Category Archives: Photography

Converting Negative Film to Digital Media

For Christmas this year I stole all of my family’s VHS tapes, negative film, and developed pictures to digitize as gifts. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Here’s how I processed all of the negatives and photographs.

I found the Epson V550 appealing due to it’s low price and ability to scan negative film. It features Digital ICE, the ability to inspect negatives for physical scratches or damage and help remove them from the final image. I have written up a short review of it here.

I used VueScan for the scanning software. I liked the added configuration and options presented with the 3rd party software instead of the included Epson scanning software.


I decided on 3200 DPI and 24 bit RGB for the scanned negatives. This resulted in files around 16-20 MB. I originally tried 4800 DPI and 48 bit RGB, but the resulting files were over 100 MB. I used Digital ICE, a feature built into the V550, to repair film damaged by scratches. I scanned the film into raw TIFF files for futher processing. Research I read online stated Photoshop’s color correction abilities surpassed Vuescan’s, so both the “Filter” and “Color” settings were disabled in VueScan. I used VueScan’s ability to automatically crop 35mm film which functioned as a good precursor for me to fine tune the cropping when each slide was previewed instead of starting blank each time. I used the “Batch List” functionality to quickly tell VueScan which negatives I wanted to process and which to ignore.


1. I cleaned the negatives of dust/dirt using an air blower and lint free cloth. I checked the scan bed between each scan to clear any dust or dirt that had accumulated. Since negatives are so compact, even tiny pieces of dust can show up as large lines on the scanned image.

3. I placed the emulsion side of film down towards scanner (or the direction of the capture device). The emulsion side is usually the concave side of the film. It is the “non shiny” side of the film also.

4. I clicked Preview to get a rough draft the slides with VueScan. VueScan offers the ability to increase the dynamic range of the scanned image by “locking exposure”, or telling VueScan what the blackest black is on a particular strip of film. Temporarily selecting an area between the exposures and clicking “Lock Exposure” in the options set VueScan to the proper level (for me anywhere from 1.0 to 3.0). This action helps balance the histogram of the resulting image. Not doing this resulted in some pictures being too black or white. Each roll of film has a different exposure values, so I performed this whenever I started on a new roll of film.


5. I would then decide which images I wanted to capture and add them to the “batch list” text box in VueScan. I manually cropped each exposure before the final scan, ensuring the resulting image would have no black bars. I found this step to be very important when correcting the colors in Photoshop and Lightroom. Leaving borders in the picture affected the histogram, skewing Photoshop’s results.

6. If any particular image was damaged by scratches the Digital ICE functionality was enabled on that individual image. The image was scanned with an infrared light to detect the scratches and VueScan repaired the image with the infrared result. Doing this took about twice the amount of time to scan the image to a file.

7. I set VueScan to automatically save scans to a temporary folder. I scanned all of my negatives into this folder with VueScan automatically incrementing the file names.


After the scanning was complete I needed to correct the colors, contrast, and tone of the images, as well as invert them (from negative to positive) and flip them horizontally due to imaging from the “back side” of the film. To accomplish this quickly I created a Photoshop action to automatically execute these steps. I then used Photoshop’s batch functionality to open each image in the temporary folder, process it according to the action commands, and then overwrite the original negative image with the corrected positive automatically.


I used 600 DPI and 24 bit RGB for the photographs. The same reasoning applied as the negatives. Due to the volume of images being processed the file size was a limiting factor. I originally used an Epson V37, but I found the white panel on the lid did not press the images down fully onto the scan bed due to lacking foam around the perimeter.


Scanning multiple pictures in at the same time saved a lot of overhead compared to individually, even though scanning one image in would result in a better initial crop. I found scanning 4 pictures in at a time worked best, allowing each picture to be aligned at each corner of the scan bed while also leaving enough white space between images for cropping later. I simply placed each set of images on the bed, then closed the cover and scanned the page. To save time I scanned the entire bed so I would not need to preview each set to make sure all of the pictures were in the capture area. After his process was finished I had hundreds of files with 4 images in each corner of them. Each scanned file needed to be separated into 4 separate images, though doing this by hand for 5 minutes caused weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Separating Scans

Manually cropping the vast number of images was in need of automation. I tried using Photoshop’s built in “Separate and Crop” functionality, but it was spotty at best with most images not being separated correctly. When the images were successfully separated I still needed to individually save each of the resulting images individually, including naming them uniquely. I found a Gimp plugin that accurately separates each image from a folder of scans. The plugin would constantly crash Gimp every 10 minutes or so unfortunately, but I could not find an alternative that would batch the images reliably. When the plugin would fail I would re-launch the program and start at the last successfully processed image. The plugin would occasionally create 5 or 6 files instead of 4, with the “extras” being a smaller portion of one of the 4 actual images. I never had an issue with the plugin cropping into the actual image though. I created a new fork of the plugin which include the ability to set the DPI of the image instead of defaulting to 600 DPI.

Lightroom Processing

Once all of the negatives and photographs were processed into digital copies they were imported into Lightroom. I used Lightroom to tag people in each of the images for fast searching in the future. I used information present on the front and back of images to help tag people, dates, and locations for the images. I organized the pictures based on year and then by event they were captured at. For the photographs that didn’t have any accompanying data I relied on family and friends to get generate time frames of certain events to get the photographs in rough chronological order.

