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iPhoto 101: Scanning an Absurd Number of Old Prints
April 21st, 2004

Recently, I discovered a box full of pictures that I had taken with the 35 mm camera that my mother-in-law gave me and my wife for our wedding gift. There were hundreds of prints going back for thirteen years that we had practically forgotten about since the arrival of our bundle of joy. That's right, we are madly in love with camera. We even use it take pictures of our son...Jack, that's right. Jack.

Jenni and I had such an enjoyable time rummaging through these memories that I decided to add them to iPhoto, so that they would be there along with the ridiculous number of shots of our five-month old.

iPhoto and OS X are ideally suited for this task, but there were a number of things I learned along the way. I suspect that if you haven't converted your old prints to digital, you may have been entertaining the idea, so here are some things that made it easier for me.

Of course the first thing to address is your scanner. Mine is a UMAX 3450, which is of dubious quality at best. I actually had to take apart the scanner to clean the underside of the glass bed before I could begin. Sure, it was cheap, but gimme a break. The software that comes with it leaves a lot to be desired too, and I was about to plunk down some bills for a film scanner when I tried VueScan by Hamrick Software. VueScan is not cheap, but it is worth every penny in my opinion. I was able to use that tired old scanner and achieve good results. Of course, an image editor is required for final tweaking, but there is a brilliant new feature of Photoshop CS that makes the old pictures pop in one step, more on that later.

Once you have got your scanner set up, it's time to scan...and scan...and scan. I have been scanning prints for over two months in my spare time and I am not even halfway through the pile yet.

Of course, as I often do, I began scanning without any planning whatsoever. After my first roll, I realized this was not a good idea.

Tip Number One: Arrange your prints in chronological order before you scan them.

That roll was of a trip to Philadelphia and New York. Since the prints were in no particular order after having been shuffled through more than a few times, I had pictures of the Liberty Bell between pictures of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. That's no good. Sure, you can change the date to get your prints in order with iPhoto, but this will save you a step.

Tip Number Two: Scan prints of the same roll together, then import all of those into iPhoto at once.

iPhoto treats each file import as a roll, so I scanned a physical roll of prints, put the files in a folder called, in this case, "Philly and NYC 08/92", then imported the folder into iPhoto. This way iPhoto knows these pics are part of the same roll and were imported at the same time, in this case on the afternoon of February 17, 2004.

Tip Number Three: Batch Change is your friend.

But that's not when the pictures were taken. All I knew is that they were taken in August of 1992, and that we went to Philly before we went to Manhattan. iPhoto 4 has a cool new Batch Change feature that I can't imagine undertaking this project without. I just selected the Philly pics and batch changed them to August 10, 1992, and then changed the New York pics to August 15, 1992. Now I know the approximate date they were taken, and if I view the pics by roll, iPhoto tells me the order they were imported.

I also chose to add one minute between each photo, so that they will stay in chronological order as I sort them.

There would be no point undertaking a project like this unless the final results are satisfying. If your prints look flat and listless once you are done, you just wasted your time. I have been impressed with iPhoto's Enhance feature, and I recommend it, unless you have access to Photoshop CS.

A new feature under Photoshop's Adjust menu is called Shadow/Highlight. When you select it, Photoshop applies its default setting to your photo. It almost always makes a huge improvement, so I test each and every print and have been very happy. (This is subjective of course, as sometimes my wife prefers iPhoto's Enhance to Photoshop's Adjust Shadow/Highlight, but since I am the one scanning, I do what I want!)

Tip Number Four: Try to automate color correction.

So, after a little experimentation, I found a successful routine (scan by roll, use Photoshop's default Shadow/Highlight setting, and batch change the dates). And that is important. When attempting a repetitive process like this, it helps to think as little as possible. So, if you can find a sequence that works on 95% of your photos, that is the way to go. The remaining five percent may need a little help, but that is preferable to tweaking every freakin' photo you have.


Photoshop CS's Shadow/Highlight feature makes the bottom picture pop.

Anyway, I am having fun with this project, even though I was unaware that over the course of thirteen years one can take billions and billions of pictures. If you are considering doing this, I hope these little tips are of some help to you.

Get to scanning!

is an Idiot. He is the co-founder of IWS Interactive, a New York (and now Houston) based development company for Macintosh. Now he spends his time writing about, developing for, and getting clients to buy Macs. Oh, yeah, and he recently had a kid. So his days are filled with taking care of little Jack, then playing with his Mac. He wouldn't have it any other way.

You can send your comments directly to Gary, or you can also post your comments below.

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