Cleaning up scanned slides

I’ve been spending a lot of time fixing up scanned slides lately, and thought I should jot down the workflow that I use so that I can refer back to it. I’ve been cleaning up the colors, splotches, dust, and graininess of slides from the 1950s through the 2000s. I basically have almost no idea of what I’m doing, but I’m pretty sure I’ve made the photos generally better than they started.

Given the amount of hard drive space available these days, I’ve decided to do nondestructive editing and simply save everything in Photoshop format. My images seem to be around 200 MB doing this.

1. Convert the background layer to a Smart Layer. Right-click on the background layer and select Convert.

2. Use the crop tool to properly size the image. Do this nondestructively by selecting Hide instead of Delete from the options menu. If you didn’t do step 1, this option won’t be available.

3. Add a Levels layer, as well as a Vibrance/Saturation Layer on top of that. The goal is now to get the photo’s colors correct. To do this, I find it helpful to oversaturate the image by cranking up the saturation to some absurdly high value. If the image is slightly too yellow, this causes the yellow to be hugely exaggerated.

4. Now adjust the levels in the levels layer to get the colors right. Do the individual color channels first and try to get the black and whites in the image to look good. Then, adjust the mid tones of each color channel to get the remaining colors correct. Finally, switch back to the RGB change and shift the mid tones one way or another to lighten or darken the foreground.

5.  Now go set the saturation back to 0—or adjust it slightly to bring some of the colors back.

6. Use the smart sharpen filter. Pretty much any scanned slide will need some sharpening. The amount of sharpening seems to depend on what you want to output to. If you’re shrinking the image pretty small and just showing a thumbnail, you might need to sharpen quite a bit, but if you’re printing to high quality paper, you might need only a little sharpening.

7. Finally, add a layer to do some content aware healing and get rid of the scratches and dust.

Please let me know if there are improvements to this workflow!