opacity to cover up flaws and
blend in cloned areas. I also demonstrated using the smudge tool to smear colors into a pattern to
make a nice background around an individual, whether taking an individual from a group photo or
just looking to make a special portrait.
Dust, Speckles, & Scratches - Set Radius and Threshold settings at their lowest settings and then
slowly increase the Radius until you find the lowest setting that will rid your image of the dust or
scratches. But since that makes your whole image look blurry, you should then bring the Threshold
setting way up and then slowly lower it until you find the highest setting that still removes dust and
scratches from your photo.
Check the results carefully - sometimes this process ends up removing eyelashes and other
important content that mimic scratches. Look at the fine details such as hairs to make sure you
don’t destroy the integrity of the photo. Don’t forget, Ctrl-Z will undo most changes, and Ctrl-Y will
put them back. It’s a quick way to toggle and see which looks better – the before or after.
Many graphics programs also have a global dust/speckles filter, which looks for spots that differ
from their neighboring pixels in color or brightness. It then blurs the surrounding pixels to cover the
offending ones. If you only have a few large specks, then zoom in on them and edit the offending
pixels by hand with a paint, smudge, or cloning tool.
Bye, Bye Red Eye - You can remove that annoying effect in your photos with automatic red-eye
removal, or with the pencil and paintbrush found in most photo-editing software. Sometimes an
automatic red-eye removal tool will change the original eye-color so, if in doubt, check with
someone who has knowledge of the person’s eye color.
4) Adjust the color & contrast. You may find that some of your old photos have faded, darkened, or
have become discolored with age. With the help of your digital photo-editing software you can
easily repair and restore these photographs.
Brightness - Lighten up a dark photo with the brightness adjustment. If it’s too light, you can darken
it Sepia-tones - If you want to give your color or black & white photo an antique look, then use your
photo-editing software to create a duotone (two-color picture). If your original photo is color, you’ll
first have to convert it to grayscale. Then select duotone and choose your two colors (brown
shades are the most common for this effect).
Contrast - Best used in conjunction with Brightness, this feature adjusts the overall contrast -
bringing out features in pictures that are mostly middle tones (grays with no true blacks and
Saturation - Use the saturation tool to help turn back the clock on faded photos - giving photos
more richness and depth.
5) Sharpen to add focus to a blurry photo as the final step before saving.
End of Quote.
Additional Digital Photo Tips
Don’t forget to check out the auto-correction capabilities of your specific scanning and/or graphics
program. You may find that they give you very satisfying results, without having to spend a lot of
time. However, if you take the time to learn and experiment with the tips given herein, you should
not only get better results, but also be prepared when you want to restore a damaged photo.
As noted above, scan and edit in the TIF format. Then, convert the photos to JPG before emailing
or posting to the web (after editing). Converting to a new file type (such as JPG) creates a new file,
rather than overwriting the source file. When converting, you may need to choose the quality for
the JPEG. It may be difficult to see the difference between Low and Medium, or Medium and High,
so choose the lower of the two, if not sure – low for dial up, and Medium for broadband. Use High
when sending to someone you know has requested best quality, if using broadband, and doesn’t
have email attachment size limitations. Maximum quality will be almost impossible to discern from
High. You may also be asked for the connection speed. Use T1 or LAN connection, unless you
want to further reduce the file size and quality.
Keep fingers off the face of pictures. They leave fingerprints that you may never see. But when you
scan them they can be a major headache. Your fingerprints contain oils that can deteriorate
We’ve always called photos black & white or color. Grayscale is a computer age term indicating
shades of black and white – or grays. Black and white when referencing scanning or editing is
exactly that – no grays. This loses subtle differences in shade, such as in a document written in
pencil, and, unless scanned in at a very high resolution, results in a very choppy (pixilated)
appearance. So, not only should you use grayscale (or color) for scanning black & white photos,
but also for documents. If you are going to use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to
turn a “picture of text” into editable text, scan the document as grayscale. Black and white
documents are significantly smaller than grayscale, and grayscale than color.
Oh, and I use Photoshop Elements. My older version has a great batch processing feature that
allows me to convert entire folders of photos from one file type (extension) to another, and I get to
tell it the target type, and set some specific limits on such things as resolution and size restrictions.
When editing photos, use my rule “Never go anywhere you can’t come back from.” Always edit a
copy. Save often. If experimenting with additional edits on a previously edited photo, work from a
copy of the edited photo, and append it with a sequential number or an indication of the purpose of
the additional edit. Always have multiple copies of the originals on external media. Save copies on
multiple media types (CD, portable hard drive, thumb drive, etc.) and in different locations. Share
all your genealogical work with others. If disaster strikes, that may be your only hope of recovering
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exception of quoted portions) is granted under condition that both the source and author are listed and
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appreciate being notified as to where my work is being propagated.
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