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Ask Doctor Photo: Scandemic

Ask Doctor Photo: Scandemic


In January 2017, I received an email from a San Francisco author, inquiring if I am the John Keller who was the photographer who took the photographs for a historically significant architectural project in September and October 1981 in Lake Forest, Illinois. Coincidentally, and just shortly before that inquiry, I received a request for wedding photos from a wedding I had done on Long Island, New York around the same time.

Both requests involved scanning negatives, transparencies (slides) and prints from nearly four decades ago. Fortunately, both requests could be fulfilled, as I have meticulously catalogued and carefully maintained the various media I have used since accepting my first photography job.

The architectural project included homes designed by such notable architects as Frank Lloyd Wright, Howard Van Doren Shaw and his protégé, David Adler, and several others. The house and interior in question was the Armour House on Green Bay Road in Lake Forest, and the interior was designed by Frances Adler Elkins, one of the 20th century’s leading female interior designers and sister of David Adler, the architect.

Because of my wife’s organizational skills (a librarian), we found the file with the negatives, transparencies and prints in less than 10 minutes. The negatives were Kodak Pan X, ISO 32 and the transparencies were Kodachrome 25, carefully stored over the years. In this case, both were scanned on a Nikon Coolscan 4000ED using VueScan as the scanning software.

The resulting scans have been uploaded to my Gallery site for the author and publishing house to review. It has been a long process – nearly two years from the initial investigation to finalizing a draft of the book and deciding which images to use.

The other request from the same time period was from a bride whose wedding I had photographed in October 1985. The media used in that event was 35mm and 120mm film, Vericolor III, and the negatives have been carefully stored in acid-free sleeves since shortly after processing. The 35mm negatives were scanned with the Nikon scanner, and the 120 size negatives scanned on an Epson v600 flatbed scanner, again both with VueScan software.

Recently, I have acquired a large number of old photos from both my wife’s family and mine, many dating back to the 1870s. As I do not have access to the original negatives, and because of the quantity, I began investigating scanners that had a document/photo feeder to automate the process without causing any damage to the prints. I settled on an Epson FastFoto ff-680w, which carefully scans prints at 600dpi and at a rate of one print per second. Currently, the software that came with the scanner is being used, but the excellent capabilities of the VueScan software are being evaluated for use with the new scanner.

In the midst of a global pandemic, what better way to make the best possible use of your time than to scan old photos, whether family heirlooms, travel photos or photos for so many other uses? It’s a good idea to do a little planning for digitizing images so they can be catalogued for easy retrieval down the line. Make a folder on an external hard drive or even dedicate an entire storage device to scans, organizing perhaps by date, subject and/or location. Scan at a resolution that will enable good quality prints if that is the goal, and investigate software other than the often-limited type that generally comes with the scanner. Finally, when scanning prints, consider scanning both front and back if there is valuable information on the back, and/or note such information in the digital file itself. It’s a great way to pass along information for generations to come.

Dr. Photo – AKA John Keller – operates a full-service photography studio in Lincoln. He teaches introductory and advanced courses in Digital Photography, Cell Phone and Tablet Photography and Editing at Doane College in Lincoln, Southeast Community College and for the OLLI program. He also offers single and group digital photography and editing lessons. Email your digital photography and computer questions to Keller’s website is


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