I used the “auto tune” feature for initial processing of the images. I found that the results worked well enough for a starting point of additional manual changes. I cropped out any remaining black/white bars from scanning and also fixed composition on some of the pictures. I boosted sharpness and clarity settings across the board, as well as vibrance and saturation. I found most of the scanned images were lacking in all of these areas. Scanning pictures from analog to digital will always result in loss of data, Lightroom helped to artificially bring some of it back.

Some images were heavily damaged from previous improper handling or storage. Some images were in worn out scrap books from the 1960’s and 1970’s with glue stains on them. For simple dust or blemish removal I used Lightroom’s spot removal tool. The more heavily damaged photos were sent to Photoshop for advanced repair. I was surprised with the amount of restoration I could accomplish with the basic tools of both programs.

After everything was finished I had over 2,000 images from one family, and another 800 from another family, scanned in and digitally preserved. The images are stored on a RAID0 configuration, as well as an offsite backup (relative’s house). Including all of the time spent with trial and error I spent around 40 hours scanning and processing all of the memories. I am very thankful my family switched to digital over the past few decades:).


Online services like offer to scan all your pictures for modest prices compared to the amount spent on a scanner and the time involved with scanning and processing. I enjoyed the time I spent digitizing my photographs but others might not as much. Most services will charge additional for higher resolution scans, but if time is limited and the funds are available, having someone else deal with all of this would be a worthy investment!

Epson Perfection V550 Scanner


Diving headfirst into digitizing my family’s photographs this past month has led me down many paths seeking information on best practices for digitizing important memories of my family. After lots of research and trade offs between cost and functionality I decided on the Epson Perfection V550.

Although being the little brother of the V600, the V550 has the same Dmax of 3.4. The V550 has 6,400 DPI optical resolution while the V600 boasts 9,600. The V550 also only has Digital ICE for negatives, not regular scanning. Both were trade offs I was happy to make considering I only needed 3,200 DPI and most of the photographs were in good shape.

General Impressions

The V550 scanner has good build quality aside from the film inserts which I will address in this review. It comes with an external power adapter and a lengthy USB cord. 4 buttons on the front are quickly ignored, the power button is on the right side near the bottom of the scanner. The printer turns on and is ready to scan in around 10 seconds. The scanner turns itself off automatically after a few hours of no use. The bottom side of the scan bed had dust on it, as well as one scratch and some (what looks like) white dirt on one spot of the glass. Luckily these were in areas that didn’t affect negative film scanning. I haven’t seen how difficult it is to open the scanner and clean off the contaminants yet.

The official Epson scanning software works correctly, offering quite a few options when in “professional” mode. Drivers installed quickly on my Windows 10 x64 machine and I was scanning in some test pictures after a few minutes of setup.

I processed around 2,000 strips of film for this review, scanning in around ~800 images total after pruning.

Scanning Negatives

The film holders for the V550 were lackluster. The main holder I used was for 35mm film. The plastic inserts can hold 2 35mm strips with 6 exposures on each of them. The plastic holder has to be aligned on the bed correctly for the overhead light to shine through the images correctly. This alignment is accomplished with a little tab sticking out of the side of the insert. I found myself having to wiggle the insert after inserting film to ensure it was in place correctly.


For film in good condition, not bent or curved too much, the holder was able to keep the film in place while scanning. For negatives that were bent or curved a moderate amount the holder was unable to flatten the negatives completely due to the clips not engaging due to the amount of force the film put on the holder. The film is only held in place by 3 main clips running through the middle of the holder and an additional 6 along the sides.





I found the side holders not much help, with no real grip being placed on the film when in place. Clipping the holder in place took finesse. Getting one end of the holder in place would often cause the opposite side to come undone. Even after hundreds of scans I couldn’t get into reproducible method, I had to run my hand up and down the holder twice to make sure everything was in place. Attaching the holder would often cause the negatives to move out of position. Film that had moderate to severe curling was difficult to get held in place and flat by the inserts. Removing the holder meant digging a finder under the end of the holder to pry the clips loose. The medium film sized holder swiveled on one end, a method I feel would have worked better than what the 35mm holder used.


While the scanner is in film mode, either with VueScan or the official Epson software, switching between different pictures caused the scanner to “calibrate” itself. The scanner started and stopped before and after each image, with a 10 second pause for each as the top and bottom scanner motors whirled back and forth. Upon closer inspection, the bottom scanner light flashed on and off in repeatable patterns, possibly to align the bottom and top scanner and lights. This became frustrating especially when Digital ICE was enabled, as the same alignment procedure occurred during the second pass of each image also. If I scanned all 12 negatives available at the time, it would have been quicker to scan across the entire print bed and have the software crop out the pictures the user requested. This delay caused a lot of time wasted when scanning negatives in.

If I accidentally pressed one of the buttons on the front of the scanner while getting film ready on the scan bed, the scanner would fire up and try to start capturing pictures. Unlike a regular scan though, the bottom scanner and top light work together to expose a negative correctly. When the lid is open and a scan starts the scanner detects the lack of overhead light causing the error light flashes on the front. Both VueScan and the scanner have to be turned off and back on to get them functioning properly again.


For the price the V550 is a good value, offering good optical resolution and ability to scan an assortment of media. The shoddy insert build quality along the amount of time needed to scan in negative images are the scanner’s main downfalls for my personal use. Compared to the rest of the Epson lineup (V600, 700, 800, and 850), the V550 has the best bang for the buck for an entry level scanner.