Over the last few years, my wonderful and tireless mother has scanned thousands and thousands of negatives (approx 7,500). Family, holidays, friends – all these images have been digitised for future generations after an incredible amount of work.
I saw her first twenty or so rolls in the early days. Magnificent results. Clean, and well organised, she was on a very good path. I’ve heard her stories over the years of some of the old negatives she’s found and seen one or two of them. Yes, they were grainy, but everyone expected that, right?
Anyway, she has been beavering away over a period of seven or so years, scanning all these photos.
I happened to have a really good look at some of the later ones (that are more modern photos) about a week ago.
Maybe you can imagine the sick feeling that came over me when I realised that the scanner seems to never have been cleaned.
This work that she’s so justifiably proud of, for the sheer effort, has every photo marred with dust and fibre artefacts. And quite badly. It’s heartbreaking. Especially when she didn’t really see these issues as things that (a) could be fixed or (b) needed fixing in many cases.
It’s clear that these images are going to live on for years – they are not going to be re-scanned.
Here’s three photos, to show what’s happened. They are relatively new films - and scan very well when the scanner is clean. I have circled some common blemishes between the three images that are obviously from the same unmoved fibre stuck on the scanner; sadly the dust specks are also perfectly evident.
I have googled, played with digikam / g’mic / imagemagick / gimp, looked at filters and tools and lost sleep, and am still feeling sick about the relatively poor results for the massive effort that was put in to scan these images. And that could have so easily been avoided.
I don’t want to make these images perfect. What I do want to do is remove some of the bigger artefacts automatically if at all possible.
Automatically inpainting holes seems to work really well on most of the specks, so that is sorted.
To be rid of some of the fibres, I think I could use one of the InPaint filters, but am not sure how I could go about this. While the artifacts are very similar in each photo, they move around ever so slightly (I imagine because of image deskew when saving).
Having outlined the probably impossible challenge, does anyone have any idea what they’d do in this situation? To throw the images out is just not possible, for the thousands of person hours that have gone into them.
I imagine the only way this could reliably be done in some batch scenario is to somehow analyse a series of shots made in a given couple of months, try to find some commonality in the artefacts, and somehow and use it as a mask for other InPaint filters, but surely I’m wishing for a miracle here. And if that was an approach, I’d have no idea how to go about it.
Of course, one of the big problems is that the orientation and flipping has been changed on most of the shots to one of 8 configurations, as you can see above. The shots can be in each of the four orientations, multiplied by two because of possible image flipping. And we only have jpg images. No corresponding IR images come with them, probably for obvious reasons.
Another approach would be just to use another kind of “hole” filter that could work on “elongated” holes to cater for the fibres, but again, I’m wishing for a miracle I presume.
Something tells me that I’m not the only person who has wished for this. And with much home scanning going on, I imagine there will be a strong desire for some kind of solution for this in the future.
I’m keen to hear anyone’s thoughts that aren’t “throw the images away and start again.”